The Radical Who Wasn’t
By Andrew Wickenden ’09
In 1966, Hobart men worked as white-gloved waiters serving William Smith women in the Comstock Dining Hall. “We wore beanies during orientation and were told that we couldn’t walk on the grass,” recalls Bob Gilman ’70. Gilman ventures that between the matriculation and graduation of the Classes of 1970, campus “saw more social change than any other four year period in the modern history of Hobart and William Smith.”
In 1966, William Smith women had curfews. Eleven p.m. on weekdays, 12:30 a.m. on Fridays, and 1:30 on Saturdays. They wore— were required to wear—skirts to dinner and whenever they ventured off campus.
The idea of men and women in each other’s dorms “was completely out of the question,” says Christine Wardell ’70. “There had been all sorts of demonstrations the year before about an issue they called ‘booze and broads’ - whether men could have women in their dorm rooms and whether you could serve alcohol at dorm parties. It had been a pretty conservative campus. We had tea every Wednesday afternoon at 4:30. You trudged up the hill in January in the near dark and you hit the Comstock dining room, with fireplaces glowing, the sterling tea service—I thought it was fabulous. Absolutely delightful. This was the atmosphere.”
- - - -
April 30, 1970. Before Kent State and Jackson State. Before the student strikes.
Tonight, President Nixon delivers his address on Cambodia, in which he lays out his plan to eliminate “communist sanctuaries” along the Vietnamese- Cambodian border, “to protect our men…in Vietnam and to guarantee the continued success of our withdrawal and Vietnamization programs.”
The “war” won’t officially “end” for another five years.
Nixon, flanked by flags, stern and resolved before the blue backdrop, tells the American public unironically that “we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years. Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed.”
- - - -
About two and a half years before the Cambodian Incursion, with the antiwar movement on the rise, a serious, outspoken, sometimes-histrionic young man was making himself known among the colleges of Central and Western New York. A two-button tweed blazer, black tie, wild eyes and a serious crease in his forehead, beneath a thick swoop of black hair. He was young, but too old to pass as a student and claimed to be traveling under the auspices of his job as a salesman. However, his true mission, he said, was as an anti-war organizer with Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.). He was known as Tom. Or Tommy. Or Tom Thomas. Or Tom Travis. Or Tom Traveler. Or, most infamously, Tommy the Traveler.
“CBS called him Tommy the Traveler when they chose to make it national news on the Cronkite show,” says Steve Bromberg ’72. “But we all knew the ‘the’ didn’t belong there.”
According to the Scranton Commission Report on Campus Unrest, which Nixon established after the Kent State massacre, Tommy spent:
[t]he years from 1964 to May 1969… going from job to job. In August 1967, he started work for Shearing [sic] Corporation, a veterinary drug company in Northern New Jersey as a salesman. Following this [Tommy] Tongyai, his wife and his three-year old son, moved to upstate New York near the town of Penn Yan….It is reported that Tongyai possessed unusually strong patriotic feelings for the United States.
According to Frank Donner’s essay in Civil Liberties, Tommy indeed relocated Upstate with his wife and child in 1967— only to lose his job later that year. It was then that Tommy began working as an undercover “security informant” for the FBI.
One of his first appearances as a “radical” was at the then all-women’s Keuka College in Penn Yan. In the fall of 1967, Tommy visited with an organization called the Peace Group, “which consisted of about ten women,” whose protest, Donner writes, “usually took the form of picketing.” Tommy urged them to take more aggressive action, a move that would become his calling card.
Tommy did not respond to numerous requests for an interview for this story.
- - - -
April 30, 1968, less than a month after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s the seventh day of protests at Columbia University, Morningside Heights. Protests against Columbia’s plans to build a gymnasium (dubbed “Gym Crow” by protesters) with a separate “community” entrance. Protests against Vietnam, specifically Columbia’s affiliation with a weapons research think-tank. It’s the seventh day and now the protesters have protesters. The NYPD moves in with teargas. More than 700 protesters are arrested. Four faculty members, 12 police officers, and more than 100 students are injured. A student jumps from a second story window and lands on 34 year-old police officer Frank Gucciardi; the fall breaks Gucciardi’s back, disabling him for life.
After the Columbia protests and the violence on other campuses in the subsequent months, FBI field offices are given the following instructions:
The most recent outbreak of violence represents a direct challenge to law and order and a substantial threat to the stability of society in general. The Bureau has an urgent and pressing responsibility to keep the intelligence community informed of plans of new left groups and student activists to engage in acts of lawlessness on the campus. We can only fulfill this responsibility through the development of high quality informants who are in a position to report on the plans of student activists to engage in disruptive activities on the campus. (1)
In 1970, in one of the few interviews Tommy granted, he said that the “best cover for an undercover agent who wanted to get on to the campus was portraying the part of a radical extremist, which I did. That way you are so far from what they would expect a law enforcement officer to be, you can pretty well get in and start moving around.”
- - - -
Democratic National Convention, Chicago, August 1968. Anti-war activist Jerry Rubin and the Yippies nominate Pigasus—a 145-pound hog—for President of the United States and are soon after arrested.
Then the teargas, the riot sticks, the babyblue police helmets. The beatings in Grant Park. The National Guard and tanks in the streets.
