On this the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, a soon-to-be-published book provides us the most comprehensive account of this event, the shock of which reverberated across America and the world. More than that, the anniversary gives us all ample reason to reflect on the man and his impact, and where America is at present in the context of the main pursuits to which he devoted his life: racial equality, justice, liberty, truth, freedom, and peace. Oh, and a slice of the American Dream. Australian writer Greg Maybury reports.
Dick Cavett: ‘A lot of people…were astounded at how you got [alleged assassin of Martin Luther King, James Earl] Ray to change the plea [from “not guilty” to “guilty”].’
Percy Foreman [Ray’s lawyer and LBJ crony]: ‘I didn’t get him to change the plea. [Laughing] I simply told him that I thought he would be executed if he didn’t.’
The Dick Cavett Show, August 9, 1969*
(*From: Who REALLY Killed Martin Luther King Jr.? – The Case Against Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover, © Phillip F. Nelson/Skyhorse Publishing. Pub. Date: April 17, 2018.)
A Piece of Work, and then Some!
Choose any notable event between presidents Calvin Coolidge and Richard Nixon (even beyond), such was his impact any subsequent discussion is far from complete without significant reference to J Edgar Hoover, the long-time founding Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); chances are that its Director’s ‘fingerprints’ were all over said “event”. That said, such knowledge about one of the most iconic and consequential figures in American history has only come to pass incrementally in the ensuing years after his death in 1972.
Moreover, choose any significant individual public or political figure during that era, and the likelihood is that Hoover knew more about that person than they might’ve known about themselves. He most certainly knew much more about them than they themselves might’ve cared for anyone else to know, much less someone like Hoover.
As we will see, one such “individual” on Edgar’s radar was the iconic civil rights leader and anti-Vietnam war campaigner Dr Martin Luther King (MLK); one such “event” was his assassination on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, TN., and the subsequent cover-up by the forces behind the murder and/or those closely aligned with them. The man who was subsequently charged with the crime, James Earl Ray, spent the rest of his life in prison, despite maintaining his innocence up until his last breath, an outcome we might safely opine ranks as one of the greatest perversions of justice in the Grand American Narrative.
There can surely be no doubt now there was a high level conspiracy to eliminate King, one planned and orchestrated from the highest levels of the U.S. government on down the ranks and that James Earl Ray was framed. In short, he was the fall-guy, and his involvement in the King assassination was both peripheral and unknowing. We will return throughout to the subject of King, Ray, the assassination, the conspiracy, and its 50 YO cover-up.
But first up, some background on Hoover and his alter ego and partner-in-crime (in this instance and in so many others) is necessary: President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ). Few politicians of any political stripe and any significant import throughout Hoover’s lingering reign – and crucially, few Oval Office occupants – had a tighter relationship with America’s then Number One G-Man than did LBJ. That their fortunes, ambitions, and destinies intertwined in unique ways is axiomatic for those in the know. That all this was to come in handy for both men doesn’t even begin to explain it.
Beyond their involvement in King’s murder, individually their impact was not only to change everything from the course of the lives of millions of people to the political direction and very character of their nation and many others as well; together their impact proved to be much greater than the sum of the parts. That such new knowledge continues to be exposed by intrepid researchers and writers is also a given, even if such information doesn’t always filter through to – much less become accepted by – the mainstream. The “mainstream” in this sense being both the media gatekeepers and their readership.
The essence of this preamble becomes compelling when one reads the forthcoming book by Phil Nelson titled: Who REALLY Killed Martin Luther King Jr.? – The Case Against Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover. (Author note: I’ve been privy to an advance copy of this book for several weeks.) By referencing all available evidence and documents whilst drawing upon the extraordinary work of previous authors, most notably Dr William Pepper (to whom we shall return), but others as well – and in the process duly debunking both the renditions and reputations of several other authors whose names have frequently been linked with the official, yet totally bogus, narrative of his assassination, again most notably William Bradford Huie – Nelson delivers a thorough exposition of the real backstory behind one of modern American history’s most defining and traumatic events.
