All posts by Bill Willers

The Two Conflicting Histories of the King Assassination

There are now in the public sphere two totally contradictory narratives of the assassination in 1968 of Martin Luther King, Jr. with each being advanced again and again over the years by respective advocates as if the other did not exist.

Attorney William Pepper, confidant of Martin Luther King, Jr., became convinced in 1978 that James Earl Ray, the officially declared lone gunman, was innocent. Years of investigation led to his 1995 book, Orders to Kill, in which Pepper presented evidence of governmental involvement in the assassination. Three years later, Gerald Posner, already famous for his support for the Warren Commission’s report concerning President Kennedy’s assassination, published Killing the Dream, a defense of the official governmental contention that Ray was the assassin. The King Family also believed Ray innocent, but due to governmental refusal to pursue a criminal trial, there was instead a 1999 civil trial, The King Family vs. Loyd Jowers et al. Jowers, who had admitted having received the rifle actually used in the shooting, was granted immunity to reveal all he knew. All facets of news media boycotted the trial, arguably the de facto “Trial of the Century”.

History A

The trial brought together three decades of accumulated information, much for the first time. James Earl Ray was shown as set up to take blame for the killing. Some Memphis policemen had met in Jim’s Grill, where Jowers worked, while planning the assassination. The fatal shot, rather than fired by Ray from a rooming house, as officially reported, was seen by eyewitnesses to have come from a brushy area across the street from the Lorraine Motel. Police units near the Lorraine were called away prior to the shooting, as were the “Invaders”, a gang being lodged at the Lorraine while coordinating with King on the planned sanitation worker’s strike. Inexplicably, within hours following the assassination the brushy area was cut to the ground by the city. Many witnesses were not interviewed, and those with accounts at odds with the governmental explanation were ignored.

The 30-06 rifle presented as the murder weapon had actually been discovered next to a shop door wrapped in a bedspread ten minutes before the shooting. Moreover, it had not been sighted in so could not have hit at point of aim, and bullets found with it did not match the bullet taken from King’s body. The bathroom from which Ray is supposed to have fired was seen by a witness to be empty at the time of the shooting, and observers saw Ray drive away from the area a quarter hour before the shooting. Jowers, who worked at Jim’s Grill, adjacent to the brushy area, was handed a still smoking rifle after the shot was fired, which rifle he hid until giving it the following day to a collaborator to throw into the Mississippi river.

US Army Intelligence maintained surveillance on King, who had become a problem for the Federal Government through his opposition to the Vietnam War and for his plans for a Poor People’s Campaign aimed at obstructing governmental function. Army photographers, positioned on a roof near the Lorraine, photographed the shooter lowering his rifle and departing the brushy area. There were multiple military snipers as backup shooters if needed. Elements of the military, CIA, FBI, Alabama National Guard, Memphis Police, and the Mafia were identified as components of a carefully organized conspiracy.

The trial ended with the jury unanimous in finding that King had been assassinated not by James Earl Ray but by means of a conspiracy involving Jowers (30%) and “others including governmental agencies” (70%). Although the trial did not make the news, a Washington Post editorial (December 12, 1999, pg B08) stated “The more quickly and completely this jury’s discredited verdict is forgotten, the better”. (Note: That editorial is apparently no longer available in the Post’s online archive). In 2003, Pepper published An Act Of State, a book detailing the court’s findings.

History B

In 2010, writer Hampton Sides published Hellhound On His Trail, like Gerald Posner’s 1998 book an elaboration of the official governmental report portraying James Earl Ray as lone assassin. Sides described movements of King and Ray during days leading up to King’s killing on April 4, 1968 and of the ensuing hunt by the authorities for Ray. In minute-by-minute detail, Sides has Ray, a racist interested in a reported bounty, following King to Memphis and renting a room in a boarding house with a clear view of the balcony outside King’s Lorraine Motel room. With King in view, Ray rests a recently purchased, scoped 30-06 on the bathroom windowsill and fires, mortally wounding King. Ray then wraps rifle and other items in a bedspread, runs from the building and, seeing police within view of his car, ditches the suspicious looking bundle next to a shop door. He then departs and is on the run until his arrest.