Wardell, who was in Chicago at the time visiting friends, saw it firsthand. “We didn’t have any precedent,” she says. “The idea that you would see tanks in your own streets, at a protest—you wondered what would happen, how far it would go.”
“We were all subject to the draft and the Vietnam War was ramping up,” says Gilman. “For many being a student in good standing was the only thing preventing them from getting drafted and almost assuredly going to Vietnam.”
“The War was coming into people’s living rooms every night,” says Bruce Davis ’72. “There was a draft. Political leaders were being killed and urban areas were boiling over with injustice. At the same time the ‘free love, make peace’ inner revolution was taking place. The world is a very different place now.”
That fall, the fall of 1968, Tommy the Traveler first appeared in Geneva in the company of Cornell University S.D.S. leaders, presumably in the hopes of organizing an HWS chapter. During one of the first meetings of the Hobart Student Movement—an HWS student coalition against the Vietnam War—Tommy “tried to make himself a political mentor of the new group, urging it to adopt more militant tactics,” Donner writes.
“We weren’t taking him seriously,” Wardell says. “He told us he was an S.D.S. organizer, wanted to start a chapter on campus. That didn’t go over well. Having discussed it, our general feeling was, we may organize around our own issues and oppose the war, but we didn’t imagine ourselves ‘true revolutionaries.’”
“Tommy was always telling us that we were not political enough,” says Clarence Youngs ’72, “that we should do something that would really get the administration’s attention. Take over a building, blow up something. As president of the United Black Students at Hobart, I told him that that was not our agenda and we had our own plans.”
“From the start, I simply did not trust him and made it a point to stay away from him,” says Sean Campbell ’70. “He approached me on several occasions, with differing stories of who he was and what he was doing there. None of what he said made any sense and I just dismissed him as a wanna-be.”
In an interview from the 1971 short documentary “The Revolutionary Was A Cop” (directed by Marc Weiss ’70), one student says that several times Tommy claimed to be a Keuka College professor, and when confronted about his lie, Tommy replied that that story had been a guise; that he was actually “a member of the royal family of Thailand…exiled from his country…and over here working against the government.”
According to the Associated Press story that ran July 13, 1970, he in fact is distantly related to Thai royalty.
…born Momluang Singkata Thomas Tongyai N’Ayudhya on Jan 14, 1944, in Anniston, Ala. His father, a native of Bangkok, Thailand, was serving in the Army at the time.
The title N’Ayudhya designates royalty, but seven or eight generations removed. Tongyai would use this distant royal connection many times in contacts with student revolutionaries, saying he wanted to lead a revolution of his own people.
- - - -
By 1968, Tommy was known around the Cornell and Syracuse University campuses through the Peace and Freedom Party and the local chapters of the S.D.S., as an unofficial regional organizer.
He turned up at Alfred, Wells, Corning. In “The Revolutionary Was a Cop,” an Auburn Community College student says that one afternoon on the Auburn campus, Tommy entered an emptying classroom, flashed a card and said, “I’m Tom Thomas from the FBI.” The student “freaked and [Tommy] laughed a lot and gave me a cigarette and said he was just kidding and that he was the regional traveler from Buffalo for S.D.S.” Tommy told other students he was with the Cornell chapter.
Whichever chapter he was initially affiliated with—if any—he was eventually elected to the S.D.S. steering committee at the University of Rochester.
- - - -
In 1956, the FBI launched the Counter Intelligence Program, COINTELPRO, “a series of covert action programs directed against domestic groups,” which remained in effect until 1971, when it was disbanded under the threat of public exposure.
From the Church Committee Reports, Book III:
In these programs, the Bureau went beyond the collection of intelligence to secret action designed to “disrupt” and “neutralize” target groups and individuals. The techniques were adopted wholesale from wartime counterintelligence, and ranged from the trivial (mailing reprints of Reader’s Digest articles to college administrators) to the degrading (sending anonymous poison-pen letters intended to break up marriages) and the dangerous (encouraging gang warfare and falsely labeling members of a violent group as informers)….Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity… The unexpressed major premise of the programs was that a law enforcement agency has the duty to do whatever is necessary to combat perceived threats to the existing social and political order.
In a 1970 interview with the Geneva Times, Tommy said he’d “always had very strong feelings for this country and for its government. I would do anything to uphold its security…I feel some people on the Hobart and William Smith campus present a very real threat to the security of the United States.”
- - - -
Days of Rage, 1969. Chicago—again Chicago—just a year and change removed from the violence of the Democratic Convention.
“Bring the War Home!” say the Weathermen. “Whatever it takes, we’ll do!”
“An outrage against the community,” says Mayor Richard J. Daley.
Protesters in football helmets. Pipes, chains, slingshots, baseball bats. Bank windows smashed, smoke and teargas billowing on the Gold Coast, blood in streets in the Loop, while on the West side, factions of the S.D.S, the Black Panthers, and the Young Lords march peacefully, side-by-side through the city’s working class neighborhoods.
A few weeks earlier, during an “orientation meeting at [HWS] in early September, 1969,” Donner writes, Tommy distributed “thousands of pamphlets announcing the ‘Days of Rage’…offer[ing] to provide students with transportation to Chicago….After the [‘Days of Rage’], according to one student, ‘Tommy came up to me and told me how much fun he had kicking ass in Chicago.’”