In doing so, as already indicated, the author shines the spotlight on two of the most reprehensible, coldblooded, megalomaniacal, treasonous, and criminally minded public figures ever to ‘grace’ the political stage and be accorded the public trust in the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free: Messrs Hoover and Johnson. Given the plethora of folks – both living and dead – who might fit the above profile, by any measure we can say that that is one very big call.
It’s axiomatic that there was no shortage of people throughout his reign who pissed Edgar off, a not especially difficult achievement even for those who went out of their way to avoid doing so. Hoover was to be sure one of the Great Haters in that aforementioned narrative. And there can be little doubt that it was King – along with Robert Kennedy and his brother John Fitzgerald Kennedy – who invited Edgar’s hatred more so than anyone else. Hoover, along with LBJ – arguably the most unhinged, criminally psychopathic Oval Office occupant to date, an observation difficult to refute for those who take the time to read Nelson’s earlier work on the man; see here, here, and here – conspired to eliminate King. All up then, if there is a more symbiotically iniquitous alliance in the annals of U.S. political enterprise, then this writer who’d be keen to know about it.
Insofar as Nelson’s book is concerned, space herein precludes a detailed ‘blow by blow’ of the key dramatis personae involved in the King plot, the machinations behind it all, and the subsequent cover up that has endured to this day. In any event it is not the main purpose of this exercise. Suffice to say his meticulous deconstruction of the circumstances attending the assassination and the actual (versus the fabricated) facts related to it, and the now 50 year old campaign to preserve intact the official narrative, must now stand as the definitive account of this extraordinary event – both deeply shameful and tragic in equal measure – in America’s history.
That said, in a ‘cut to the chase’ kinda way, the following summary may be sufficient to inform those not overly familiar with some of the “actual facts”, and set the stage for what is to follow.
- The assassination of MLK was planned more than 2 years before, and was the brainchild of Johnson and Hoover, with Edgar’s 2IC Clyde Tolson the point-man, ably abetted by Cartha “Deke” DeLoach;
- The motivations for Hoover and LBJ were various and sometimes over-lapping, with Hoover having a visceral hatred of King because of his activism and his race, and LBJ resenting his popularity, political influence and vehement opposition to the Vietnam war;
- The plotters cunningly planned to have the assassination portrayed from the off as the work of another “lone nut”, in Ray’s case, ‘[A] vicious Southern racist and hater, stalker, [and] murderer’, itself a total fabrication;
- It was the famed novelist, William Bradford Huie, an old friend/crony of Hoover’s, who was given a “mission” to create this meme for Ray, one whose shelf life endures to this day, and from whom so many others took their lead in its perpetuation;
- A civil trial in 1999 exonerated Ray (who’d died in prison the previous year just over 40 years after the murder), and it found that a government conspiracy was responsible for King’s murder, [and] that Ray was a ‘patsy’ with no knowing involvement in the hit.
From these basic premises, Nelson methodically unpacks this bespoke meme regarding James Earl Ray – as removed from reality as it could possibly be imagined – as the massive deceit that it was. He then presents us with a revised account in its place, based upon hard evidence that exonerates Ray. It needs be noted that Nelson’s account is supplemented by many other authors, including Harold Weisberg, Mark Lane, and, particularly, William Pepper.
Nelson also posits many instances of how government investigators – the FBI originally, then the Department of Justice in 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) investigators in 1978, and the DOJ again in 2000 – deliberately avoided pursuing any and all leads which pointed toward Ray’s innocence. In the latter case, it is noteworthy this aversion to allowing the truth to emerge regarding King’s murder was presided over by none other than William Jefferson Clinton, a man who interestingly enough, like LBJ himself at least post-1963 – owed his political career in no small measure to the black vote.
