All posts by Edward Curtin

The Sexual Passion of Winston Smith

Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice.
— Frederick Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.
— D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

The so-called consumer society and the politics of corporate capitalism have created a second nature of man which ties him libidinally and aggressively to the commodity form.  The need for possessing, consuming, handling and constantly renewing gadgets, devices, instruments, engines, offered to and imposed upon the people, for using these wares even at the danger of one’s own destruction, has become a ‘biological’ need.

— Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man

There is a vast literature analyzing the political prophecy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Big Brother, double-speak, telescreens, crimestop, etc. – all applied to our current political situation.  The language has become part of our popular lexicon, and as such, has become clichéd through overuse.  Blithe, habitual use of language robs it of its power to crack open the safe that hides the realities of life.

There is no doubt that Orwell wrote a brilliant political warning about the methods of totalitarian control.  But hidden at the heart of the book is another lesson lost on most readers and commentators.  Rats, torture, and Newspeak resonate with people fixated on political repression, which is a major concern, of course.  But so too is privacy and sexual passion in a country of group-think and group-do, where “Big Brother” poisons you in the crib and the entertainment culture then takes over to desexualize intimacy by selling it as another public commodity.

The United States is a pornographic society.  By pornographic I do not just mean the omnipresent selling of exploitative sex through all media to titillate a voyeuristic public living in the unreality of screen “life” and screen sex through television, movies, and online obsessions.  I mean a commodified consciousness, where everyone and everything is part of a prostitution ring in the deepest sense of pornography’s meaning – for sale, bought.  And consumed by getting, spending, and selling.  Flicked into the net of Big Brother, whose job is to make sure everything fundamentally human and physical is debased and mediated, people become consumers of the unreal and direct experience is discouraged.  The natural world becomes an object to be conquered and used.  Animals are produced in chemical factories to be slaughtered by the billions only to appear bloodless under plastic wrap in supermarket coolers.

The human body disappears into hypnotic spectral images. One’s sex becomes one’s gender as the words are transmogrified and as one looks in the mirror of the looking-glass self and wonders how to identify the one looking back.  Streaming life from Netflix or Facebook becomes life the movie.  The brilliant perverseness of the mediated reality of a screen society – what Guy Debord calls The Society of the Spectacle – is that as it distances people from fundamental reality, it promotes that reality through its screen fantasies.  “Get away from it all and restore yourself at our spa in the rugged mountains where you can hike in pristine woods after yoga and a breakfast of locally sourced eggs and artisanally crafted bread.”  Such garbage would be funny if it weren’t so effective.  Debord writes:

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images….Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior.

Thus sex with robots and marrying yourself are not aberrations but logical extensions of a society where solipsism meets machine in the America dream.

As this happens, words and language become corrupted by the same forces that Orwell called Big Brother, whose job is total propaganda and social control.  Just as physical reality now mimics screen reality and thus becomes chimerical, language, through which human beings uncover and articulate the truth of being, becomes more and more abstract.  People don’t die; they “pass on” or “pass away.”  Dying, like real sex, is too physical.  Wars of aggression don’t exist; they are “overseas contingency operations.”  Killing people with drones isn’t killing; it’s “neutralizing them.”  There are a “ton” of examples, but I am sure “you guys” don’t need me to list any more.

Orwell called Big Brother’s language Newspeak, and Hemingway preceded him when he so famously wrote in disgust In a Farewell to Arms, “I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice, and the expression in vain….Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene…”  This destruction of language has been going on for a long time, but it’s worth noting that from Hemingway’s WW I through Orwell’s WW II up until today’s endless U.S. wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, etc., there has been the parallel development of screen and media culture, beginning with silent movies through television and on to the total electronic media environment we now inhabit – the surround sound and image bubble of literal abstractions that inhabit us, mentally and physically.  In such a society, to feel what you really feel and not what, in Hemingway’s words, “you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel” has become extremely difficult.

Language, as the Greeks told us, should open up a clearing for the truth (Greek aleitheia, unhiddenness) to emerge so we can grasp the essence of life.  And so it is ironically appropriate that Orwell’s Winston Smith discovers such essence, not in analyzing Crimestop, his tormenter O’Brien, or Doublethink, but “in a natural clearing, a tiny grass knoll surrounded by tall saplings that shut it in completely” where he secretly meets a young woman who had passed him a note saying she loved him.   Away from the prying eyes of Big Brother and his spies, amidst bluebells and a torrent of song from a thrush, they come together almost wordlessly.  “Winston and Julia clung together, fascinated” as the thrush sang madly.  “The music went on and on, minute after minute, with astonishing variations, never once repeating itself, almost as if the bird were deliberately showing off its virtuosity…He stopped thinking and merely felt.”  Here the secret lovers affirm their humanity, the truth of sexual intimacy that is the enemy of all abstractions used by the powerful to control and manipulate normal people and to convince them to participate in killing others.  “Almost as swiftly as he had imagined it, she had torn her clothes off, and when she flung them aside it was with that same magnificent gesture by which a whole civilization seemed to be annihilated.”  Reveling in love-making in a free space outside the Party’s control, they felt they had triumphed.