Meanwhile, King was hurried to ER at Catholic-run St. Joseph’s hospital, where Drs. Ted Galyon and Rufus Brown attended him. Shortly, others, including various specialists, entered. Ralph Abernathy remained in the room along with Reverend Bernard Lee. At 7:05 PM King was pronounced dead by Dr. Jerome Basso, who closed King’s eyes. The bullet found in King is reported by Sides to be consistent with ammunition purchased by Ray and found with his rifle.

Although Sides claims to have explored all available sources of data, including “court proceedings”, declares that he “drew from a wealth of memoirs written by the King Family”, and lists the King Center in his bibliography, there is mention neither of the 1999 trial nor of William Pepper’s two books, published years earlier than his 2010 book. However, and despite years of media censorship, awareness of both the trial and of Pepper’s books had spread by 2010, so one must conclude that Sides’ omissions were deliberate. The evasion of such a quantity of opposing information is fatal to Hellhound On His Trail as an objective history.

Nevertheless, in 2010, the same year as the release of Hellhound On His Trail, the PBS television program “American Experience” aired Roads to Memphis, a documentary film described as “the entwined stories of assassin James Earl Ray and his target, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” The film, for which Sides was historical consultant, was based on his book and featured commentary by Sides himself, as well as by author Gerald Posner, an established supporter of the official governmental account. As the book, so the film, in that there was no mention of either the trial or of Pepper’s books. Like Hellhound On His Trail, Roads to Memphis serves as forceful support for the Government’s narrative.

2016: Pepper’s Magnum Opus

William Pepper published The Plot To Kill King, a 770-page detailed summation of the Government’s role in the killing with new material gathered since his 2003 book. Here, Pepper traced the long-term strategy to bring both King and Ray to Memphis. Half of the book consists of appendices revealing military, CIA, FBI, Memphis police and Mafia involvement in the assassination and supportive of Ray’s innocence. The claim by attorney Percy Foreman that he had never pressured his client into a rash, untimely guilty plea is shown to be a lie by a letter from Foreman in which he offers Ray money “…contingent upon the plea of guilty and … without any unseemly conduct on your part in court.” There is a photocopy of the letter in the book’s appendix.

Pepper writes, “At Hoover’s request, James [Earl Ray] had been profiled as a potential scapegoat.” Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s deputy at the FBI, and shown by Pepper to be a central figure in the conspiracy, paid a prison official to engineer Ray’s escape from a prison, so that this designated patsy could thereafter be managed by another conspirator, Raul Coelho, who would then guide Ray to Memphis. Tolson distributed cash, some of which apparently made its way to Jesse Jackson. Jackson, along with others within King’s group, is depicted as an informant paid by the FBI to relay information on King. There is also a report that it was Jackson who had King’s room changed from the ground floor of the Lorraine to the more exposed second floor with its open balcony, and who ordered the Invaders away from the Lorraine shortly before the shooting. Pepper claims that evidence indicates the actual shooter to have been Memphis Police sharpshooter Frank Strausser.

Mortally wounded, King was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital where, surprisingly, “a large presence” of military intelligence officers had taken positions well before the shot was fired. More surprisingly, the hospital’s head surgeon, Breen Bland, accompanied by two men in suits, entered the hospital room in which King was being attended by medical staff. Bland is quoted as shouting, “Stop working on the nigger and let him die” and then ordering everyone out of the room. Personnel hearing the sound of men clearing their throats lingered behind and reported seeing Bland and his two accomplices spit on King, after which Bland smothered King to death with a pillow (Note: Pepper describes this in a 2017 lecture, here on Vimeo).

2118: PBS Takes a Stand 

In the spring of 2018 there were multiple airings on the PBS program “American Experience” of Hampton Sides’ 2010 film Roads to Memphis. This is renewed reinforcement by PBS of the Government’s depiction of James Earl Ray as lone assassin and an excellent illustration of how televised media can function as servant of the State.