- - - -
In the spring of 1970, Professor Joseph DiGangi was teaching “Law and Society,” and because it was spring in Geneva, he would occasionally, when the weather cooperated, hold class on the Quad. When he opened course enrollment beyond the class roster, “so we could discuss the constitutionality of the war, 150 students or more showed up,” DiGangi says, recalling the crowd on the steps in front of Coxe Hall. “Everyone was concerned.”
“There was tremendous intellectual and political foment,” Wardell says. “Students were questioning the relevance of required courses. In addition to the war, there were a number of other issues that blew up with regard to the urgency about the changing world and the possibility that young men would be sent off to die. The war and the draft were absolutely fundamental in getting young people to think about all these things. A blossoming of student questioning and inquiry: How should we live? What’s the best way to get educated? Who are you to tell me how to live?”
It was this intellectual, political, and social charge that prompted sit-ins, walkins, debates, and speeches.
But to Tommy, that kind of action wasn’t action.
David Dellinger, a pacifist anti-war activist and one of the Chicago Seven indicted for rioting during the Democratic Convention, had come to speak on the HWS campus earlier that year. On the walk from Sherrill Hall to Dellinger’s speech, Tommy suggested to Wardell, Davis, and Peter Keenan ’72 that bombing the ROTC office would reproach Dellinger’s pacifism and prove the superiority of a violent revolution. They laughed, brushed him off, and went to hear Dellinger’s speech.
When hawkish New York Congressman Samuel Stratton was scheduled to visit campus that January, Tommy had proposed kidnapping him. According to a student interviewed in “The Revolutionary Was a Cop,” the idea was dismissed as “absolutely absurd,” so Tommy suggested instead holding the congressman and the audience hostage by chaining the auditorium doors shut. Tommy said he would provide the chains.
- - - -
Tommy worked undercover for the FBI, keeping “his eye on radical movements,” until at least the spring of 1970, when he was deputized by the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office, “strictly as an undercover man and what we call a ‘narco’—narcotics officer,” Sheriff Ray O. Morrow said in a story that ran in The Miami News later that year. (2)
“I asked [Morrow] for a job as a regular deputy on road patrol,” Tommy said in his Grand Jury testimony. “He said he couldn’t fit me in, but he would put me on as an undercover agent.”
On March 3, 1970, likely Tommy’s first day of employment with Morrow’s office, he shoe-horned his way into “a student meeting… called to decide if a…‘walk-in’ on a closed faculty meeting would take place. About 400 students…in Albright Auditorium were split as to the appropriate action,” according to the Scranton Commission Report.
Because he wasn’t a student, Tommy was denied a vote. But at 4 p.m., he “walked into the faculty meeting with the rest of the students.”
DiGangi remembers seeing Tommy in the Student Union around this time: “I was sitting with a student who recognized Tommy a couple tables away, in his suit, very trim, not student-like at all. He said [of Tommy], ‘Look out for this guy. He’s trouble. He’s getting the confidence of the freshmen. I hope they stay away.’”
In April, during a three-day sit-in, Tommy appeared at Sherrill Hall with walkie-talkies and a Viet Cong flag, even while “the Hobart Student Association passed a motion to keep all outsiders, with Tongyai’s name mentioned specifically, out of the sit-in and other [HWS] affairs,” according to the Scranton Commission Report. But Tommy, “intent on staying, approached Al Beretta, director of student activities, in request of a press pass.”
[Beretta] told Tongyai that Al Learned of the Colleges’ News Bureau was the only person who could issue such a pass. A student accompanied Tongyai when he went to the News Bureau. Learned has reported having a very strange conversation with Tongyai. A conversation which was immediatedly [sic] reported to the FBI and college officials. In any case Tongyai was refused the pass, but he informed students at the sit-in that Beretta had given him permission to stay and that he was a member of the press.
“During the meetings I attended, he was asked to leave, since he had no business there,” says Campbell. “Students were frustrated with the war and looking for anything that they could do to make a statement. Many issues were discussed including removing ROTC from campus, but to most students it was a matter of forcing the administration to eliminate the program.” Which was indeed accomplished by the end of the sit-in: students, HWS President Dr. Beverley D. Causey, Jr. and the administration had reached an agreement that would abolish the Hobart ROTC program by July 1971.
- - - -
At the April sit-ins, Tommy made the acquaintance of several Hobart freshmen, also discontented with simply sitting in. On Sunday, April 26, Tommy and five students met in a Sherrill dorm room to discuss, as an unnamed student put it in his Grand Jury testimony,
more or less non-violent harassment, such as, the continual phoning of ROTC offices on the intercampus phone…tying up their work with the phone constantly ringing. And I remember…Tommy, specifically Tommy mentioning breaking into the ROTC offices and stealing their files…taking them out, burning them, throwing them into the lake or just scattering them in some desolate field and then from there talk turned to possible fire bombing. I have no idea—it just happened.