But as we learn in 1984 and should learn in the U.S.A. today, “seemed” is the key word.  Their triumph was temporary.  For sexual passion reveals truths that need to be confirmed in the mind.  In itself, sexual liberation can be easily manipulated, as it has been so effectively in the United States. “Repressive de-sublimation” Herbert Marcuse called it fifty years ago. You allow people to act out their sexual fantasies in commodified ways that can be controlled by the rulers, all the while ruling their minds and potential political rebelliousness. Sex becomes part of the service economy where people service each other while serving their masters.  Use pseudo-sex to sell them a way of life that traps them in an increasingly totalitarian social order that only seems free.  This has been accomplished primarily through screen culture and the concomitant confusion of sexual identity.  Perhaps you have noticed that over the past twenty-five years of growing social and political confusion, we have witnessed an exponential growth in “the electronic life,” the use of psychotropic drugs, and sexual disorientation.  This is no accident.  Wars have become as constant as Eros – the god of love, life, joy, and motion – has been divorced from sex as a stimulus and response release of tension in a “stressed” society.  Rollo May, the great American psychologist, grasped this:

Indeed, we have set sex over against eros, used sex precisely to avoid the anxiety-creating involvements of eros…We are in flight from eros and use sex as the vehicle for the flight…Eros [which includes, but is not limited to, passionate sex] is the center of vitality of a culture – its heart and soul.  And when release of tension takes the place of creative eros, the downfall of the civilization is assured.

Because Julia and Winston cannot permanently escape Oceania, but can only tryst, they succumb to Big Brother’s mind control and betray each other.  Their sexual affair can’t save them.   It is a moment of beauty and freedom in an impossible situation.  Of course, the hermetically sealed world of 1984 is not the United States.  Orwell created a society in which escape was impossible. It is, after all, an admonitory novel – not the real world.  Things are more subtle here; we still have some wiggle room – some – although the underlying truth is the same: the U.S. oligarchy, like “The Party,” “seeks power entirely for its own sake” and “are not interested in the good of others,” all rhetoric to the contrary. Our problem is that too many believe the rhetoric, and those who say they don’t really do at the deepest level.  Fly the flag and play the national anthem and their hearts are aflutter with hope.  Recycle old bromides about the next election when your political enemies will be swept out of office and excitement builds as though you had met the love of your life and all was well with the world.

But understanding the history of public relations, advertising, propaganda, the CIA, the national security apparatus, technology, etc., makes it clear that such hope is baseless. For the propaganda in this country has penetrated far deeper than anyone can imagine, and it has primarily done this through advanced technology and the religion of technique – machines as pure abstractions – that has poisoned not just our minds, but the deepest wellsprings of the body’s truths and the erotic imagination that links us in love to all life on earth.

In “Defence of Poetry,” Percy Bysshe Shelley writes:

The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasure of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.

We are now faced with the question: Can we escape the forces of propaganda and mind control that run so very deep into American life?  If so, how?  Let’s imagine a way out.

Orwell makes it very clear that language is the key to mind control, as he delineates how Newspeak works. I think he is right.  And mind control also means the control of our bodies, Eros, our sex, our physical connections to all living beings and nature. Today the U.S. is reaching the point where “Oldspeak” – Standard English – has been replaced by Newspeak, and just “fragments of the literature of the past” survive here and there.  This is true for the schooled and unschooled.  In fact, those more trapped by the instrumental logic, disembodied data, and word games of the power elite are those who have gone through the most schooling, the indoctrination offered by the so-called “elite” universities. I suspect that more working-class and poor people still retain some sense of the old language and the fundamental meaning of words, since it is with their sweat and blood that they “earn their living.”  Many of the highly schooled are children of the power elite or those groomed to serve them, who are invited to join in living the life of power and privilege if they swallow their consciences and deaden their imaginations to the suffering their “life-styles” and ideological choices inflict on the rest of the world.

In this world of The New York Times, Harvard, The New Yorker, Martha’s Vineyard, The Washington Post, Wall St., Goldman Sachs, the boardrooms of the ruling corporations, all the corporate media, etc., language has become debased beyond recognition.  Here, as Orwell said of Newspeak, “a heretical thought…should be literally unthinkable, at least as far as thought is dependent on words.  Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express.”  The intelligently orthodox, he adds, must master the art of “doublethink” wherein they hold two contradictory ideas in their minds simultaneously, while accepting both of them.  This is the key trick of logic and language that allows the power elites and their lackeys in the U.S. today to master the art of self-deception and feel good about themselves as they plunder the world.  In this “Party” world, the demonization, degradation, and killing of others is an abstraction; their lives are spectral.  Orwell describes doublethink this way:

To tell deliberate lives while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.  Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink.  For by using the word one admits one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

It may sound silly to say, but language, as its etymology tells us, begins with the tongue (Latin, lingua).  And the tongue is a bell, tolling out its meaning.  Indeed, all language springs from the body – is body language. And when language becomes abstract and devoid of blood, it becomes etiolated and unable to convey the truth that is the mystical body of the world.  It becomes a viper’s tongue, dividing the “good” people from the “bad” so the good can eliminate the bad who have become abstractions.

