The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth helped sink Sen. John F. Kerry’s bid for the White House eight years ago, but the group of veterans has decided it will not to try to torpedo his nomination to head the State Department.
A key member of the “Swifties,” as the group was informally known, told The Washington Times that several former members decided in a recent conference call vote that “we would not reactivate and come out publicly against John Kerry’s nomination.”
“We just didn’t feel that we would have the impact that we had in 2004,” said retired Rear Admiral Roy F. Hoffman, who served as chairman of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth when it opposed the bid of the Massachusetts Democrat for the presidency.
President Obama has nominated Mr. Kerry to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and most observers expect him to have relatively smooth sailing as the five-term lawmaker seeks confirmation by his fellow senators.
Adm. Hoffman said the push during Mr. Kerry’s 2004 challenge to President George W. Bush was ignited by a feeling among the veterans that Mr. Kerry didn’t deserve to be commander in chief. Being secretary of state, the ex-admiral said, doesn’t rise to the same level.
“If he were running for president again, we would probably come out against him because he would be commander of the armed forces of the United States,” he said. “That was our position in 2004, and so I believe it would still be the position of the Swift Boat Veterans of Truth.”
The group was made up of veterans who served on Patrol Craft Fast, or “swift boats” — the same duty that then-Lt. Kerry performed during his four months in Vietnam in 1968-1969. Their August 2004 broadside against Mr. Kerry introduced the verb “to swiftboat” into the American political lexicon.
The veterans’ central claim, detailed in a book “Unfit for Command” and in advertising they bought, was that Mr. Kerry lied in order to receive a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts for his combat role in Vietnam. They also said he acted dishonorably upon his return to the United States by becoming a leading anti-war activist and spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Swifties spokesman John O’Neill and conservative author Jerome Corsi wrote the book. Mr. O’Neill, who is believed to be recovering from illness, did not respond to a request for comment for this story, while Mr. Corsi told The Times that he could not speak on behalf of the group but he personally intends to oppose Mr. Kerry’s secretary of state nomination.
Mr. Corsi said Mr. Kerry acted inappropriately by participating in various meetings with Vietnamese officials during 1970 peace talks in Paris, even as he was still technically a member of the U.S. military. Mr. Corsi said that alone should give pause for Mr. Kerry’s colleagues in the Senate, who must vote on his nomination.
Mr. Kerry has long disputed Mr. Corsi’s assertions, and he fought back aggressively during the 2004 presidential campaign against claims made by “Unfit for Command.” While he declined to comment directly for this story, his office pointed to past statements made by other Vietnam veterans who spoke out in defense of the senator eight years ago.
A spokesman for Mr. Kerry also noted that the inspector general of the U.S. Navy had confirmed the legitimacy of Mr. Kerry’s medals after conducting an investigation after a request to do so was made by the government accountability group Judicial Watch in 2004.
The high point of Mr. Kerry’s anti-war activism, meanwhile, came in April 1971 when he was the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress about the war — testimony that delved into alleged atrocities committed by U.S. forces.
A day after appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the then-27-year-old Mr. Kerry participated in a large anti-war rally outside the U.S. Capitol during which he and other veterans threw their medals over a makeshift fence — a symbol of their shame for having participated in the war.
Historical observers say such actions were among the defining moments of the divisiveness surrounding the politics of the era.
“It was really one of the episodes in American political history that seems to have the longest legs of any that I know of,” said Gordon Adams, who teaches foreign policy at American University. “Vietnam brings out really strong feuds and it still does particularly for a certain generation.”
While Mr. Adams said his personal view was that Mr. Kerry had “committed an entirely responsible act” in standing up against the war, others saw his actions as “a vile betrayal of America.”
“Those guys didn’t forget, so when the opportunity came 35 years later, they jumped on it because that anger is still sharp,” he said.
Democrats charged that the Swifties were being exploited by political operatives eager to profit monetarily from an election-year controversy. But group members and the political operatives themselves disputed that claim.
“It wasn’t born from money or from political operatives,” said Chris LaCivita, a Virginia-based consultant who helped organize the group’s public relations campaign along with a series of biting anti-Kerry television ads in 2004.
“They came to me,” Mr. LaCivita said. “It was a very organic movement that came together on its own from a network that had stuck together for 30 years.”
Adm. Hoffman said the short time frame of the confirmation process would make it “very difficult” to launch a major opposition campaign to the State Department nomination.
Still, he said that wasn’t the chief reason the group decided against taking a stand, saying members “really didn’t get into the financing of it.”
“With a website and all of the Twitter and all of that, we could probably get some movement going on,” he said.
“Certainly we’re not backing off any of our positions,” Adm. Hoffman added. “My opinion hasn’t changed that John Kerry is a cunning and habitual liar.”