According to Tommy’s testimony regarding the same meeting, he said that when he arrived, “Jeff” (3) was talking about “stepping [up] the ROTC thing and they have to abolish it from campus and Jeff was talking about the fire bombs.” Tommy said that in an attempt to “divert” a bombing, he tried to steer the students first toward vandalizing ROTC files, then, when “talk came back and went into firebombing again,” toward black powder. If the bombing were delayed long enough, Tommy said, the powder “usually dies out.” Tommy said:
Molotov cocktails are very easy, they are easy bombs to make evidently and this is what most of the radical students are bombing buildings with. You see, you have to try to talk them into using something else that they won’t have access to, but yet they will try to depend on you to get it, but you never get it for them.
In Weiss’s film, however, one of the students interviewed says that during the meeting, “before anybody actually suggested the use of firebombs or black powder [Tommy] just blurted out…‘Which would you rather use…firebombs or black powder?’”
Another student testified to the Grand Jury that when the hour-long meeting concluded, there was “an understanding that there [would] be [another] meeting on Tuesday night [April 28], but also ‘Jeff’ and Tommy said that they were going in some field…around Keuka.”
The next afternoon, Tommy and “Jeff” drove to a gravel pit in the Guyanoga Valley near Yates, N.Y., to “experiment with bombs and gasoline.” Tommy, according to his testimony, “was a little shook up because actually I didn’t know how to make a Molotov cocktail yet and I was supposed to be a big militant.”
However, in “The Revolutionary Was A Cop,” one student states that on a different, presumably earlier occasion, Tommy had brought into a dorm room
some gasoline and a Coke bottle, and he said, “Let’s go out and throw a Molotov cocktail…in front of Superdorm (4).”
And I said, “You’re crazy.”
[Tommy] said, “Well, come on, it’ll make a nice big boom and get the residents stirred up. Throw a little scare into them. Show them what we can do.”
- - - -
April 30, 1970. Nixon says: “During my campaign for the Presidency, I pledged to bring Americans home from Vietnam. They are coming home. I promised to end this war. I shall keep that promise. I promised to win a just peace. I shall keep that promise. We shall avoid a wider war. But we are also determined to put an end to this war…It is not our power but our will and character that is being tested tonight.”
A few hours later, on the Hobart and William Smith campus, three Molotov cocktails crash through the window of the Air Force ROTC, setting ablaze the Sherrill Hall basement. The fire alarms in Sherrill Hall are disabled, but miraculously, enough students are awake to warn those who aren’t and all evacuate the building. No one is injured. Sherrill does not sustain significant damage.
- - - -
According to the Scranton Commission Report, “[a]t 7 a.m., FBI agent Jerry O’Hanlon arrived at the scene of the bombing,” only a few hours after it had happened. “That morning all five freshmen present in the Tongyai meetings were called in for questioning along with some other students.”
Ultimately, Hobart students Gary Bennett and Francis Gregory Sheppard were arrested on arson charges, and everyone began to wonder, “How did the police find them quite so quickly?” says Wardell. “And then there began to be a number of rumors about Tommy. About how he had taken these kids out in a field somewhere and taught them how to make the bombs.”
“There’s one story,” says Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09, “that Tommy was part of Nixon’s C.I.A. operation (5) to create chaos on college campuses with the Machiavellian idea that if there were all these ‘long-haired hippie freaks’ protesting the war, it would create a good deal of support for the war in the rest of the U.S.”
At the time of the bombing, Tommy was allegedly in Connecticut, for the trial of the New Haven Nine, though he had notified the FBI of the plan to bomb the ROTC. “I reported to the FBI that they [some students] planned to make it [the bombing] occur on such-and-such a date,” Tommy said. “It happened before they had planned.”
- - - -
May 1, the morning of the bombing, activist and student leader Rafael Martinez ’70 was taken into custody for questioning. At the police station, Martinez recognized Tommy, who was supposed to be in New Haven, and when Martinez spotted him, Tommy ducked into a restaurant.
Less than a week later, Tommy reappeared on campus, though by then he was banned. Martinez informed Assistant Dean John “Ted” Theismeyer that Tommy was back. An argument followed when Martinez and Theismeyer confronted Tommy outside. When Martinez accused Tommy of being a police agent, Tommy said, “I’m going to kill you, you pig,” and then struck Martinez.
That afternoon Martinez and Theismeyer went to the police station and swore out a John Doe warrant for the arrest of Tommy the Traveler (they knew him only by his aliases). According to the Scranton Commission Report, “the warrant was not acted upon for another month, even after Martinez reported to the police he had seen [Tommy] lurking outside his apartment and had provided them with [Tommy’s] license plate number.”
- - - -
May 4, 1970. The National Guard advances on the Kent State campus, ordered by Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes to quell a student protest against the Cambodian Incursion.
Gotta get down to it…
Should’ve been done long ago….
The Scranton Commission would later find that “[e]ven if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified. Apparently, no order to fire was given… [This] tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators.”
What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know?
“It was impossible to be a student on a U.S. campus during that period and not be touched by politics and the war,” says Joanne Lyons Dunne ’73, who, along with several other students, spent all afternoon and evening “on the phone in Houghton… with [Kent State] students after the shooting.”
Bob Gilman recalls that the anti-war protests “began during our sophomore year  and expanded, culminating in the moratorium after Kent State, where classes were cancelled for a week and many of us went to Washington for the anti-war march.”
