Experts say Laos plot not practical
What: Public is invited to attend the Hmong Community Circle of
Where: By the bronze Hmong statue at Fresno County Courthouse Park
When: 9 a.m. Friday
Details: Paula Yang at (559) 217-4977
An alleged plot by Hmong leaders to overthrow the government of Laos,
experts say, never would have worked.
It was doomed, they said, because the alleged conspirators likely
could not have raised the millions of dollars needed to buy guns and
Even if they had, the world isn't what it once was for former Gen.
Vang Pao and other prominent Hmong refugees who were arrested Monday
in connection with the alleged takeover plan.
The Cold War is over, and communism is on the decline worldwide. The
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks changed the United States' world view. Laos
and the U.S. are trading partners, and the communist nation is
cooperating on counterterrorism initiatives. Its government is
"It was a total pipe dream, but that doesn't mean they weren't trying
to do it," said Zachary Abuza, a political science professor at
Simmons College in Boston and an expert on terrorism in Southeast
On Monday, 10 people were charged in the alleged scheme, several of
them prominent members of California's Hmong community. Five were from
The plan reportedly included blowing up buildings and assassinating
Laotian officials in the country's capital, Vientiane, in an attempt
to destabilize the government.
Federal officials, however, say they got wind of the plan when
Harrison Ulrich Jack, a retired lieutenant colonel in the California
National Guard, contacted a defense contractor about purchasing 500
AK-47 automatic rifles for the planned coup. The person in turn
contacted the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
But even if the plan had not been so quickly uncovered, experts said,
there were roadblocks everywhere, both here and in Southeast Asia.
A major one would have been money.
The group planned to use $9.8 million worth of ammunition and weapons,
including assault rifles, missiles, rockets and mines, in the action.
ATF officials said documents and financial plans showed the group
planned to use Pao, the 77-year-old former Laotian general who lives
in Orange County, as well as legitimate fundraising channels in the
Hmong community to raise money.
But the community is overwhelmingly poor. More than 50% of
California's Hmong population lives in poverty, according to a 2005
report titled "The Diverse Face of Asian and Pacific Islanders in
The Rev. Sharon Stanley, founding executive director of Fresno
Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, said the Hmong face the
biggest challenges of the varied refugee groups in Fresno -- poverty,
lack of education, inability to buy homes, lack of job skills and poor
English-speaking abilities among them.
And there is no broad agreement among the Hmong about staging a
revolution in Laos.
It's not clear how the alleged conspirators planned to recruit enough
people to carry out the scheme.
But federal court documents show that Jack, along with Pao and other
Hmong leaders, had an unusual training plan. They hoped to recruit
Hmong into the California Highway Patrol, where they could be trained
as officers. If the coup succeeded, they "would be able to have their
internal security, operations, and road control set up overnight," a
court document said.
CHP spokesman Tom Marshall said Wednesday that Jack had requested a
VIP tour of the CHP's West Sacramento training facility for "Hmong
community leaders in California."
That happened March 7. But Marshall said: "That was it. That was the
last we heard of it until [the arrests] came up. Nobody said anything
about the overthrow of a government."
Twenty years ago, experts said, the U.S. -- still in the midst of
fighting communism -- might have ignored a plot to overturn the
government of Laos.
Matthew Deflem, a terrorism expert and sociology professor at the
University of South Carolina, said plotting overseas military
adventures is different in the post-Sept. 11 world.
Law enforcement is casting a bigger net to catch more fish, and making
the mesh tighter to catch smaller fish. "There's not going to be that
Cold War mentality any more," he said.
One example of how things have changed, Simmons College professor
Abuza said, came recently when the U.S. extradited what he called
"Vietnamese freedom fighters" to Thailand, where they are now on trial
for throwing grenades into the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok.
Fighting terrorist groups such as al-Qaida, he said, calls for "a
degree of reciprocity" with other governments who are fighting their
In the post-Sept. 11 world, Southeast Asian scholar Carlyle Thayer
said in an e-mail, Laos is cooperating with the U.S. not only in
counterterrorism initiatives, but also in counternarcotics
Laos-U.S. relations, said the professor at the Australia Defence
Forces Academy in Canberra, Australia, "are going reasonably well."
