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O.C. Democratic leader faces backlash after sharing post praising Ho Chi Minh on Facebook

Protesters in Orange County's Little Saigon
Vuong “Tom” Nguyen, a former South Vietnamese soldier, leads a group of protesters in Orange County’s Little Saigon.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

An Orange County Democratic Party leader has learned the perils of sharing social media posts praising dead communist leaders.

On Sunday, Jeff LeTourneau, vice chair of the county’s Democratic Party, shared a Facebook post that glorified Ho Chi Minh, the former communist leader of Vietnam.

The post drew immediate criticism from politicians from both parties, including those who represent Orange County’s politically active Vietnamese American community, which was built on a bedrock of refugees of communism and the Vietnam War.

On Wednesday, LeTourneau resigned from his position during a special meeting of the Democratic Party of Orange County.

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The post, which was deleted about 90 minutes later, said that “Ho Chi Minh liberated an entire poor, colonized nation from 2 of the most powerful imperial military forces in the world (the US and France) and won full independence for the people of Vietnam.”

The post also described Ho Chi Minh as short and awkward in stature.

Ho Chi Minh was a founding member of the Viet Minh in 1941 and seized control of Hanoi, a northern Vietnam city, in 1946, establishing his dictatorial communist rule. Although he died six years before the fall of Saigon, which signified a victory for North Vietnam, his rule is remembered for its massive casualties and for causing the diaspora of South Vietnamese who feared retribution for their war efforts.

An undated handout photo of Jeff LeTourneau, a Brea resident and longtime LGBTQ+ advocate.
An undated handout photo of Jeff LeTourneau, a Brea resident and longtime LGBTQ+ advocate.
(Democratic Party of Orange County)
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LeTourneau, a Brea resident and longtime LGBTQ+ advocate, later issued an apology post Monday after screenshots of the post were recirculated and politicians from both sides of the aisle called for his resignation. LeTourneau said the post caused “great harm and opened deep wounds” and told the Vietnamese community that he is “not insensitive to their pain.”

In an interview just before the special meeting, LeTourneau said he did not intend to offend anyone. At the time, he said his supporters were asking that he not step down.

LeTourneau later said he decided to resign as vice chair and from his two chair positions on the Bylaws and Resolutions Committee for the sake of party unity before the November election.

“I hope that my resignation from leadership positions in the Democratic Party would be a first step in healing and reconciliation for our communities,” LeTourneau said in a statement. “It is my hope that Democrats across Orange County can unite behind our candidates and the values of the Democratic Party.”

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The controversy comes just two years after the Democratic Party flipped four districts in Orange County, once a solidly Republican stronghold.

Orange County has more than 183,000 Vietnamese residents, making it the largest Vietnamese community in the United States. Vietnamese Americans have historically voted Republican, though their children are increasingly staking out more liberal positions and voting for Democrats.

Janet Nguyen, the Republican candidate for the 72nd Assembly District seat, said she was appalled by LeTourneau’s post.

Former Sen. Janet Nguyen speaks at a rally in March 2017.
Former state Sen. Janet Nguyen speaks at a rally organized by members of Orange County’s Vietnamese American community in March 2017.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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Nguyen called upon her Democratic opponent, current Garden Grove City Councilwoman Diedre Nguyen, to “reject the Orange County Democratic Party’s endorsement and money if this is what they stand for.”

In an interview, Nguyen recalled staying with her grandmother when her parents were both imprisoned for attempting to leave Vietnam. Her family attempted to flee in a boat on several occasions. When they had reached Thailand, they were turned away because the country was no longer accepting refugees. Nguyen’s mother proposed breaking the boat away from the shore and swimming in to avoid returning to Vietnam.

Nguyen was 3 when she swam into Thailand with her mother and sister. She compared praising Ho Chi Minh to praising Hitler.

“That’s how much anger we have and we can’t forgive it,” Nguyen said.

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Diedre Nguyen responded that she would still accept the money.

“Every party has the good and the bad. You cannot pretend the whole party is bad,” she said.

The Garden Grove councilwoman, who represents parts of Little Saigon, said her family also experienced the aftermath of Ho Chi Minh’s reign. She and family members were imprisoned on multiple occasions after attempting to flee the country.

In response to LeTourneau sharing the Ho Chi Minh post, Diedre Nguyen sent a letter to the Democratic Party of Orange County asking for him to be removed from his position. She also coordinated a news conference on Tuesday near the Vietnam War memorial in Westminster’s Freedom Park.

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Three Democratic Orange County congress members facing reelection — Gil Cisneros, Lou Correa and Harley Rouda — also sent a letter earlier this week asking for LeTourneau’s resignation.

“Mr. LeTourneau’s glorification of Ho Chi Minh spits in the face of the freedom, prosperity, and safety that so many Vietnamese Americans fought and died for, and the deaths of 58,000 American soldiers who laid down their lives to defend the freedom of the Vietnamese people,” the statement read.

Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, who is currently running against Rouda for his 48th District seat, released a statement calling for LeTourneau’s resignation earlier this week.

“A lot of people here are very patriotic and their family members were killed by [Ho Chi Minh]. They deserve better than him,” Steel said in an interview.

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Garden Grove City Councilwoman Kim Nguyen, a Democrat, learned about the post Sunday while sharing a meal of cơm tấm, or broken rice, with her parents, grandparents and younger brother.

During her meal, she began receiving a flood of notifications. Nguyen left the room to respond to a call. After several minutes, her father, a Vietnamese immigrant, checked to see if she was returning to the table. Eventually, he realized Ho Chi Minh was somehow involved in the conversation.

“My dad’s reaction was rage, but I know it was masking pain and sadness,” Nguyen said. “Being the daughter of refugees, I understand the severity and the gravity that a post like that carries.”


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