Alvin Sher, then assistant professor of art, “worked with a bunch of students to recreate the famous photo of Kent State in sculpture, in the middle of the Quad on campus,” says Christine Wardell. Meanwhile, there were “huge meetings in Bristol Gym to discuss the curriculum and to debate how the Colleges should educate its students, followed by these small, very intense breakout discussions that were professor- and student-organized to evaluate curriculum changes, education generally, and the social rules of the school. Simultaneously, a group of students were organizing a strike.”
“It was tense,” says Shirley Napolitano Banker ’72. “The issues were big, the struggles were huge. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll happened, but as a reaction to the social issues. None of us could vote. Here we all were, working to get an education, working on the social and political problems, and meanwhile we couldn’t even vote.”
- - - -
One a.m., June 5, 1970. It’s exam week. Graduation is 10 days away. Tommy and about 40 uniformed and plainclothes police officers raid two dorm rooms on the first floor of Superdorm (Rees Hall).
According to the Scranton Commission Report:
Ontario County Sheriffs Department came onto the Hobart campus to make arrests for narcotics possession on information provided by Thomas Tongyai. In the process of the arrests two other students were picked up on harassment charges, one who yelled, “bust,” and the other for yelling, “Pig,” at Tommy. During the apprehension of these five students, no person offered resistance or attempted obstruction of the officers. College officials had not been notified in advance of the warrants and the arresting officers appeared on campus out of uniform and in unmarked cars.
The students arrested on drug charges were escorted out the Pulteney Street side of the dorm and taken downtown. The students arrested on harassment charges were taken out of the building on the parking lot side, into an unmarked car.
Word spread fast in Superdorm. Drug bust. Tommy. Narc.
“I was walking down the hill from Beta Sigma [fraternity] and walked right into it,” says Dunne. “People were leaning out of windows and yelling that it was a drug bust and the police were coming—telling everyone to dump their dope. A couple of people saw Tommy and knew he was the informer and started yelling about him.”
It was supposed to be a drug raid, “but was widely perceived as a political action, instigated by information provided by Tommy,” says Campbell.
Tommy, who hadn’t been seen on campus since his altercation with Martinez, still had an outstanding warrant against him. When Tommy and Detective William Simon got back into the car, students mobbed it and blocked the exit, demanding the police serve the warrant against Tommy and release the students.
When Wardell arrived, “Tommy was sitting in a [police] car, barricaded by students, sitting in the passenger seat holding his gun on his lap with his finger on the trigger.” Coupled with “the outrage over student arrests and the shock of the intrusion by police onto campus,” Tommy’s attitude only stoked the uneasiness in the air.
“I remember my neighbor in Jackson smearing ketchup on the windshield of Tommy’s getaway car to impede the escape,” says Mark Jones ’72, P’14, associate professor of art. “Where he got the ketchup remains a mystery.”
“People kept showing up,” says Bill Ryder ’71, P’07. “Students were piling up rocks like we were going to fight it out if it came to that.”
“Someone was tapping on the windshield with a coat hanger,” says Banker. “A couple people were going around trying to make sure we were calm, handing out wet rags in case there was tear gas. We were staking our claim till the kids who were arrested were released.”
Meanwhile, several dozen police had lined up along St. Clair Street, “from Pulteney to South Main, all brandishing 4-foot riot sticks,” says Bromberg. “I asked a cop what kind of wood they were and he replied, ‘Hickory.’ And he smiled. He was dying to crack some heads.”
“We were in Sill House and we crept behind the fraternity next door and literally parted the bushes and looked down South Main and saw these riot police coming down the street,” recalls Zupan. “I remember being terrified.”
But Ryder sensed “some dissention among the local cops about Tommy the Traveler. They probably didn’t know him well. I remember talking to a cop and telling him this isn’t right. The people you’ve arrested aren’t involved in anything. This guy, Tommy, has been around campus for a long time trying to get people involved in all kinds of stuff. This is ridiculous. And they were listening, amazed by all the people there.”
President Causey, Instructor of Political Science Jack Krause, DiGangi, and other faculty had been downtown at Cosie’s Bar at the time of the raid. By the time they arrived back on campus and began to negotiate with Morrow and the police, there were 300 students, maybe 500, Jefferson Airplane blaring from a dorm window—look what’s happening out in the streets, got a revolution, got to revolution—and Tommy, still in the car.
“The police, using bullhorns, and backed by nightstick- and gun-wielding ‘riot police’ were insisting that everyone disperse, which given the climate was unlikely to happen without violence,” says Sean Campbell, who tried “to get students to sit down, and thereby reduce the chances of a violent clash between the two groups.”
As Wardell remembers it, Krause opened the hood of the car Tommy was in.
Causey said, “Jack, Jack—your career!” and Krause said, “Fuck my career!”
Then Krause “removed the distributor cap on the engine, so the car couldn’t move— preventing students from getting hurt,” DiGangi says. “The police said he was acting to impede justice, but he was acting in the interest of student safety.”
Tommy, still in the car, “seemed to be in a trance,” says Steve Bromberg. “He didn’t move, he didn’t blink. He just sat there, alone, in the passenger seat—the driver had long since left the car—and every now and then, he would pull out the side of his sports jacket—I somehow remember that it was green—to show us that he had a gun in his shoulder holster.”