When Winston Smith and Julia hid in the arbor and for once felt free and alive as they fucked – despite its transitoriness – Orwell was suggesting something that his dystopian novel denies is possible: that we can escape our own 1984 in 2018 by returning to fundamentals. Whitman told us that if anything is sacred it is the human body, and he sung “the body electric.”  This is the task of artists: to sing the words that tell the truth the propagandists try to deny.

James Joyce writes in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Welcome, oh life!  I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

Perhaps we should add: in the smithy of our souls and bodies.  His fellow Irishman, William Butler Yeats, brings us down to earth with the words:

Now that my ladder’s gone/I must lie down where all the ladders start/In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

“Yes, I said. Yes, I will, yes.”

Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World

The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man.  Society highly values its normal man.  It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal.  Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years.  Our behavior is a function of our experience.  We act the way we see things.  If our experience is destroyed, our behavior will be destructive.  If our experience is destroyed, we have lost our own selves.

— R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, Penguin Books Limited, 1969

The artist is the man who refuses initiation through education into the existing order, remains faithful to his own childhood being, and thus becomes ‘a human being in the spirit of all times, an artist.’

— Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History, Wesleyan, June 1, 1985

Most suicides die of natural causes, slowly and in silence.

But we hear a lot about the small number of suicides, by comparison, who kill themselves quickly by their own hands.  Of course, their sudden deaths elicit shock and sadness since their deaths, usually so unexpected even when not a surprise, allow for no return.  Such sudden once-and-for-all endings are even more jarring in a high-tech world where people are subconsciously habituated to thinking that everything can be played back, repeated, and rewound, even lives.

If the suicides are celebrities, the mass media can obsess over why they did it.  How shocking!  Wasn’t she at the peak of her career?  Didn’t he finally seem happy?  And then the speculative stories will appear about the reasons for the rise or fall of suicide rates, only to disappear as quickly as the celebrities are dropped by the media and forgotten by the public.

The suicides of ordinary people will be mourned privately by their loved ones in their individual ways and in the silent recesses of their hearts.  A hush will fall over their departures that will often be viewed as accidental.

And the world will roll on as the earth absorbs the bodies and the blood.  “Where’s it all going all this spilled blood,” writes the poet Jacques Prévert.  “Murder’s blood…war’s blood… blood of suicides…the earth that turns and turns with its great streams of blood.”

Of such suicides Albert Camus said, “Dying voluntarily implies you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit [of living], the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering.”  He called this feeling the absurd, and said it was widespread and involved the feeling of being an alien or stranger in a world that couldn’t be explained and didn’t make sense.  Assuming this experience of the absurd, Camus wished to explore whether suicide was a solution to it.  He concluded that it wasn’t.

Like Camus, I am interested in asking what is the meaning of life.  “How to answer it?” he asked in The Myth of Sisyphus.  He added that “the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions.”  But I don’t want to explore his line of reasoning to his conclusions, whether to agree or disagree.  I wish, rather, to explore the reasons why so many people choose to commit slow suicide by immersing themselves in the herd mentality and following a way of life that leads to inauthenticity and despair; why so many people so easily and early give up their dreams of a life of freedom for a proverbial mess of pottage, which these days can be translated to mean a consumer’s life, one focused on staying safe by embracing conventional bromides and making sure to never openly question a system based on systemic violence in all its forms; why, despite all evidence to the contrary, so many people embrace getting and spending and the accumulation of wealth in the pursuit of a chimerical “happiness” that leaves them depressed and conscience dead.  Why so many people do not rebel but wish to take their places on this ship of fools.

So what can we say about the vast numbers of people who commit slow suicide by a series of acts and inactions that last a long lifetime and render them the living dead, those whom Thoreau so famously said were the mass of people who “lead lives of quiet desperation”?  Is the meaning of life for them simply the habit of living they fell into at the start of life before they thought or wondered what’s it all about?  Or is it the habit they embraced after shrinking back in fear from the disturbing revelations thinking once brought them?  Or did they ever seriously question their place in the lethal fraud that is organized society, what Tolstoy called the Social Lie?  Why do so many people kill their authentic selves and their consciences that could awaken them to break through the social habits of thought, speech, and action that lead them to live “jiffy lube” lives, periodically oiled and greased to smoothly roll down the conventional highway of getting and spending and refusing to resist the murderous actions of their government?

An unconscious despair rumbles beneath the frenetic surface of American society today.  An unspoken nothingness.  I think the Italian writer Robert Calasso says it well: “The new society is an agnostic theocracy based on nihilism.”  It’s as though we are floating on nothing, sustained by nothing, in love with nothing – all the while embracing any thing that a materialistic, capitalist consumer culture can throw at us.  We are living in an empire of illusions, propagandized and self-deluded.  Most people will tell you they are stressed and depressed, but will often add – “who wouldn’t be with the state of the world” – ignoring their complicity through the way they have chosen compromised, conventional lives devoid of the spirit of rebellion.

