Ngô Đình Diệm and his vice-president Nguyễn Ngọc Thơ repeatedly claimed that the government cracked down on dissident armed forces and did not oppose Hòa Hảo Buddhism as a religious congregation. In fact, there were no bloody reprisals and killings similar to the Việt Minh violence against the Hòa Hảo followers in 1945 and 1947. Nonetheless, the Hòa Hảo community still regarded the Ngô Đình Diệms regime as an oppressive dictatorship.
It should be pointed out that the Hòa Hảo community opposed “dictatorship in all forms” since 1945. Therefore, followers of Hòa Hảo Buddhism viewed the Việt Minh as a dictatorial party and the regime of Ngô Đình Diệm as the dictatorship of the Ngô clan. Although there were no government reprisals against the Hòa Hảo community, the adepts felt mistreated and oppressed by the Catholic regime.
One important point should be mentioned: Although the Hòa Hảo community opposed the government of Ngô Đình Diệm, its followers never collaborated with the Communists. When the Vietnamese Army marched through predominant Hòa Hảo areas, the troops had not to be on alert. The army officers knew that although Hòa Hảo followers would not have cooperated, they also would not have attacked the troops. Moreover, the adepts secretly helped those army officers who had previously served in the Hòa Hảo army. The faithful tipped off former Hòa Hảo officers about Việt Cộng hideouts and arm caches. Unlike peasants in other areas of Vietnam, the Hòa Hảo followers remained sternly anti-Communist.
The government of Ngô Đình Diệm was keen to dissolve the Hòa Hảo armed forces as well as the Social-Democratic Party. However, the system of Hòa Hảo local self-government committees, or Ban trị sự, was not officially dissolved or banned. The committees kept a low profile and their overt activities virtually came to a halt. There were no formal intermediaries between the government and two million Hòa Hảo followers. Therefore, the authorities had to deal directly with the mass of Hòa Hảo adepts.
Huỳnh Phú Sổs father Huỳnh Công Bộ assumed a position of undisputed moral authority within the community. Also known as Đức Ông, he still lived in the family residence in Hòa Hảo village. Huỳnh Công Bộ was surrounded by some trusted advisers and they constituted an informal leadership of the community.
Generally speaking, Huỳnh Công Bộ and his advisers typically refrained from any political moves or statements, which could have had negative repercussions for the mass of adepts. They highlighted dissemination of the Hòa Hảo doctrines via cultural, educational and social activities. Notably, they opened a high school in Hòa Hảo village. Subsequently, the Kinh Dương and Nguyễn Trung Trực schools were opened in Chợ Mới, and throughout the Hòa Hảo areas. It should be noticed that these schools and other projects were officially supported by individuals and not by any Hòa Hảo organization.
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