Meanwhile, Dean John R. McKean explained to Detective Simon that the students were:
upset not because there had been a narcotics raid, but because Tommy the Traveler, an adamant advocate of violence against agencies of the United States government, had been working with the sheriff’s department. In addition students could not understand why Tommy had not been arrested on harassment charges [stemming from the warrant Martinez swore a month earlier]. (6)
Now hours into the standoff, McKean, Causey, Berretta, DiGangi, Morrow, and Geneva Police Chief Thomas McLaughlin met with several student leaders in a Sherrill Hall dorm room, where, just before dawn, an amnesty agreement was reached on behalf of the arrested students.
“We talked for a while, and the sheriff signed a statement that said the students in jail would be released if police cars were let go,” says DiGangi, who, for the next week, would hold “for safe-keeping the written agreement to release the students from jail.”
An announcement was made to the crowd outside the dorm. The arrested students—both in the cars and at the station—would soon be released. The police cruisers, which had suffered minor damage, would be allowed passage. Tommy would be escorted away by another patrol car.
On behalf of the Colleges, Causey expressed his gratitude to the police for avoiding violence, though he emphasized that the situation had been exacerbated by Tommy, “an informer who had been a frequent and unwanted visitor on our campus in the past few months, and the cause of much trouble.” (7)
The police were mostly dispersed, but a crowd of students milled around the parking lot, waiting in a brief rainstorm, until, with the sun rising over the lake, DiGangi and Berretta returned with the students who’d been taken downtown, and on cue, a rainbow materialized over campus. For a moment, everyone breathed easy.
- - - -
Less than a week later, warrants were issued, and Krause, Davis, Campbell and Martinez, as well as Clarence Youngs, Gilbert Dillon ’70, and Keuka College student Melanie Wallace, were arrested on charges ranging from second degree riot to obstructing governmental procedures.
The arrests came in the early morning, “in a way that could only have been scripted by a TV cop show,” Campbell says. “Riot police pushed their way into my apartment, shoved me to the floor and handcuffed me. They then told me to get dressed, which caused much debate between the police since I was on the floor handcuffed, and could not comply.”
According to the Scranton Commission Report, Campbell, Davis and Martinez were “transferred from the Geneva jail to the Canandaigua jail by a patrol car traveling at speeds in excess of 90 m.p.h.”
While Campbell, Davis and Martinez were having their hair cut and faces shaved in jail, a police officer stood next to them, threatening them that they were “going to get a bullet between the eyes” if they “acted up.”…[They] were offered no food of any kind, even though they were in jail during the noon hour when meals are fed to all other prisoners.
Hobart Student Council Treasurer Tim Yolen ’72 “was given the run-around from Geneva to Canandaigua and back,” according to the Scranton Commission Report, but eventually posted “the unusually high bail of $6,000” for Campbell, Davis and Martinez.
Campbell is sure they were “singled out and identified as the ring leaders of the riot, which is ironic since we in fact acted to prevent violence from occurring.”
In July 1970, after Tommy’s role as an undercover agent was made public, Governor Nelson Rockefeller convened a special Grand Jury, which, in an unprecedented turn, alleged that “through two of its highest managerial agents [Causey and McKean],” Hobart and William Smith Colleges—the school itself—had “recklessly tolerated certain conduct constituting the offense of coercion [against the sheriff, Tommy and local law enforcement].”
On December 18, 1970, HWS was officially indicted on coercion charges in what Dr. Allan Kuusisto P’78, who succeeded Causey as HWS President in late 1970, called “a landmark case for higher education;” the indictment marked the first time that “a college has been charged with criminal activities relating to a campus disorder.”
“Our initial reaction,” Kuusisto said at the time, “is one of shock, surprise and discouragement that our neighbors on the jury have chosen to take this unusual course of action.”
- - - -
On July 31, 1970, Tommy was arrested for defrauding the state of unemployment pay benefits, a total of $1,105 he’d received between mid-January and mid-May of 1970, during which time he was employed by the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office.
Frank Pullano P’84, former president of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce and a long-time friend of the Colleges, never knew Tommy himself, but he recalls the day that summer that Joe Hessney, former Geneva police commissioner, “walked into my office and said, ‘This guy [Tommy] is a good guy. He wants to be a policeman— that’s why he did this. Can you help me bail him out?’”
This was an opinion shared by much of the city at the time. In her letter to the city’s newspaper, Geneva resident Catherine C. Blood wrote in support of Tommy, “a most polite, gracious, respectable young man [who] hunts, fishes, golfs and skis with the many friends he has made among several of the very best young family men in our city.” Tommy’s wife, Margaret Lynn, taught Pullano’s son, David ’84, first grade at St. Stephen’s in Geneva.
Tommy’s bail cost Pullano and Hessney about “two or three hundred bucks apiece,” Pullano says, but Hessney told Pullano that Tommy “was the type of guy who’s honest. You’ll probably get your money back.”
Tommy would eventually plead guilty to accepting unemployment benefits while he was working for the sheriff’s department. His sentence was a year of probation and a directive to repay the money he’d unlawfully collected.
“About two or three years later,” Pullano says, “Joe and I each got a check in the mail from Tommy for his bail paisd in full.”
- - - -
By early January 1971, Bennett and Sheppard were sentenced to eight and six months in jail, respectively, for their roles in the ROTC firebombing. Tommy, meanwhile, had been acquitted of “conspiracy to commit arson, criminal solicitation and criminal facilitation in the fire-bombing,” as well as the harassment charge brought against him by Martinez.