I keep meeting people who, when I ask them how they are, will respond by saying, “I’m hanging in there.”

Don’t common sayings intimate unconscious truths?  Hang – among its possible derivatives is the word “habit” and the meaning of “coming to a standstill.”  Stuck in one’s habits, dangling over nothing, up in the air, going nowhere, hanging by a string. Slow suicides. The Beatles’ sang it melodically: “He’s a real nowhere man/Sitting in his nowhere land/Making all his nowhere plans for nobody/Doesn’t have a point of view/Knows not where he’s going to/Isn’t he a bit like you and me.”  It’s a far cry from having “the world on a string,” as Harold Arlen wrote many years before.

Maybe if we listen to how people talk or what popular culture throws up, we will learn more through creative associations than through all the theories the experts have to offer.

There have been many learned tomes over the years trying to explain the act of suicide, an early and very famous one being Emile Durkheim’s groundbreaking sociological analysis Suicide (1897).  In thousands of books and articles other thinkers have approached the subject from various perspectives – psychological, philosophical, biological, etc.  They contain much truth and a vast amount of data that appeal to the rational mind seeking general explanations.  But in the end, general explanations are exactly that – general – while a mystery usually haunts the living whose loved ones have killed themselves.

But what about the slow suicides, those D. H. Lawrence called the living dead (don’t let “the living dead eat you up”), those who have departed the real world for a conscienceless complacency from which they can cast aspersions on those whose rebellious spirits give them little rest.  Where are the expert disquisitions about them?

We’ve had more than a century of pseudo-scientific studies of suicide and the world has gotten much worse.  More than a century of psychotherapy and people have grown progressively more depressed.  Large and increasing numbers are drugged to the teeth with pharmaceutical drugs and television and the internet and cell phones and shopping and endless talk about food and diets and sports and nothing. Talk to talk, surface to surface. Pundits pontificate daily in streams of endless bullshit for which they are paid enormous sums as they smile with their fake whiter-than-white teeth flashing from their makeup masks.  People actually listen to these fools to “inform” themselves. They even watch television news and think they know what is happening in the world.  We are drowning in a “universe of disembodied data,” as playwright John Steppling has so aptly phrased it.  People obsessively hover over their cell phones, searching for the key that will unlock the cells they have locked themselves in. Postliteracy, mediated reality, and digital dementia have become the norm.  Minds are packaged and commodified.  Perhaps you think I exaggerate, but I feel that madness is much more the norm today than when Laing penned his epigraphic comment.

Not stark raving screaming madness, just a slow, whimpering acceptance of an insane society whose very fabric is toxic and which continues its God-ordained mission of spreading death and destruction around the world in the name of freedom and democracy, while so many of its walking dead citizens measure out their lives with coffee spoons.  A nice madness, you could say, a pleasant, depressed and repressed madness.  A madness in which people might say with T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock (if they still read or could remember):  “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, / and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid.”

But why are so many so afraid?  Everyone has fears, but so many normal people seem extremely fearful, so fearful they choose to blend into the social woodwork so they don’t stand out as dissenters or oddballs.  They kill their authentic selves; become conscience-less.  And they do this in a society where their leaders are hell-bent on destroying the world and who justify their nuclear madness at every turn. I think Laing was right that this goes back to our experience.  When genuine experience is denied or mystified (it’s now disappeared into digital reality), real people disappear.  Laing wrote:

In order to rationalize our industrial-military complex, we have to destroy our capacity to see clearly any more what is in front of, and to imagine what is beyond, our noses.  Long before a thermonuclear war can come about, we have had to lay waste our sanity.  We begin with the children.  It is imperative to catch them in time. Without the most thorough and rapid brainwashing their dirty minds would see through our dirty tricks.  Children are not yet fools, but we shall turn them into imbeciles like ourselves, with high I. Q.’s if possible.   From the moment of birth, when the Stone Age baby confronts the twentieth century mother, the baby is subjected to these forces of violence, called love, as its mother and father, as their parents and their parents before them, have been.  These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of it potentialities, and on the whole this enterprise is successful.  By the time the new human is fifteen or so, we are left with a being like ourselves, a half-crazed creature more or less adjusted to a mad world.  This is normality in our present age.  Love and violence, properly speaking, are polar opposites.  Love lets the other be, but with affection and concern.  Violence attempts to constrain the other’s freedom, to force him to act in the way we desire, but with ultimate lack of concern, with indifference to the other’s own existence or destiny.  We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love…We live equally out of our bodies and out of our minds.