The Most Notorious Liars in America
As regards J Edgar Hoover then, given that he ruled the roost at the FBI for almost half a century right up until his demise, he surely qualifies as one of the most enduring – if not quite endearing – characters in the Grand American Narrative. More to the point, Edgar was one hombre who in the popular American idiom might be described as ‘a piece of work, and then some’, an accolade that could’ve been coined with just him in mind. In this LBJ himself was no less “a piece of work”.
Whether together or separately, in almost everything they touched or became involved in, this “impact” however it might be identified and so defined rarely manifested itself in a good way. Moreover, that their behaviour and actions went against everything their country purported to represent to the world at large and was at odds with every principle and value they were sworn to uphold as per the hallowed Constitution and the rule of law is a given.
For his part, along with pissing off – and instilling abject fear in – a lot of very famous, important and powerful people, Hoover’s main talent was being able to keep a secret, including as it turned out not only his own ‘deepest and darkest’, but some of Johnson’s as well. That is to say he knew ‘where the bodies were buried’, a statement that again we might reflexively equate with the life, personality, and times of LBJ himself.
It should be noted that at the time they were still strutting the political stage, few folks would have known whose “bodies” Hoover and LBJ actually knew about, how they became “bodies” in the first place, and/or how much their ‘resurrection’ at the time might have changed the course of events as we now know them to have done. In both cases we’re not just speaking figuratively here. Whether by accident, expediency, or design, such information almost always worked to both men’s advantage. Insofar as their respective legacies go, it probably does so to this day, several decades after they both passed on (within just over six months of each other).
It needs be noted at this point that readers should not expect this narrative to be gleefully embraced by the mainstream media, given that for half a century they have by omission or by commission avoided revealing anything remotely resembling the truth of the matter. As with almost any significant event in U.S. history and the key players therein, the mainstream media – including many purported progressive, ‘liberal’ types – have proven themselves tireless gatekeepers inoculating their constituencies against that virulent infection called ‘truth’ for fear such a ‘pandemic’ will overwhelm the immune system of the republic.
This is of course not just in the case of King’s assassination, but just about any significant episode in American history where accounts differing from the official narrative are at best patronisingly reported, or relegated to the realm of conspiracy theory. Indeed in his must-view interview last year with James Corbett, William Pepper alluded to this reality.
Preserving the secrets of the republic is as much, if not indeed more so, about protecting the reputations of individuals as it is about defending the ever so fragile integrity of ‘hallowed’ institutions, the Fourth Estate being one of these, along with the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Congress, and of course the presidency itself, to name just a few that are especially relevant in this instance.
In a recent Washington Post piece by Tom Jackman, the title from the off gives us a hint of what to expect: “Who killed Martin Luther King Jr.? His family believes James Earl Ray was framed.” The perfunctory concession embodied in the title – that King’s family “believes” Ray was innocent – and the ensuing narrative ends up being far removed from actually presenting any authentic detail that supports that belief, or offering anything that might invite readers to explore the matter further.
One also suspects that if it was any one other than the King family itself making these assertions, they’d have been ignored at best, or at worst, dismissed as conspiracy theorists. Jackman – ever the dutiful MSM ‘presstitute’ it would seem, and in an apparent attempt to inject some balance and objectivity – cites David Garrow of all people, a ‘Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of MLK’.
As Jackman tells it, Garrow viewed the King family as part of a larger population of American people who ‘need to believe that the assassination of a King or a Kennedy must be the work of mightier forces’ rather than the victims “of small-fry, lifetime losers”‘, as if to suggest the victims of the assassinations in question were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As Jackman himself seems keen to emphasise (in the process holding up the Pulitzer winner as the go-to man on all things King), [Garrow he notes] is all but dismissive of such folks’ thinking: In Garrow’s palpably condescending opinion, ‘People need to see something of a balance between effect and cause’, he observes…. [That] ‘if something has a huge evil effect, it should be the result of a huge evil cause.’ For those of us who’ve examined the whole “conspiracy theory” construct, this is a familiar trope, one that is trotted out with monotonous frequency.