Not long after, under the direction of State Supreme Court Justice Fredrick M. Marshall, the jury acquitted the Colleges of all charges. The charges of rioting and obstruction brought against the students and Krause were also dropped.
“Suffice it to say, the Judge’s directions conveyed a thorough repudiation of the kind of thinking that had gone into the Grand Jury’s deliberations,” wrote Kuusisto in the 1970-71 Annual Report to the HWS Trustees. “Now that the Colleges have been vindicated, we can look back on the whole affair as a difficult incident but one which served…in reminding us what precious commodities our integrity and independence are and how easily they are threatened.”
Tommy, who was suspended from duty after the raid in June, was officially dismissed by Sheriff Morrow in February of 1971 and, soon after, accused of neglect by the Grand Jury, which recommended that the “appropriate public body or official take disciplinary action” based on the following findings:
1. On or about April 25, 1970, Deputy Tongyai learned…that certain persons were conspiring to commit the crime of arson, first degree, in the City of Geneva.
Deputy Tongyai did not report his knowledge of this conspiracy to his superior [Morrow]…but reported the same to a member of another investigative body whose action to avert the proposed arson was unsuccessful.
This grand jury finds that the failure of Deputy Tongyai to report his knowledge directly and immediately to his superior law officer constitutes neglect in office.
2. On June 5, 1970…[w]hile the search [of the rooms in Superdorm] was being conducted, Deputy Tongyai left the search area without permission of his superior… and made two arrests on minor charges.
This grand jury finds that Deputy Tongyai’s failure to participate in his assigned duty and his diverting himself to non-related activities constituted neglect in office.
- - - -
But Tommy, who had been a student in police science at the Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, wouldn’t remain unemployed for long.
As the Cortland Standard reported in July of 1971, Tommy “returned to Bucks County, Pa., where he grew up. He was selected from a field of nine to fill a vacancy on the New Britain Township police force.” “He’s very enthused about law enforcement,” said Police Chief Dallas E. Flowers, Tommy’s new boss at the time, “and this enthusiasm was one of the reasons he was chosen for the job.”
Tommy’s enthusiasm is perhaps tied to his sense of pride in family history. Tommy’s father, Singkata Tongyai, received his bachelor’s in police administration from Michigan State University, “for the purpose of setting up an agency in Thailand simular [sic] to the FBI in the USA,” according to Singkata Tongyai’s obituary, written by Tommy.
After M.R. Singkata Tongyai graduated from Michigan State….[he] went into training with the United States Government Office of Strategic Services where he was trained in secret intelligence and operations. He excelled on OSS training….After the war…Tongyai went into Conducting Investigations of Sabotage, Espionage and Subversive Activities in which Military and Civilian [sic] were involved. He Conducted Investigations, Collected Evidence, Procured Information on Individuals, Questioned witnesses and made arrests.
Tommy’s family history may in fact have been precisely what recommended him to the FBI.
“I can’t tell you anything about recruitment or training. That’s classified. My father worked for counter intelligence in the Army. I sort of grew up with it. You can take it from there,” Tommy said in a 1975 interview.
By then, Tommy had divorced, remarried and cut his policing back to part-time, while working as a blacksmith and horseman in rural Pennsylvania, where he lived “a half-mile from the nearest paved road, with an unlisted telephone number and no mailbox to advertise his whereabouts,” according to the Citizen-Advertiser.
He drives a blue pickup truck outfitted as a mobile blacksmith shop. And for a rare visitor Tommy reaches for his wine skin and offers a squirt of his 150-proof imported rum.
“It’s 18th century rum,” he says in an interview in which he partly discussed the past. “I’m a freak for the 18th century. That’s why I live here. I guess that’s why I’m a blacksmith.”
In the 1980s, Tommy—who dropped out of high school in 1963 and spent six months touring with a rodeo (8)—would fulfill his lifelong fascination with horses when he opened a ranch in the mid-west. According to the ranch’s website:
As an individual Tommy will most likely be the most unique character that you will ever meet, but when visiting with him you will hear the passion in his voice for his love and understanding of the genetic [sic] involved in breeding, persevering [sic] and developing superior horses that follow this family tradition….The Cavalier horse was developed by my family starting with my Grandfather’s ideas over a hundred years ago. Major General Prince Tongtikyu Tongyai, as an officer in Czar Nicholas’ Horse Guards, formented [sic] his evaluation of the ultimate cavalry mount. Passing his criteria through my father to me.
An avid (if self-styled) historian, Tommy is reportedly also a Civil War re-enactor, 4th U.S. Cavalry, Company I.
- - - -
Of the incidents at HWS, Tommy said in the same 1975 interview that the “whole thing was crazy. But I can’t say I regret it. I was serving my country….They called me a provocateur. They said I was giving bombs to innocent kids, showing them how to use guns. You don’t understand it, but that’s the art of the undercover psychology. I showed people how a bomb would go off. But I never handled explosives that the radicals could have got hold of.”
However, Tommy’s motives and rationales are less convincing to some.
“Tommy sought to identify who these new thinkers might be and find a way to eliminate them,” Gilman says, convinced that Tommy “was a henchman for a group of desperate people who felt that their lives were indeed endangered by our generation.”
