By Edward Curtin
Very few Americans are aware of the truth behind the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Few books have been written about it, unlike other significant assassinations, especially JFK's. For almost fifty years there has been a media blackout supported by government deception to hide the truth. And few people, in a massive act of self-deception, have chosen to question the absurd official explanation, choosing, rather, to embrace a mythic fabrication intended to sugarcoat the bitter fruit that has resulted from the murder of the one man capable of leading a mass movement for revolutionary change in the United States. Today we are eating the fruit of our denial.
In order to comprehend the significance of this extraordinary book, it is first necessary to dispel a widely accepted falsehood about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. William Pepper does that on the first page.
"To understand his death, it is essential to realize that although he is popularly depicted and perceived as a civil rights leader, he was much more than that. A non-violent revolutionary, he personified the most powerful force for the long-overdue social, political, and economic reconstruction of the nation."
In other words, Martin Luther King was a transmitter of a non-violent spiritual and political energy so plenipotent that his very existence was a threat to an established order based on violence, racism, and economic exploitation. He was a very dangerous man.
Revolutionaries are, of course, anathema to the power elites who, with all their might, resist such rebels' efforts to transform society. If they can't buy them off, they knock them off. Forty-eight years after King's assassination, the causes he fought for -- civil rights, the end to U.S. wars of aggression, and economic justice for all -- remain not only unfulfilled, but have worsened in so many respects. And King's message has been enervated by the sly trick of giving him a national holiday and urging Americans to make it "a day of service." Needless to say, such service does not include non-violent war resistance or protesting a decadent system of economic injustice.
Because MLK repeatedly called the United States the "greatest purveyor of violence on earth," he was universally condemned by the mass media and government that later -- once he was long and safely dead -- praised him to the heavens. This has continued to the present day of historical amnesia.
But William Pepper resurrects the revolutionary MLK, and in doing so shows in striking detail why elements within the U.S. government executed him. After reading this book, no fair-minded reader can reach any other conclusion. The Plot to Kill King, the culminating volume of a trilogy that Pepper has written on the assassination, consists of slightly less text than supporting documentation in its appendices, which include numerous depositions and interviews that buttress Pepper's thesis on the why and how of this horrible murder. It demands a close reading that should put to rest any pseudo-debates about the essentials of the case.
Pepper, an attorney who represented the King family in the 1999 trial that found U.S. officials of the federal (in particular, the FBI and Army Intelligence), state, and local governments responsible for King's assassination, has worked on the King case since 1977. He met MLK in 1967, after King had read Pepper's Ramparts' magazine article, "The Children of Vietnam," that exposed the hideous effects of U.S. napalm and white phosphorous bombing on young and old Vietnamese innocents. The text and photos of that article reduced King to tears and were instrumental in his increased opposition to the war against Vietnam as articulated in his dramatic Riverside Church speech ("Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence") on April 4, 1967, one year to the day before his execution in Memphis. That speech, in which King so powerfully and publicly linked the war with racism and economic exploitation, foretold his death at the hands of the perpetrators of those abominations.
Devastated by King's death, and assuming the alleged assassin James Earl Ray was responsible, Pepper retreated from the fray until a 1977 conversation with the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, King's associate, who raised the specter of Ray's innocence. After a five-hour interrogation of the imprisoned Ray in 1978, Pepper was convinced that Ray did not shoot King and set out on a forty-year quest to uncover the truth.
Before examining the essentials of Pepper's discovery, it is important to point out that MLK, Jr, his father, Rev. M. L. King, Sr, and his maternal grandfather, Rev. A.D. Williams, all pastors of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, were spied on by Army Intelligence and the FBI since 1917. All were considered communist sympathizers and dangerous to the reigning hegemony because of their espousal of racial and economic equality. When MLK Jr. forcefully denounced unjust and immoral war-making as well, and announced his Poor People's Campaign and intent to lead a massive peaceful encampment of hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., he set off panic in the bowels of government spies and their masters. Seventy-five years of spying on black religious leaders here found its ultimate "justification." As Stokely Carmichael, co-chairman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, said to King in a conversation secretly recorded by Army Intelligence, "The man don't care you call ghettos concentration camps, but when you tell him his war machine is nothing but hired killers, you got trouble."
It is against this "trouble" that Pepper's investigation must be set, as that "trouble" is also the background for the linked assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, and RFK. Understanding the forces behind the military, the spies, and the gunmen who, while operating in the shadows, are actually the second layer of the onion skin, is essential. The government and mainstream-corporate media form the outer layer with their collusion in disinformation, lying, and truth suppression, but Pepper correctly identifies the core as follows.
"Bombastic, chauvinistic, corporate propaganda aside, where the slaughter of innocents is, and always was, justified in the name of patriotism and national security, it has always and ever been about money. Corporate and financial leaders trusted with the keys to the Republic's treasure moved from boardrooms to senior government positions and back again. Construction, oil and gas, defense industry, and pharmaceutical corporations, their bankers, brokers, and executives thrive in a war economy. Fortunes are made and dynasties created and perpetuated and a cooperating elite permeates an entire society and ultimately contaminates the world in its drive for national resources wherever they are ... Vietnam was his [King's] Rubicon ... Here, as never before, would he seriously challenge the interests of the power elite."
MLK was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at 6:01 PM as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was shot in the lower right side of his face by one rifle bullet that shattered his jaw, damaged his upper spine, and came to rest below his left shoulder blade. The U.S. government claimed the assassin was a racist loner named James Earl Ray, who had escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary on April 23, 1967. Ray was alleged to have fired the fatal shot from a second-floor bathroom window of a rooming house above the rear of Jim's Grill across the street. Running to his rented room, Ray allegedly gathered his belongings, including the rifle, in a bedspread-wrapped bundle, rushed out the front door onto the adjoining street, and in a panic dropped the bundle in the doorway of the Canipe Amusement Company a few doors down. He was then said to have jumped into his white Mustang and driven to Atlanta where he abandoned the car. From there he fled to Canada and then to England where he was eventually arrested at Heathrow Airport on June 8, 1968, and extradited to the U.S. The state claims that the money Ray needed to purchase the car and for all his travel was secured through various robberies and a bank heist. Ray's alleged motive was racism and that he was a bitter and dangerous loner.
When Ray, under extraordinary pressure, coercion, and a payoff from his lawyer to take a plea, pleaded guilty (only a few days later to request a trial that was denied) and was sentenced to 99 years in prison, the case seemed to be closed, and was dismissed from public consciousness. Another hate-filled lone assassin, shades of Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan, had committed a despicable deed.