Yet here is just one example of Nelson’s attention to detail in dismissing the likes of Garrow and other writers and authors of the King narrative, with Garrow himself a long way from being amongst the most egregious of those who’ve perpetuated the official narrative. Whilst acknowledging Garrow’s ‘partial revelations’ of Hoover’s ‘malfeasance and assorted criminal acts’ in his and the FBI’s campaign against King, Nelson states that these revelations ceased after the assassination.
‘He [Garrow] did not address the closing episode of King’s life; there is little reflection evident as to the forces that came to bear on King’s murder in Memphis within Garrow’s book, despite the intensive examination of them up until that point… yet Garrow portrayed himself as the expert in later interviews on the subject. In not connecting anything he had examined up to 1968 with what happened next, he created a major disconnect.’
Without any discernible nod to his own proclivities in this regard, it is interesting to note that Hoover himself once publicly designated MLK the “most notorious liar in America”. This Hooverian ‘accolade’ equally applies to not just the man himself, but his kindred spirit LBJ, along with the many authors who have ‘fought the good fight’ against truth and justice. It can and does also apply – albeit in the more collective sense – to the corporate media, whom I’ve hitherto described as the ‘praetorian guards of the empire’s liars’.
We are again talking about a recurring motif in the Grand Narrative then, and one which this writer has frequently cited as irrefutable evidence against that age-old truism: [that] ‘America doesn’t do irony’. Indeed, America does irony so well, it doesn’t realise how well it does “[do] irony”. To underscore this from a more contemporary perspective, the most accomplished purveyors of fake news are the corporate media, the very ones who are first to criticise any narrative that is at odds with their own. For those Americans then who harbour few illusions about their past history and the key political and public players who’ve populated it and driven the narrative, such observations will simply serve to underscore what many already know.
On the other hand, for those folks who, despite all evidence to the contrary, still see their country as the bastion of democracy, freedom, justice, equality, truth, and a force for good in the world – and may not have been acquainted with the individual and shared history of the aforementioned individuals – then this is a story which should leave one and all in a breathless state of disbelief, revulsion and shame. “Should” is the operative word herein; that “will” (ahem) should be in lieu thereof, may be expecting a tad too much.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
For his part, along with pissing off – and instilling fear in – a lot of very famous, important and powerful people, for his part Hoover’s main talent was being able to keep a secret, including as it turned out not only his own ‘deepest and darkest’, but some of Johnson’s own. That is to say he knew ‘where the bodies were buried’, another statement we might reflexively equate with the life, personality, and times of LBJ himself.
Again much the same can be said of the one man to whom he was most beholden, LBJ, even more so than Hoover. And although by no means the only one, this includes in LBJ’s case, one of the most prominent champions of liberal, progressive values in the media, a man named Bill Moyers. The recently retired Moyers has consistently refused to entertain a bad word about his former boss LBJ, which is understandable to some degree since he was complicit in many of his nefarious schemes whilst in office.
This included his proxy involvement in the harassment via Hoover’s FBI of the civil rights leader, which itself extended to the bugging of MLK’s phones, blackmail, in addition to death threats. Moyers even embroiled himself in a threat to sue the History Channel a few years back over a documentary series aired on the Channel that dared to suggest that LBJ was indeed a key plotter in the assassination of his predecessor. Well might we say: So much then for the purported liberal defenders of truth, justice, freedom of speech, and the American way.