“I think Tommy totally embraced his role as agent provocateur, ferreting out people who were a ‘threat to the country,’” Wardell says. “I think he believed that. Why? Partly the histrionic nature of the way he played the radical. Partly the simplistic way he played the radical. Partly the smile on his face as he held that gun. There was a certain pride. A certain pleasure.”
Nevertheless, the “Tommy the Traveler” incident “became a bonding experience for my class (’72), and I’m sure for the classes of ’70, ’71 and ’73,” says Bromberg. “It is a focus of discussion at every reunion I attend. It also was a rallying point for the two years more that I attended Hobart. Not a day went by that it wasn’t remembered. It was with us always. We experienced this as a group. We were there.”
In the months and years that followed, a new curriculum was implemented on campus as a result not only of the “Tommy the Traveler” incident but the social and political awakening across the country. The students and administration reached an agreement that the current curriculum, as Kuusisto put it, “no longer was in tune with the needs of today’s students and tomorrow’s.” Incoming students would encounter a “refreshing new intellectual challenge… distinguish[ing] initial college experiences more clearly from…secondary school [experience].”
“There were major changes following the spring of 1970,” says DiGangi. The Colleges enacted a “far more liberal curriculum and those in power in the administration welcomed it because it made the Colleges a better place.”
Perhaps the most profound effects, however, were in the students who lived through these events, who were forced “to come to grips with very adult things on the cusp of adulthood. It completely shaped the way we live our lives, our sense of civic responsibility,” says Wardell. “It made us responsible and curious—it made us people who engage with our world.”
Where are they now?
Shirley Napolitano Banker ’72 is a high school teacher living just outside New York City.
Steve Bromberg ’72 is a journalist and editorial consultant working out of the New York City metropolitan area.
Sean Campbell ’70 is the owner of Campbell Maritime in Corona Del Mar, California.
Bruce Davis ’72 owns and operates Silent Stay Retreat Home and Hermitage in Napa, California and Assisi, Italy. He is the author of several books including The Calling of Joy.
Joe DiGangi is emeritus professor of political science at HWS and now resides in the Washington D.C. area.
Joanne Lyons Dunne ’73 is president of The Lyons Consulting Group, a nonprofit and association consulting firm. She’s been in the Washington D.C. area since graduation working in the nonprofit sector.
Bob Gilman ’70, M.D., D.M.D., is a plastic surgeon and a member of the HWS Board of Trustees. He holds the position of clinical lecturer and is a member of the full time plastic surgery faculty in the Section of Plastic Surgery at the University of Michigan.
Mark Jones ’72 is an associate professor of art at HWS where he has been teaching photography and painting since 1985.
Frank Pullano P’84 is a long-time Geneva resident, former president of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce and a founding member of the Geneva Scholarship Associates.
Bill Ryder ’71, P’07 is an attorney working as the legislative and regulatory counsel for the Massachusetts Medical Society.
Christine Wardell ’70 is a retired antitrust lawyer living in San Francisco.
Clarence Youngs ’72 is an administrator for the New York City Department of Education.
Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09 is chair of the HWS Board of Trustees and owner of a financial planning group based in Syracuse, N.Y.
1. From the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee Report (1975-76), which, following the Watergate scandal, probed the “formation, operation, and abuses of U.S. intelligence agencies [like the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI].”
2. This earlier statement conflicts slightly with the testimony Morrow later gave to the Grand Jury: “I was interested only in the drug situation,” Morrow said. “And the radical department was [Geneva FBI agent Jerome] O’Hanlon’s department?” lawyer Willard Myers asked. “That’s exactly right,” the sheriff replied.
3. In the Geneva Times’ reprint of the Grand Jury testimony, “true names of individuals mentioned in the actual Grand Jury testimony have been changed to insure [sic] that this report contains no matter critical of an identified or identifiable person.”
4. Now known as Jackson, Potter and Rees Halls or “JPR.”
5. The CIA’s Project RESISTANCE, much like the FBI’s COINTELPRO, was implemented as “a broad effort to obtain general background information for predicting violence which might create threats to CIA installations, recruiters or contractors and for security evaluation of CIA applicants. From 1967 until 1973, the program compiled information about radical groups around the country, particularly on campuses. Much of the reporting to headquarters by field offices was from open sources such as newspapers. But additional information was obtained from cooperating police departments, campus officials and other local authorities, some of whom, in turn, were using more active collection techniques such as informants.” In Tommy’s Grand Jury testimony, however, when asked if either of the drug firms he worked for were investigative branches of the CIA, Tommy said, “No, sir.”
6. From the Scranton Commission Report.
7. From Donner, “The Agent Provocateur as Folk Hero.”
8. From Donner, “The Agent Provocateur as Fold Hero.”
- Herons Win Soccer National Championship! (PDF)
- Herons win National Championship with 2-0 victory over Trinity
- The Long Road Back
- Defense Wins Championships
- Coaching a Championship Team
- The Most Enthusiastic Fan
- Bridging Athletics and Academics
- 1988-2013: A Generation Apart, United in Excellence
TOMMY THE TRAVELER
- Festive Fall
- Performing Arts Center Update
- A Gift Nearly 80 Years in the Making
- The Elizabeth Blackwell Award
- National Regional Network Launches