So, yes, I do think most people are victims.  No one chooses their parents, or to be born into poverty, or to be discriminated against for one’s race, etc.  No one chooses to have their genuine experience poisoned from childhood.  No one chooses to be born into a mad society.  This is all true.  Some are luckier than others.  Suicides, fast and slow, are victims.  But not just victims.  This is not about blame, but understanding.  For those who commit to lives of slow suicide, to the squelching of their true selves and their consciences in the face of a rapacious and murderous society, there is always the chance they can break with the norm and go sane.  Redemption is always possible.  But it primarily involves overcoming the fear of death, a fear that manifests itself in the extreme need to preserve one’s life, so-called social identity, and sense of self by embracing social conventions, no matter how insane they may be or whether or not they bring satisfaction or fulfillment.  Whether or not they give life a meaning that goes deep.

But for those who have taken their lives and are no longer among us, hope is gone.  But we can learn from their tragedies if we are truthful.  For them the fear of life was primary, and death seemed like an escape from that fear. Life was too much for them.  Why?  We must ask.  So they chose a life-in-death approach through fast suicide.  Everyone is joined to them in that fear, just as everyone is joined by the fear of death.  It is a question of which dominates, and when, and how much courage we can muster to live daringly.  The fear of death leads one to constrict one’s life in the safe surround of conventional society in the illusion that such false security will save one in the end.  Death is too much for them.  So they accept a death-in-life approach that I call slow suicide.

But in the end as in the beginning and throughout our lives, there is really no escape.  The more alive we are, the closer death feels because really living involves risks and living outside the cocoon of the social lie. Mr. Pumpkin Head might seize you, whether he is conceived as your boss, an accident, disease, social ostracism, or some government assassin.  But the deader we feel, the further away death seems because we feel safe.  Pick your poison.

But better yet, perhaps there is no need to choose if we can regain our genuine experience that parents and society, for different reasons, conspire to deny us.  Could the meaning of our lives be found, not in statements or beliefs, but in true experience?  Most people think of experience as inner or outer.  This is not true.  It is a form of conventional brainwashing that makes us schizoid. It is the essence of the neuro-biological materialism that reduces humans to unfree automatons. Proffered as the wisdom of the super intelligent, it is sheer stupidity.

All experience is in-between, not the most eloquent of phrasing, I admit, but accurate.  Laing, a psychiatrist, puts it in the same way as do the mystics and those who embrace the Tao.  He says:

The relation of my experience to behavior is not that of inner to outer.  My experience is not inside my head.  My experience of this room is outside in this room.  To say that my experience is intrapsychic is to presuppose that there is a psyche that my experience is in.  My psyche is my experience, my experience is my psyche.

Reverie, imagination, prayer, dream, etc. are as much outer as inner, they are modalities of experience that exist in-between.  We live in-between, and if we could experience that, we would realize the meaning of life and our connection to all living beings, including those our government massacres daily, and we would awaken our consciences to our complicity in the killing.  We would realize that the victims of the American killing machine are human beings like us; are us, and we, them.  We would rebel.

Thoreau said a life without principle was not worth living.  Yet for so many of the slow suicides the only principals they ever had were those they had in high school.  Such word confusion is understandable when illiteracy is the order of the day and spelling passé. Has anyone when in high school ever had Thoreau’s admonition drummed into his head: “The ways by which you may get money almost without exception lead downward. To have done anything by which you earned money merely is to have been truly idle or worse.”  Of course not, since getting a “good” living is never thought to involve living in an honest, inviting, and honorable way.  It is considered a means to an end, the end being a consumer’s paradise.  “As for the means of living,” Thoreau added, “it is wonderful how indifferent men of all classes are about it, even reformers, so called – whether they inherit, or earn, or steal it.”  Is it any wonder so many people end up committing slow suicide?  “Is it that men are too much disgusted with their own experience to speak of it?”

What the hell –TGIH!

I believe the story has it that when he was in jail for refusing the poll tax that supported slavery and the Mexican-American war, Thoreau was visited by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, who asked him, “Henry, what are you doing in there?”  To which Thoreau responded, “Ralph, what are you doing out there?”  Today, however, most folks don’t realize that being outside their cells is being in them, and such imprisonment is far from principled.  That’s not a text message they’re likely to receive.

I recently met a woman, where or when I can’t recall.  It might have been when walking on the open road or falling in a dreaming hole.  She told me “if you look through a window, you can see the world outside.  If you look in a mirror, you can see yourself outside.  If you look into the outside world, you can see everyone inside out.  When the inside is seen outside and the outside is seen inside, you will know what you face.  Everything becomes simple then,” as she looked straight through me and my face fell off.

An Important Book the Mainstream Media Refuses to Review

When a book as fascinating, truthful, beautifully written, and politically significant as American Values: Lessons I Learned from My Family, written by a very well-known author by the name of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and published by a prominent publisher (HarperCollins), is boycotted by mainstream book reviewers, you know it is an important book and has touched a nerve that the corporate mainstream media wish to anesthetize by eschewal.