Insofar as the MLK story goes, it is to Dr William Pepper that Nelson ‘dips his lid’ most prominently as being his most inspired source and the most indefatigable of investigators in the search for the real truth about the man’s murder, one of America’s most seminal and quintessential of ‘state crimes against democracy’. Pepper has written three books on this event, the latest being 2017’s The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
In his aforementioned interview with James Corbett, he reveals that in the forty plus years he’s been involved in investigating and reporting on the King assassination, he has spent over a million dollars of his own money and at one point relocated himself and his family to the UK as a result of numerous death threats. It is also notable that Pepper has given his seal of approval to Nelson’s more recent effort to add further insight into this extraordinary story. Here’s part of what he had to say (via email to this writer and Nelson):
‘Phil Nelson…has provided us with some valuable missing information about the actions of Lyndon Johnson in the context of events in the 1960’s. I’ve long believed the information given to me…about LBJ’s knowing involvement and collusion in the assassination of JFK. Nelson’s research about Johnson’s collaboration [with] and his support of the profoundly illegal and evil, public actions of J. Edgar Hoover [in the assassination of Martin Luther King] fills in many blanks and is a highly valuable historical contribution. I urge, and hope, that this work will be widely read.’
If Nelson has written the definitive account of King’s murder then, it is to his credit that he goes out of his way to ensure that these people receive due acknowledgement for their contributions. This is not only evident in the course of the narrative itself, but was consistently reinforced to me in the recent conversations I had with him via Skype.
By the same token, Nelson has been unsparing in his criticism of those who have muddied the waters, and especially so of William Bradford Huie, the man whom Hoover personally tasked with authoring the meme that became irrevocably associated in the public’s mind regarding James Earl Ray. As Nelson tells it, Huie – a novelist it should be noted – reinvented Ray as a man completely at odds with his real persona. Instead of being depicted as ‘a backward, uneducated but non-violent man of low self-esteem’, Huie successfully remolded Ray into an aggressive, violent, hate-filled Southern-born racist whose main ambition in life was to see his name topping the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list. Huie did this via a series of lies, fabrications, and inventions, ‘presented as only a novelist could do’. He wasn’t even born in the south.
Being Black in America – The King Legacy Today
According to Eddie Glaude Jr., in a recent article titled “The Whitewashing – and Resurrection – of Dr. King’s Legacy”, the civil rights leader began second guessing the certainty of his ‘moral vision’. He’d ‘underestimated how deeply the belief that white people matter more than others was ingrained in the habits of American life.’ King apparently saw that white resentment was ‘not simply a sin of the South. It was embedded in the very psyche of white America.’
When we consider the state of racial relations in America today – fifty years after LBJ’s Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964 – few could argue there’s been a substantive across the board shift for the better in the social, educational, financial, legal, economic, or political standing of African Americans. This is palpably obvious even to non-Americans, even after the election of a black president in 2009, and whose second term in office embraced the 50th anniversary of the Act. Yet his tenure was ironically characterised by an unprecedented uptick in racial tension, division and violence (again, obvious to anyone with a passing interest in the country’s national affairs), and it could be argued that the standing of African Americans is in so many respects worse than it was in 1964.
This realisation is made even more unsettling by the fact that Obama seemed disinterested in lending the weight of his office to meaningful leadership on the issue, or for that matter was incapable of grasping the gravity of the situation. One suspects if he’d spent more time addressing this issue than bailing out Wall Street criminals; attacking journalists and whistle-blowers for their attempts to hold his government to account; resisting the pressures of the neo-con crowd and their so-called liberal interventionist confreres to interfere in the affairs of other countries; and bombing wedding ceremonies in the Middle East and beyond – to name just a few of those activities to which he seemed more focussed on that those of the concerns of his fellow African Americans, we might be talking about a different reality for many of them today. This from a president who reportedly opined that the iconic TV series The Wire was one of his favourite shows!