Sides’ contention that he drew from memoirs of the King Family as part of his thorough research is at odds with a filmed interview by ABC of the entire King Family. From dialogue, as well as from the youth of the family members, it is clear the interview was pre-1999 Trial (Note: The link indicated is to a 2-hour piece available, at the time of this writing, on YouTube. Start at 1:03 for the 5-minute segment of the King Family interview). In it, Dexter King states, “Evidence I’ve seen or heard will vindicate or exonerate James Earl Ray”. When asked who was behind the assassination, Dexter continues, “I am told that it was part-and-parcel Army Intelligence, CIA, FBI”. When the interviewer says, “This is a staggering idea to carry around”, Dexter answers, with a short derisive laugh, “I think we knew it all along. It’s why we’re not, like, jumping out of our seats, because we’ve known for years.” How on earth could Sides (or Posner) have overlooked such as that?

Although the keepers of the nation’s information gates have striven to bury the results of William Pepper’s four decade quest for the truth of King’s death, millions by now have been exposed to the fact that two opposing explanations of King’s murder continue to exist. Theologian James Douglass, who attended the 1999 trial, later wrote an article in which he stated:

The Memphis trial has opened wide the door to our assassination politics. Anyone who walks through it is faced by an either/or: to declare naked either the empire or oneself.

America as Boot Camp 

“It would be some time before I fully realized that the United States sees little need for diplomacy; power is enough.”

—Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 6th Secretary General of the United Nations, 1999

“The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis….. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it’s very comfortable.”

–From Harold Pinter’s Nobel speech, 2005

The 1983 documentary film “Anybody’s Son Will Do” opened many an eye and consciousness to the art and practice used in military boot camps for turning youths barely beyond childhood into troops who will kill on command. Rapid-fire disorientation begins immediately, and in ensuring weeks unrelenting mental assault crushes individuality, hammers strict conformity into young psyches, and counters any religious and ethical standards that might hamper the business of organized mass slaughter. Following the sapping of the multiple personas received, relatively uniform souls at ease with the extermination of humans are built according to military standards and specifications.

Given that a squeamish army is worthless for war, the more hatred that can inflame soldiers — the greater the distance from any sense of common humanity with an “other” that can be generated — is all to the good from a military point of view. As Martin Smith wrote, “In order for the military to avoid feelings of solidarity between their soldiers and the ‘enemy’, it has developed a tried and true method of conditioning enlistees to kill efficiently and, also, and most importantly for success, to dehumanize an adversary.” So, yesteryears’s subhuman “gooks” have now morphed into today’s “sand niggers”. Such attitudes can endure to become integrated into larger society. Marine general James Mattis, now 67 and reportedly the most revered Marine of recent memory, publicly (to applause) declared with reference to Afghan men, “You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them … It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people”. The title of the report in Forbes, linked as shown, declares that such a man “could add a manly dose to American culture.”

Two points: Our Brave Warriors must be convinced that, whatever carnage they are ordered to commit (and they must carry out orders; it’s not a choice issue) that they are doing upstanding, patriotic work by protecting American Values At Home And Abroad. The second point: As it is in boot camp, so it is across the entire USofA.

As the American Empire, the world’s “only super power” (for the time being) has sprawled across the planet, ignoring international laws that earlier US Governments had been key in creating; replacing at will established governments; bombing and droning civilian populations; insulting and crushing ancient cultures; killing, maiming and displacing millions as they go, directly or by proxy; assassinating figures of choice; bribing governments and driving nations into debt so as to commandeer resources through privatization; threatening anyone or any nation in defiance of US Foreign Policy, American citizens must be made to believe, in their hearts and with no shadow of doubt, that America exists as a Shining City On A Hill for the rest of the world. Maintaining this absurd myth is the prime aim and function of Pentagon propagandists, corporate-owned media personalities and war-mongering politicians who collect ungodly amounts of cash from the defense industry.