As for Laos itself, it is a poor, agrarian society with limited
It is worse than Third World, Joseph Zasloff, a Laos expert who has
written several books on the region, said in a telephone interview
from his home in Massachusetts.
"I guess you could call it Fourth World," he said.
The Laos government, Zasloff said, is not popular but is accepted by
most citizens. There would be even less zeal for a government run by
the Hmong, who represent less than 10% of the population and are among
the nation's poorest people, relegated to the mountain highlands.
Ultimately, the Hmong here in the U.S. plotting to overthrow the
Laotian government are "a bunch of grumpy old men," Abuza said, who
couldn't accept the current government in Laos and grew tired of
sitting around and just thinking about doing something for 30 years.
But the planning, plotting and arguing continued, experts said, while
the world changed.
"They live in their own dream world," Zasloff said of the elder Hmong
generation that longs to return to Laos. "There's not a chance that
they could be successful."
The reporter can be reached at
Hmong youths discuss arrests
Young adults think of ways to stem backlash and group's tarnish
Some thoughts.. I think the other camps of Hmong community, who see
themselves more as long-term Americans, or here to stay, need to:
Push back on those "living in the past" people. People, or those
within the US Hmong community, because there are extremist at all
ages, depending on their beliefs, who they align themselves with, and
ideology. The mainstream Hmong, those who see themselves more as
permanent citizens of the U.S., need to speak louder than those who
are professed ideas of taking over the Laos Govt., or continue to
support rebel activities in Laos and Vietnam, basing from Thailand,
and outside. As long as these "Terroristic" (as what it has been
referred to by the U.S. Govt) continue, and as evidence has shown that
fundraising, discussions, and other activities tied to rebel/terror
activity toward Laos, there will never be an end to the Hmong vs. Laos
issue. So, one must ask who is the initiator and instigator. Based
on this arrest of Vang Pao and company, the world will now look at
this as a Hmong initiated activity.
The Hmong community in the U.S. should place more and more emphasis
now on bettering themselves, by focusing on other social/economic
If the other older generation (or business groups) who still has
strong interest in engaging Laos related to trade, social development,
this arrest has caused a great set back toward those Hmong-Americans
who are already engaged in those activities. There will be a big need
to repair image problems with the Lao Govt. and also Lao citizens
RE: Hmong persecution in the jungle. The only way to solve that is
through diplomatic means. All the stories, websites, showing
persecution by Lao military, have not been proven. Relationship now
is further strained by this arrest and plot toward Laos, have cause
major setbacks to learning about the real story of these persecution.
The next step is to truly understand if these Hmong in the jungle are
really part of the greater Hmong mainstream. It's like saying, I am
Saudi Arabian, but if a Saudi born, now Al-Quaeda member, do I spent
my efforts fighting for their rights? So, being a Saudi and being a
Saudi turned terrorist is two different thing. A Saudi would have a
real hard time supporting another Saudi turned terrorist. Also, after
30 years in the Jungle, unless there are constant communition between
those rebels/terrorist in Laos, with those Hmong fighter/supporters
outside, there are direst ties to their activities, thus, the Lao
Govt. would have strong reasons to defend themselves against these
rebels, and or go on an offensive. Still, the truth is not fully
clear, and the position is not clear.
Hmong in the U.S. should also take into account that there are 7-10%
that are living in Laos, account for in the Census. These Hmong, who
consider themselves from Laos, are very different, from their own
perspective, than Hmong who live outside of Laos. Hmong in Laos are
nationalistic, and they see themselves as citizen of Laos, and would
defend Laos's position. Many Hmong now hold prominent positions in
government and businesses in Laos. So, those Hmong brothers, do not
necessary see things the same way as the Hmong outside. Much can also
be said about other Lao people in and outside of Laos.
something to think about....