In King’s final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, he argued in part that white supremacy stood in the way of America’s democracy, that it was an ever-present force in frustrating the dreams of the nation’s darker-skinned citizens. At the heart of it was a distorted understanding of the meaning of racial justice. He wrote:
‘Negroes have proceeded from a premise that equality means what it says, and they have taken white Americans at their word when they talked of it as an objective. But most whites in America … proceed from a premise that equality is a loose expression for improvement. White America is not even psychologically organized to close the gap–essentially it seeks only to make it less painful and less obvious but in most respects to retain it. This is a devastating judgment about our so-called national commitment to progress.…It reduces racial justice to a charitable enterprise by which white people “do good” for black people. This, in turn, provides white Americans with a necessary illusion that preserves the idea of innocence and insulates their conscience or, perhaps, their soul from guilt and blame.’
One is left to ponder if King’s assessment isn’t as pertinent now as it was then.
And for those folks uncertain as to whether Johnson was a man capable of such a treasonous, criminal act as to arrange the murder of the most prominent African American of the ear, they might like to get up close and personal with Nelson’s 2012 book, LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination, wherein as the title suggests, he charges LBJ – convincingly so – with being the principal orchestrator of the assassination of his predecessor and the subsequent cover-up.
As we might rightly opine, that’s some “form” indeed!
And if that doesn’t do the trick, they should try reading this author’s account of the attempted sinking of the USS Liberty in 1967 by Israeli Defence Forces during the Six Day War, and from there consider LBJ’s direct role in planning and stage-managing both of these events. (See here and here.)
Not noted for being a conviction politician by any stretch, there was always a disconnect between Johnson’s drive to push his country to its limits in Vietnam (and beyond), and his drive to push the Great Society and its accompanying reforms (the War on Poverty anyone?) as far as he could. In keeping with his unique psychopathology, the Great Society was always all about LBJ. Any altruism embedded in its goals — these being egalitarianism, justice, equality, economic and social emancipation, and securing basic civil rights for African-Americans and other minorities in general — would have been foreign to the Johnson psyche.
By the same token LBJ, ever the consummate political chameleon and ‘chancer’, may just have been sucking up the zeitgeist; the Civil Rights movement at that time was unstoppable in any event. He knew supporting change in this area was one of many keys to his re-election in 1968, as well as providing him with extra ballast for his legacy, something that Johnson became increasingly obsessed with.
That is to say, there are still plenty of folks who’d refute any hard-core, warts ‘n all assessment of both these men, their tenure, and the sheer depth and breadth of damage they visited upon the republic, the fabric of which was very much torn and frayed at the time. It needs be noted this was during an era when, notwithstanding the intergenerational acrimony, economic inequality, social division, political turmoil, and cultural discord, of the times, said republic – or at least a sufficiently critical mass of its rank and file members – appeared to show some preparedness to reflect on the direction in which it was heading and what it might do about it.
For his part, in his championing of civil rights, social equality, justice, racial harmony, Martin Luther King both embraced, embodied, and echoed that promise, and there can be no doubt that that is what ‘scared the horses’ the most. That we haven’t seen anything quite like the movement he inspired since may be one of the most damning indictments on the prevailing political zeitgeist, and one of the most telling pointers to the republic’s future.
As for Johnson himself, like with his successor Obama mentioned earlier, had Johnson not embarked on his disastrous Vietnam adventure, there might have been some time, money, and energy remaining to devote to those issues that at the time really mattered to ordinary Americans, regardless of their colour.
There can be no doubt that his Great Society – no matter the potential and the promise it offered in principle – suffered from Johnson’s numerous other obsessions. Not least in this case his obsession with eliminating the very man who inspired the sentiment underpinning his whole civil rights/war on poverty crusade to begin with.
And they say, “Americans don’t do irony”. As I’m fond of pointing out, this author begs to differ.
Greg Maybury is an author, blogger, and news curator based in Perth, Western Australia. A former high school teacher with an abiding interest in American history, politics, culture, and society, Greg is a regular contributor to numerous websites, including Dandelion Salad. With the author’s and the publisher’s permission, he has been publishing selected extracts from Nelson’s book on his Facebook pages for the past four weeks. His blog is at www.poxamerikana.com.
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