In May of 1999, about a year after I wrote about the 30th anniversary of the infamous Aug. 24, 1968, attack by a group of armed right-wing militia known as the Minutemen on what was called the Peace Farm in Voluntown, I heard from a fellow named Thomas Fowler, then living close to the border of Vermont and Canada.
In that attack — 50 years ago this month — seven people were injured, including one of the Minutemen who was shot in the face and blinded, and a 30-year-old woman from Pennsylvania who was living at the farm that summer with her two children, 8 and 6. She was severely wounded in her thigh by a shotgun blast, apparently discharged by a state trooper in a confrontation with one of the attackers.
The six members of the Minutemen eventually were sentenced to prison, including this same Thomas Fowler, then 31, and living in Canterbury. He served 22 months in the state prison in Somers. The others, from Milford, Norwich, Windham and Willimantic, received sentences of varying lengths, including 2½ to 10 years and four consecutive one-year sentences.
Fowler, calling from the tiny Vermont town of Enosburg Falls, wanted me to know that he had no regrets about that night.
The farm, formally the grounds, since 1962, of the Committee for Non-Violent Action and later put under a holding company, the Voluntown Peace Trust, had been a home to and stopping off place for activists and pacifists regularly protesting the building and launch of Polaris submarines at Electric Boat in Groton.
Two years earlier, in the summer of 1966, a barn had been torched on the farm and both residents and police suspected it was the work of the Minutemen. On that August night in 1968, the intent apparently was to put an end to the peace farm.
“I have no regrets,” Fowler said when he called me. “I’m an American patriot. I deeply believe in everything America is supposed to stand for. I’m a conservative. I believe in the freedom from government, from the power of government.”
Fowler, born in Norwich, owned and operated a concrete and construction business in Canterbury. He was married and the father of four young children. He served in the Navy during the Korean War. He also identified himself as a “Native American Mohegan.” A newspaper image of him published on the morning after the raid showed a formidable figure being led out of state police barracks in Danielson: a man of 31, square jaw, broad forearm, thick, curly hair and dressed in fatigues. He told me he’d carried a Russian army long rifle that night.
After moving to Vermont in the early 1980s, he lost a leg when he was struck by a car while trying to change a tire on an interstate.
“What we did that night was purely patriotic,” he said. “These people were supplying our enemy, the North (Viet Cong), who were shooting and killing American soldiers. What put me over the edge was Jane Fonda and her activities. … The idea was to go there (to the farm) and find out who supported them.”
Fowler said there was no connection between the Minutemen and the Ku Klux Klan, which was active in Windham County, though some members of his group had some relatives who mingled with the Klan.
State police knew about the raid and tried to set an ambush. Fowler said there was an informant among the Minutemen. Several of the Minutemen managed to elude the police, and barged into the farmhouse where they bound, gagged and blindfolded two women having coffee. Moments later, shooting erupted. Fowler was not among those injured.
He died from cancer in 2003 at age 66 in Vermont. His obituary mentioned that even after losing his leg in 1991, he was able to work his oxen at county fairs. The obituary also said: “Tom, being a Christian man, was always active with area churches. He was a former deacon at the Berkshire Center Congregational Church. Tom & Darlene (his wife) are currently members at the Northside Baptist Church in St. Albans.”
When he called, he told me guns were not the problem in this country, but rather a lack of parental discipline, a lack of morality taught in schools, and compassion. “I was showing compassion for American soldiers in Vietnam,” he said.
As we ended our conversation that day, I reminded him that the pacifists living at the peace farm showed compassion to the Minutemen. They opposed the sentences imposed on the men, and brought food and clothing to their families.
“They did that,” said Fowler, his voice not shying from gratitude. “They did that.”
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Day in New London. He may be reached at: email@example.com