The Kennedy name attracts the mainstream media only when they can sensationalize something “scandalous” – preferably sexual or drug related – whether false or true, or something innocuous that can lend credence to the myth that the Kennedys are lightweight, wealthy celebrities descended from Irish mobsters.  This has been going on since the 1960s with the lies and cover-ups about the assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother Robert, propaganda that continues to the present day, always under the aegis of the CIA-created phrase “conspiracy theory.”  A thinking person might just get the idea that the media are in league with the CIA to bury the Kennedys.

Such disinformation has been promulgated by many sources, prominent among them from the start in the 1960s was the CIA’s Sam Halpern, a former Havana bureau chief for the New York Times, who was CIA Director Richard Helms’s deputy (the key source for Seymour Hersh’s Kennedy hatchet job, The Dark Side of Camelot), who began spreading lies about the Kennedys that have become ingrained in the minds of leftists, liberals, centrists, and conservatives to this very day.  Fifty years later, after decades of reiteration by the CIA’s Wurlitzer machine (the name given by the CIA’s Frank Wisner to the CIA’s penetration and control of the mass media, Operation Mockingbird), Halpern’s lies have taken on mythic proportions.  Among them: that Joseph. P. Kennedy, the patriarch, was a bootlegger and Nazi lover; that he was Mafia connected and fixed the 1960 election with Chicago mobster Sam Giancana; and that JFK and RFK knew of and approved the CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Of course, whenever a writer extols the Kennedy name and legacy, he is expected to add the caveat that the Kennedys, especially JFK and RFK, were no saints.  Lacking this special talent to determine sainthood or its lack, I will defer to those who feel compelled to temper their praise with a guilty commonplace.  Let me say at the outset that I greatly admire President John Kennedy and his brother, Robert, very courageous men who died in a war to steer this country away from the nefarious path of war-making and deep-state control that it has followed with a vengeance since their murders.

And I admire Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. for writing this compelling book that is a tour de force on many levels.

Part memoir, part family history, part astute political analysis, and part-confessional, it is in turns delightful, sad, funny, fierce, and frightening in its implications.  From its opening sentence – “From my youngest days I always had the feeling that we were all involved in some great crusade, that the world was a battleground for good and evil, and that our lives would be consumed in the conflict.” – to its last – “‘Kennedys never give up, ’ she [Ethel Kennedy] chided us.  ‘We have to die with our boots on!’” – the book is imbued with the spirit of the eloquent, romantic Irish-Catholic rebels whose fighting spirit and jaunty demeanor the Kennedy family has exemplified.  RFK, Jr. tells his tales in words that honor that literary and spiritual tradition.

So what is it about this book that has caused the mainstream press to avoid reviewing it?

Might it be the opening chapter devoted to his portrait of his grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy, who comes across as a tender and doting grandpa, who created an idyllic world for his children and grandchildren at “The Big House” on Cape Cod?   We see Grandpa Joe taking the whole brood of Kennedys, including his three famous political sons, for a ride on his cabin cruiser, the Marlin, and JFK (Uncle Jack) singing “The Wearing of the Green” and, together with his good friend, Dave Powers, teaching the kids to whistle “The Boys of Wexford” (Wexford being the Kennedy’s ancestral home), an Irish rebel tune all of whose words John Kennedy knew by heart:

We are the boys of Wexford
Who fought with heart and hand
To burst in twain
The galling chain
And free our native land.

We see Joseph P. Kennedy sitting on the great white porch, holding hands with his wife Rose Kennedy, as the kids played touch football on the grass beyond.  We read that “Grandpa wanted his children’s minds unshackled by ideology” and that his “overarching purpose was to engender in his children a social conscience” and use their money and advantages to make America and the world a better place.  We learn, according to Joe’s son, Senator Robert Kennedy, that he loved all of them deeply, “not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order, encouragement and support.”  We hear him staunchly defended from the political criticisms that he was a ruthless, uncaring, and political nut-case who would do anything to advance his political and business careers.  In short, he is presented very differently from the popular understanding of him as a malign force and a ruthless bastard.

Portraying his grandfather as a good and loving man may be one minor reason that Robert Jr.’s book is being ignored.

No doubt it is not because of the picture he paints of his paternal grandmother, Rose Kennedy, who comes across similarly to her husband as a powerful presence and as a devoted mother and grandmother who expected much from her children and grandchildren but gave much in return.  Robert Jr. writes that “Grandpa and Grandma were products of an alienated Irish generation that kept itself intact through rigid tribalism embodied in the rituals and mystical cosmologies of medieval Catholicism,” but that both believed the Church should be a champion of the poor as Christ taught. The glowing portrait of Grandmother Rose could not be the reason the book has not been reviewed.

