By 1989, Doan Van Toai had become a prominent commentator on the political affairs of Vietnam, his home country. Toai had witnessed the corruption of South Vietnam’s political leaders, and later suffered first-hand the brutality of the Communist victors after the war. Now, in America, he’d found cause for cautious optimism.
Toai wrote essays for publications including The Wall Street Journal. He’d done a stint as a researcher at Tufts University outside Boston, and launched an advocacy group called the Institute for Democracy in Vietnam. Working with a co-author, he had published a well-received memoir called The Vietnamese Gulag. He gave speeches around the world.
And then, on a summer morning outside Toai’s house in Fresno, California, a man armed with a .380-caliber pistol shot him. One bullet wrecked Toai’s jaw and destroyed six teeth before exiting beneath his left ear. Another ruined his intestines.
After the shooting, the Vietnamese Organization to Exterminate Communists and Restore the Nation took credit for the attempted murder of Toai. The FBI had long regarded the ostensible group — VOECRN — as a cover for the violent work of a very public organization founded years before by former South Vietnamese military officers. That group, formally known as the National United Front for the Liberation of Vietnam, had brought elements of the war back home to America. Its members wanted to re-take Vietnam and openly raised money to finance an army to do so. The FBI, over many years of frustrating investigation, had come to believe the group, known most commonly as the Front, was willing to kill or terrorize those in American who criticized its aims and operations.
Toai was one of those detractors, and his brush with death had an effect that doubtless pleased the Front. He gave up public writing. He abandoned the speeches.
“I quit talking,” he said.