WHO REALLY KILLED MARTIN LUTHER KING?
(special interests of wealth and power?)
An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King
By William F. Pepper
Verso, 334 pages, $36
By GEORGE ELLIOTT CLARKE
Globe & Mail Book Review
Saturday, February 1, 2003
When a beloved and messianic prophet of moral progress and social revolution is "taken out" -- to use that vulgar, cop-shop metaphor -- by a low-class loser suddenly flush with cash and fake Canadian passports, the idea that a high-powered cabal fashioned the spectacular homicide is a viable suspicion. Thus, when Nobel Peace Prize laureate and U.S. civil rights champion Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 39, the celebrated African-American leader and anti-war and anti-poverty crusader, was shot through the neck -- "officially" -- by James Earl Ray, a blue-collar, white-trash redneck, in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, not everyone was convinced of Ray's singular sniper artistry.
Then again, as with the folks who maintain that the low-birth country bumpkin Shakespeare could never have authored those suave, sophisticated dramas, there are those who refuse to believe that an unschooled, unskilled proletarian may, in his faceless solitude, squeeze off a lucky shot that decapitates, at once, a man and a movement. These doubters ponder facts, damned facts and contradictions.
But if Ray did not ascend, solo, inexplicably, from obscure thief to finessed assassin, from a jail-breaking Midwesterner to a jet-setting murderer -- with stops in Toronto, Montreal and London's Heathrow Airport (where he was arrested en route to Portugal) -- then who did plot the killing of King, and, thus, the confounding of the most credible mass movement for social change then occurring in the Unites States? If Ray was just a pawn of those who wished to checkmate King and his planned Poor People's Campaign "invasion" of Washington, D.C., who were they and how did they concoct his frame-up?
These questions -- along with his friendship with King and his survivors and his role as an attorney for Ray -- animate William F. Pepper's prolix j'accuse, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King.
Now an English barrister, U.S. lawyer and international human-rights advocate, Pepper, who was a journalist in 1967, advised King on U.S. atrocities in the Vietnam War, thereby moving King to oppose that bloody aggression and, Pepper says, to weigh a presidential campaign in 1968. "Special interests," "economic interests" and "powerful corporate interests in the shadows," along with J. Edgar Hoover's rightist FBI, Richard Helms's treasonous CIA, the vicious U.S. Army, the no-good Memphis police and Southern "wise guys" all colluded, Pepper holds, to nix King and his "threat" of factory, campus, farm and ghetto mobilization.
Conspiracy is, of course, an easy charge to make, but hell to prove. In his favour, Pepper points to his quarter-century-long investigation of the assassination (1978 to the present), his arrangement of a British TV trial for Ray (who pleaded guilty in 1968 and was never tried otherwise), in which his client was acquitted, and his spearheading of a civil suit against one of the prime suspects in the assassination scheme, Memphis café owner Loyd Jowers, who was duly found by a jury to have conspired to murder King. Pepper also enjoys the support of King's unimpeachable widow, Coretta Scott King, as well as that of the former U.S. attorney-general, Ramsey Clark.
Against Pepper is arrayed every governmental review of the King assassination, all of which insist on Ray as the shooter. Naturally, for Pepper, the government analyses are self-interested denials of a cover-up, while professional conspiracy debunker Gerald Posner is just their "publicist."
To his credit, Pepper sifts through the minutiae of the state's case, and attempts to refute and rebut every refutation and rebuttal of his own position. He alleges that the government investigations are biased and incomplete, as opposed to his own practice of scrupulous diligence. However, he does not -- perhaps cannot -- explain why smooth, Machiavellian personages like Hoover and Helms, and hit-squad aficionados like the United States Army and the CIA, would leave the "execution" of King dependent on a two-bit thief, a pop-and-burgers slinger, a Memphis cop, a produce seller and an assortment of anonymous drunkards and pseudonymous liars, when they had so many "experts" available.
But accidents of destiny happen. Bad people do kill people of good will and, frequently, just on a whim -- or because of some obsessive fancy. What looks like malicious conspiracy is, usually, just the intricate interlocking of ineptitude, lassitude and turpitude. The idea that democratic governments may dispense secret snipers to "off" their dissident citizens must be viewed with the most sedulous incredulousness, the most antiseptic skepticism.
And yet, conspiracies -- criminal, not always murderous -- do occur, a truth whose manifestations Pepper catalogues to add force to his charge that "the special interests of wealth and power . . . from the shadows dominate the institutions of public life and power in our [U.S.] Republic," and that, in 1968, they orchestrated "the assassination of America's greatest prophet."
History backs Pepper: The Watergate Scandal revealed President Nixon's various conspiracies, using the FBI, the CIA and the IRS to bully U.S. citizens. President Eisenhower warned of the formation, within the United States, of a murky interest he called "the military-industrial complex." Documented U.S. conspiracies -- against popular governments and human rights abroad -- include the Iran-Contra Affair and the backing of sadistic dictatorships in South America and Asia. A year ago, the Bush Administration suffered an awkward silence when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez triumphed over a coup d'état that it had initially welcomed.
Is it "whacked" to think that King was bureaucratically "whacked"? Not necessarily. But Pepper needs more than lawyerly prosaic prose to close his case. He needs the once-"smoking gun" -- which is, he wagers, lying in deep silt in the Mississippi River.
Who really killed Martin Luther King?. Globe & Mail, Feb 2, 2003
Go to 35.The Brotherhood
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