Nor can the chapter on Ethel Kennedy’s family, the Skakels, be the reason.  It is a fascinating peek into certain aspects of Ethel’s character – the daring, outrageous, fun-loving, and wild side – from her upbringing in a wild and crazy family, together with the Kennedys one of the richest Catholic families in the U.S. in days past.  But there their similarities end.  The Skakels were conservative Republicans in the oil, coal, and extraction business, who “reveled in immodest consumption,” were huge into guns and “more primitive weaponry like bows, knives, throwing spears and harpoons,” and “pretty much captured shot, stabbed, hooked, or speared anything that moved, including each other.”  The Skakel men worked as informers for the CIA wherever their businesses took them around the world and they worked very hard to sabotage JFK’s run for the presidency. Ethel’s brother George was a creepy and crazy wild man. Once Ethel met RFK, she switched political sides for good, embracing the Kennedy’s liberal Democratic ethos.

A vignette of Lemoyne Billings, JFK’s dear friend, who after RFK’s assassination took Robert Jr. under his wing, can’t be the reason.  It too is a loving portrait of the man RFK Jr. says was “perhaps the most important influence in my life” and also the most fun.  In his turn Billings said that JFK was the most fun person he had ever met.  They referred to each other as Johnny and Billy and both were expelled from Choate for hi-jinks.  But stories about Lem, JFK, and RFK Jr. would attract, not repel, the mainstream press’s book reviewers.

Clearly the chapter about Robert Jr.’s early bad behavior, his drug use, and his conflicted relationship with his mother would be fuel for the Kennedy haters.  “I seem to have been at odds with my mother since birth,” he writes.  “My mere presence seemed to agitate her.”  Mother and son were at war for decades, and his father’s murder sent him on a long downward spiral into self-medicating that inflamed their relationship.  Moving from school to school and keeping away from home as much as possible, his “homecomings were like the arrival of a squall.  With me around to provoke her, my mother didn’t stay angry very long – she went straight to rage.”  His victory over drugs through Twelve Step meetings and his reconciliation with his mother are also the stuff that the mainstream press revels in, yet they ignore the book.

The parts about his relationship with his father, his father’s short but electrifying presidential campaign in 1968, his death, and funeral are deeply moving and evocative.  Deep sadness and lost hope accompanies the reader as one revisits RFK’s funeral and the tear-filled eulogy given by his brother Ted, then the long slow train ride bearing the body from New York to Washington, D.C. as massive crowds, lined the tracks, weeping and waving farewell.  And the writer, now a 64-year-old-man, but then a 14- year-old-boy, named after his look-alike father, the father who supported and encouraged him despite his difficulties in school, the father who took the son on all kinds of outdoor adventures – sailing, white water canoeing, mountain climbing – always reminding him to “always do what you are afraid to do” and which the son understood to be “boot camp for the ultimate virtue – moral courage.  Despite his high regard for physical bravery, my father told us that moral courage is the rarer and more valuable commodity.”  Such compelling, heartfelt writing, with not a word about who might have killed his father, would be another reason why the mainstream press would review this book.

It is the heart of this book that has the reviewers avoiding it like the plague, perhaps a plague introduced by a little mockingbird.

American Values revolves around the long war between the Kennedys and the CIA that resulted in the deaths of JFK and RFK.  All the other chapters, while very interesting personal and family history, pale in importance.

No member of the Kennedy family since JFK or RFK has dared to say what RFK, Jr. does in this book.  He indicts the CIA.

While some news outlets have mentioned the book in passing because of its assertion that what has been known for a long time to historically aware people – that RFK immediately suspected that the CIA was involved in the assassination of JFK – Robert Jr.’s writing on the war between the CIA and his Uncle Jack and father is so true and so carefully based on the best scholarship and family records that the picture he paints fiercely indicts the CIA in multiple ways while also indicting the mass media that have been its mouthpieces.   These sections of the book are masterful lessons in understanding the history and machinations of “The Agency” that the superb writer and researcher, Douglas Valentine, calls “organized crime” – the CIA.  A careful reading of RFK Jr.’s critical history leads to the conclusion that the CIA and the Mafia are not two separate murderer’s rows, but one organization that has corrupted the country at the deepest levels and is, as Kennedy quotes his father Robert – “a dark force infiltrating American politics and business, unseen by the public, and out of reach of democracy and the justice system” – posing “a greater threat to our country than any foreign enemy.”  The CIA’s covert operations branch has grown so powerful that it feels free to murder its opponents at home and abroad and make sure “splendid little wars” are continually waged around the globe for the interests of its patrons.  Robert Jr. says, “A permanent state of war abroad and a national security surveillance state at home are in the institutional self-interest of the CIA’s clandestine services.”

No Kennedy has dared speak like this since Senator Robert Kennedy last did so – but privately – and paid the price. His son tells us:

Days before his murder, as my father pulled ahead in the California polls, he began considering how he would govern the country.  According to his aide Fred Dutton, his concerns often revolved around the very question that his brother asked at the outset of his presidency, ‘What are we going to do about the CIA?’  Days before the California primary, seated next to journalist Pete Hamill on his campaign plane, my father mused aloud about his options. ‘I have to decide whether to eliminate the operations arm of the Agency or what the hell to do with it,’ he told Hamill.  ‘We can’t have those cowboys wandering around and shooting people and doing all those unauthorized things.’  Then he was shot dead.

