A little background. Tommy, born in 1944, was half American and half Thai with an unusual family history. Through his father he was related to the royal house of Thailand, while his paternal grandmother was a Russian from the tsarist period. Apparently Tommy’s father had worked with the CIA and Army intelligence in Thailand, presumably during early Cold War days. As a boy, he had a typical American childhood, although his fascination with guns and playing cowboys and Indians was somewhat extreme. After high school, he went out west and for a time rode rodeo. Tommy had a very patriotic upbringing.
I was talking with one of my former students from Union College about Indiana University (IU) in the Vietnam War era. I was telling him about the undercover informant in IU’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) chapter (see Blog post for 3/30/11), and he in turn said that a similar character passed through Union College while he was an undergrad there. News to me. It was a guy nicknamed Tommy the Traveler.
Tommy had been a traveling salesman, and his beat was upstate New York which took him through a number of college towns where he styled himself a free-lance agent provocateur. He reportedly visited State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo, University of Rochester, Hobart, Cornell, Union, and SUNY-Albany, among other schools. He’d appear on campus and connect with the activists. SDS’s lack of national hierarchy, or often even local structure, made it easy for Tommy to get close to them.
A handsome young man with neat, close cropped hair, three-piece tweed suits, and a snazzy new Ford Mustang, SDS activists on several campuses suspected him as an undercover cop. However, Tommy skillfully dropped names from one relatively isolated campus to another and managed to ‘pass’ undetected. His modus operandi was to persuade activists to carry out violent actions on their campuses. Though he had little success, turmoil followed in his wake. By early ’69, Tommy had parlayed his networking into a major speaking role at a regional SDS meeting held at SUNY-Albany.
In his narc role, Tommy finally succeeded in realizing his violent anti-antiwar agenda. At Hobart College in Geneva NY, he persuaded a couple of impressionable freshmen to toss a Molotov cocktail into the campus offices of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in the basement of a dorm with students sleeping above. The culprits received short jail sentences, while in the end Tommy the instigator got off nearly scot free. During that campus visit he’d also set up and fingered several other students for a NY State Police drug bust which had turned into a riot. The bust briefly brought Tommy local celebrity, and he even considered running for the office of county sheriff. He went on to study criminology, worked as a police officer in Pennsylvania, and later in life became a horse and cattle breeder. More recently, he was spotted as a Civil War re-enactor in Oklahoma. Tommy still gets around.
*Esquire, July 1971