Invisible Enemies

Who's the real threat in Little Saigon? Ask the FBI.

Meanwhile, the members of the secret death squad that killed Pham and has claimed responsibility for a reign of terror across the country have never been identified, at least not publicly. Twelve years after Pham's murder, the Garden Grove Police Department said the case is still open, but only because it remains unsolved. Over the years, police have worked with FBI investigators to find Pham's killers, but according to Sergeant Mike Hansfield, neither agency has so far been able to produce any leads or suspects. "We haven't done any recent follow-up investigation on this case," he said. "It's kind of sitting here because we don't have any information to go on."

Hansfield also said that the investigation has been hampered because residents have been too afraid to speak to the police. "Whenever you have a violent incident like this, in which someone is capable of firebombing a newspaper office," said Hansfield, "people are going to be less than cooperative because they know they could be next."

Former CPJ director Bill Orme is equally pessimistic-but for entirely different reasons. Now a New York Times reporter in Jerusalem, Orme said the FBI was slow to investigate the killings of Vietnamese-American journalists until the CPJ released its report in 1994. "Our contacts in the FBI made it clear these were cases that could not be fully investigated without a major investment in time and staff, and it was the view of the FBI agents involved that they would not get those resources unless it was in response to political pressure on the Justice Department," Orme said. "The Vietnamese community itself was not a source of such pressure, and neither was the local or national press. We succeeded with our report in getting the Justice Department to put the FBI back on the case, but I fear that we did not succeed in keeping the pressure on."

Meanwhile, in Little Saigon, there is fear. Just about the only person who seems immune to that fear is Tran, who says he won't budge. The fact that Tran has yet to be stopped is a testament less to the way Little Saigon has changed over the years than it is to Tran's Zen-like refusal to bow down to the crowd, even provoking it with a series of high-profile attempts to enter his store-which hasn't been doing any business for weeks.

"These people are behaving like communists," he said, gesticulating impatiently. "That is why I will never give up. The more crowds there are, the more confidence I have."

Although the protests have so far been mostly peaceful, Tran has received numerous death threats. Sometimes, they're issued on the radio by an anonymous caller. Otherwise, the threats are shouted at him face-to-face in front of his store. On Monday, protest-security guards did Tran a favor by hauling him away from an almost-certain beating in the parking lot.

Tran admitted he knows little of his community's bloody past and had never heard of Pham until now, but he insisted, "I am not afraid." In that respect, the outspoken storeowner seems as determined, principled, and perhaps equally doomed as the famous Buddhist monk who in 1963 set himslef ablaze in front of reporters to protest religious persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government.

Or maybe Tran is just naive about the danger he has created for himself. "They cannot stop me," he said in an interview on Friday. "I have a right to hang a picture in my store. I want to show the Vietnamese community they must follow the law in America. The law is the law."

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