For every US soldier killed in the Middle East, thousands of “insurgents” have been exterminated. When civilians — collateral damage — are included, the “kill ratio” would be immense. Whatever it is, every fatality “over there”, whether fighter or mother or child, leaves extended family, anguished and seething, with a concept of the United States being firmly established in the lineage for generations to come.

Just as every ex-soldier has a moral obligation to cleanse the soul of the kill instinct, and while growing into a reflective adulthood to search out the uncomfortable truths about why the government sends its youth on such missions, so do 300 million Americans have a responsibility to awaken from the ridiculous, insidious, carefully-crafted dream world of “American Exceptionalism” and the ludicrous claim that the World wants the USA as police and protector. The anguish we have created among our fellow humans with actions rather like a My lai Massacre gone viral, has created within much of the collective human breast a rage so deep, so intense, that it could take generations for Americans to live it down. The fact that Germans born long after the collapse of the Third Reich have been forced to live with the stench of Holocaust and military atrocity smeared onto their identities, is a lesson contemporary Americans would do well to understand and to take to heart.

The Next World War Won’t Just Be “Over There” 

An assumption that wars are to be confined to foreign lands is even in our nationalistic military music. Yea, “The Yanks are coming!”, but for us it’s always supposed to be onto somebody else’s turf. It seems war is less objectionable in America’s public mind when the carnage is confined to the realm of news items and TV pictorials, and if there’s no prospect of our own home towns becoming smoldering bomb craters. After all, both coasts are distanced from all those overseas wars by oceanic barriers. Right?

In July of 2016, with this new Cold War well underway, Sergey Karaganov, Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy advisor and honorary head of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, stated flatly that “Russia will never again fight on its own territory” . In the last three centuries Russia suffered three major invasions coming from her west, where now the US and NATO are carrying out military activities in the Baltic smack up against her border. The US also sent a warship into the Black Sea, where Russia has several hundred miles of shoreline. As these would be the equivalent of Russia setting up military installations along the Canadian border and having a naval presence in the Gulf of Mexico, how, in the name of common sense, can such US activity be seen as anything but threatening?

Vladimir Putin has informed the world that his philosophy was honed from a tough upbringing: “The streets of Leningrad taught me one thing: If a fight’s inevitable, strike first.”. A martial artist, Putin leans toward “soft” martial arts stressing defense rather than attack, but for how long can such personal preference guide the leader of a nuclear-armed military power under unrelenting threat of the sort the US is obviously intent on making? During the Cold War (The first one, not this new one) both President Kennedy and Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev acknowledged, in back-door communications, that control over their respective militaries was not absolute and was perhaps even tenuous.

Consider also that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of that period planned to induce the US into war with Cuba with a false flag incident, Operation Northwoods, that involved murdering American citizens. One member of that JCS, Curtis LeMay, pressed hard — thankfully without success — for a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union of that era. How close in war-mongering military groupthink in the current JCS to that JCS of 1963? Moreover, how hell-bent on war is the Russian military establishment, despite what Putin’s strategy might be?

A growing number of Americans are beginning to realize that the mainstream media, both print and electronic, are the propaganda delivery system of the “Empire” that lies by commission and by omission, and that creates a warped, simplified world view, while lulling the masses with spectacle and trivia. Given the massive level of US military intervention  and subversive activity all around the globe for the past few generations, any just, intelligent entity observing events on Earth would have to conclude that the American Empire is a cancerous force seeking, relentlessly and without mercy, domination of all life and life’s resources at any cost.

Now, with every hostile American denigration of Russia, every aggressive push against Russia’s borders, every move that imperils Russia’s place on the world stage, the prospect of massive world war becomes increasingly plausible. And in this world made so small by terrifying, sophisticated weaponry, any powerful adversary of the US would make certain that “over there” was shared, so as to become “over here” from the US point of view, with major east coast cities certain to be prime targets. The Russians understand from very well from agonizing experience what modern, catastrophic war on one’s homeland is like, while we in the US do not, although we are on a path to find out. It is a path of our own creation.

Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy

“Where does volunteering stop and exploitation begin?”

—Martin Bright, The Spectator

Giving of one’s time and money is admirable, and the righteousness of organizations asking for volunteers or donations is not being questioned. But a problem, conceivably, is a government restricting funding where it has a moral obligation to fully subsidize, while appealing to citizen generosity. Citizens are encouraged to contribute to the Wounded Warrior Project , a nonprofit that employs poignant TV ads soliciting money to support, “honor and empower” wounded veterans and their families. A similar organization, Operation Homefront , supports military families in many ways including food assistance and “relief during a crisis”.

Veterans and their families should never have to worry about survival issues. But to the extent that citizens can be induced to take on what is a governmental responsibility by committing money and volunteering for fundraisers, the government (criticized for its level of disregard of veterans) can redirect resources.

Why should a citizen who campaigned against wars based on lies, and who understands General Wesley Clark’s revelation of U.S. plans to invade seven countries in five years, feel motivated to volunteer anything, particularly when the country is becoming ever more a vast military machine? In the long-range interest of there being fewer injured vets, might it make more sense to support anti-war groups such as Veterans for Peace or Code Pink?

Can appealing for volunteers or donations actually manipulate the unwary? Consider that the Cato Institute, a force for the privatization of everything, published in 1981 a strategy to privatize public parks by means of “… reform through volunteerism and privatization of services to the outright abolition of public ownership…” That concept can be applied throughout society.

AARP (no longer the American Association of Retired Persons, although it uses the initials) has been called by former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson “the biggest marketing operation in America and money-maker” and “the greatest abuse of American generosity I witnessed in my time in the U.S. Senate.” If you go to the AARP Foundation’s web page and click on “DONATE” and “VOLUNTEER”, reasons given for their need for cash and time are “to help struggling seniors to meet their basic needs ….. as they face issues with hunger, housing, income, and isolation.” Simultaneously, forces within Congress working to reduce Social Security benefits, or simply to privatize the system, continue to grow.

I have unanswered questions. I’m taxed to kingdom come while urged to volunteer and to pony up for services that are the province of government ….. while gouged for insurance industry-driven health care that is an insult to decency; even as Congress seeks to demolish Social Security (while Government lies about inflation rates); even as every aspect of life is suffocated so that ever more can be crammed into the maw of the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence security state already consuming more than half of America’s “discretionary” spending.

***

“The election of Obama was one more triumph of illusion over substance … We mistook style and ethnicity … for progressive politics and genuine change.”

Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class

The great lesson of the Obama experience may be its illustration of the degree to which a charismatic politician (advanced by an accommodating media) can get a nation — nay, a world —  to shelve its critical faculties. Right out of the gate, Obama appointed as attorney general Eric Holder from a law firm focused on protecting Wall Street, thus notifying bankers central to the financial crash of 2008 that they might continue as before. His legislation to establish an “anti-propaganda center” alarmed First Amendment defenders, as his retaliatory applications of the Espionage Act, aimed at whistleblowers exposing governmental crimes, was used more often than by all previous presidents combined.

Obama’s support of apartheid Israel  was capped by an astounding $38,000,000,000 gift, on top of everything else we give Israel (Note: Israelis enjoy full socialized health coverage). By any humane standard he is a war criminal. And yet, the bulk of the nation misses him. Trump would never get away doing much of what Obama did without fall_out. Trump airs plans to deport undocumented aliens, and streets fill with demonstrators. Obama deported two and a half million people, it all got reported, and the public appeared to have blinders. How come? What’s the difference?

It’s the magic of charisma. Obama’s youthful good looks, million-dollar smile and exceptional verbal ability, gifts and aptitudes of which he was very aware, he applied with skill. Consider this: If you had to debate Obama and had seen his rendition of Amazing Grace — the studied mien, the extended silent moment, and then, head bowed, the slow, warm introduction  — you’d realize your debate against such a master would be the rhetorical equivalent of your getting into the ring with Mike Tyson.

Bill Clinton had charisma too. He signed the Telecommunications Act,  NAFTA , 1994 Crime Bill, and he presided over the repeal of Glass-Steagall and sanctions that caused the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children, but he’s now regarded as an experienced elder statesman. Compare that with decidedly uncharismatic Richard Nixon who signed into law the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. How much of our opinions, political or otherwise, are based on emotional reactions to captivating — or unpleasing — personalities?

***

“The willingness to go along to get along is as American as the Salem witch trials and apple pie.”

—Lewis Lapham, Gag Rule

Between 1989 and 2016, all four presidents had been students at either Harvard or Yale in some capacity (undergraduate, graduate, law). Economist Lawrence Summers, who advised President Clinton to deregulate Wall Street, was student, then professor, then president at Harvard. Harvard law professors Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule argued for “cognitive infiltration” by undercover governmental agents to influence the thinking of citizen groups. Samantha Power, Sunstein’s wife and U.S. Ambassador to the UN, attended both Harvard and Yale. Every sitting member of the Supreme Court has had education at either Harvard or Yale, as did the late Antonin Scalia (Harvard). Many have have also attended Princeton or Columbia, both Ivy Leagues, or Oxford.

Good Lord!, it’s everywhere you look in the most important sectors of society. Government and the judiciary are jam-packed with a tiny subset that connects to a few socially prestigious “Ivy League” universities, notably Harvard and Yale. Likewise the media. Just consider the nation’s two foremost newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Herewith, ten (there could be more) individuals from each of those two papers, selected from editorial and columnist rosters:

New York Times

————————–

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. … Harvard

Paul Krugman … Yale

Nicholas Kristof … Harvard, Oxford

Ross Douthat …. Harvard

Roger Cohen … Oxford

Joseph Kahn … Harvard

Susan Chira … Harvard

Mark Thompson … Oxford

William Bardeen … Harvard

Kenneth Richieri … Yale

Washington Post

————————

E.J. Dionne … Harvard

David Ignatius … Harvard

Charles Krauthammer … Harvard, Oxford

Ruth Marcus … Yale, Harvard

Ruben Navarrette, Jr. …. Harvard

Eugene Robinson … Harvard

Robert J. Samuelson … Harvard

Fareed Zakaria … Yale, Harvard

Fred Hiatt …. Harvard

Dana Milbank….Yale

So what? you say. Well, there’s a certain way of thinking that pervades those Ivy League campuses of the northeast quadrant, and a former Yale professor, William Deresiewicz, in articles in The American Scholar and the New Republic, and in his book “Excellent Sheep”, critiques the Ivy League and its students so as to expose warts. Because Ivy League offspring enjoy such a level of control within society, it behooves one to consider their approach to life. Here are a few pertinent snippets from Deresiewicz’s pen:

“This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetrating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead ….. where the rich send their children to learn to walk, talk and think like the rich….. elite education manufactures young people…..with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose….. content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them …..people to be pandered to instead of challenged ….. urged to think of yourself as a future leader of society….. played out within the same narrow conception of what constitutes a valid life: affluence, credentials, prestige.”

Deresiewicz depicts a system that indulges early bloomers who are to be pampered, to be trained into a “leadership” class and convinced that they are eligible to protect establishment rules. This instilled attitude they then carry forth as they form dense concentrations in government, law and media.

And here’s the problem: Where such a concentration of a particular, narrow world view exists, it yields the intellectual incest able to perpetuate a dogmatic philosophy generation after generation.

Essayist Lewis Lapham, in his little tome “Gag Rule”, commented on the current state of our Ivy League-dominated media with a searing wit:

“The media compose the pictures of a preferred reality, and their genius is that of the nervous careerist who serves, simultaneously, two masters — the demos, whom they astound with marvels and fairy tales, and the corporate nobility, whose interests they assiduously promote and defend”, and “[A]nybody who rises to prominence in their ranks — as editor, political columnist, publisher, anchorperson, theater critic — learns to think along the accommodating lines of an English butler bringing buttered scones to the Prince of Wales.”