For whatever their reasons, for fifty plus years the Kennedy family has kept silent on these matters.  Now Senator Robert Kennedy’s namesake has picked up his father’s mantle and dared to tell truths that take courage to utter.  By excoriating the secret forces that seized power, first with the murder of his Uncle Jack when he was a child, and then his father, he has exhibited great moral courage and made great enemies who wish to ignore his words as if they were never uttered.  But they have.  They sit between the covers of this outstanding and important book, a book written with wit and eloquence, a book that should be read by any American who wants to know what has happened to their country.

There is a telling anecdote that took place in the years following JFK’s assassination when RFK was haunted by his death.  It says so much about Senator Kennedy and now his son, a son who in many ways for many wandering years became a prodigal son lost in grief and drugs only to return home to find his voice and tell the truth for his father and his family.  He writes:

One day he [RFK] came into my bedroom and handed me a hardcover copy of Camus’s The Plague. ‘I want you to read this,’ he said with particular urgency. It was the story of a doctor trapped in a quarantined North African city while a raging epidemic devastates its citizenry; the physician’s small acts of service, while ineffective against the larger tragedy, give meaning to his own life, and, somehow, to the larger universe.  I spent a lot of time thinking about that book over the years, and why my father gave it to me.  I believe it was the key to a door that he himself was then unlocking….It is neither our position nor our circumstances that define us… but our response to those circumstances; when destiny crushes us, small heroic gestures of courage and service can bring peace and fulfillment.  In applying our shoulder to the stone, we give order to a chaotic universe.  Of the many wonderful things my father left me, this philosophical truth was perhaps the most useful.  In many ways, it has defined my life.

By writing American Values: Lessons I Learned from My Family, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has named the plague and entered the fight. His father would be very proud of him.  He has defined himself.

The The Boston Globe’s Hit Piece on the Assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy

The counterattack on those, including Senator Robert Kennedy’s children, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, claiming that Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy involving at least a second gunman, has commenced.  The Boston Globe, the traditional hometown newspaper of the Kennedy family, published a clearly misleading piece on May 31, 2018 by Nik DeCosta-Klipa, with the curiously long and loaded title “Bobby Kennedy’s son thinks he was killed by a second shooter. Is there anything to it? Or has RFK, Jr. “launched a whole new generation of conspiracy nuts 50 years later.”

Whether DeCosta-Klipa was acting on orders from above to produce such a specious piece or is ignorant of the fundamental research in a case that shouts out conspiracy is a question I cannot answer, although based on his go-to “expert” in his article – Daniel Moldea, whose contradictory disinformation on the case is well known to serious researchers – I would guess the former to be correct.

Let me begin with the title, which is marvelously propagandistic and sets the naïve reader’s mind on the intended trajectory.  RFK Jr.’s recent claim in The Washington Post of a second shooter and his call therefore for a re-investigation (a redundancy since no genuine official investigation was done; it was a cover-up from the start) is followed by a question: Is there anything to it?  This is followed by a headlined quote from Moldea, repeating the CIA created meme about conspiracy nuts: Or has RFK Jr “launched a whole new generation of conspiracy nuts 50 years later.” A question mark for RFK, Jr., while Moldea is allowed an assertion in the title that is not followed by a question mark.  Language is the key to effective propaganda, including punctuation.  It is a very subtle art, at which our mainstream corporate media are adept.

But if you think I am being picky, let me explain further

DeCosta-Klipa begins by asserting that “conspiracy theories concerning President John F. Kennedy’s death may be most widely circulated.”  Thus the reader is led into this article with the insinuation that, of course, Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK and anyone who questions that is a conspiracy nut.  So what about RFK’s murder?

As the night follows day, we meet conspiracy nuts here too, courtesy of DeCosta-Klipa who allows Moldea a free hand to spout nonsense.  A person not familiar with the research done on this case by the great researcher Lisa Pease and others would assume that Moldea was the expert par excellence on RFK’s assassination, when nothing could be further from the truth.  James DiEugenio, Pease’s colleague and an equally brilliant researcher, has surgically dismembered Moldea’s work on the case.

So why has DeCosta-Klipa shined the spotlight on Moldea and given him so much space?

It is unlikely that he has read Moldea’s 1995 book, The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy, a book about which DiEugenio rightly says: its “every major tenet is highly suspect, whose sourcing is not explicit, whose fairness is, to say the least, one-sided, whose completeness is just not there, whose use of witnesses-like Kaiser and McCowan-is rather lenient….it is a ‘bookshelf’ book that has no intellectual content or substance.”  He suggests it was commissioned by the government forces responsible for RFK’s death and the ongoing cover-up.

Moldea is allowed full leeway to rant:

To claim absurdly that the LAPD messed up and was not involved in the sinister plot and cover-up.

To rip Robert Kennedy Jr. with the words “What Bobby Kennedy Jr. has done, he’s launched a whole new generation of conspiracy nuts who are going to believe that Sirhan didn’t do it and somebody else did.”

To utter the word conspiracy and conspiracy nuts constantly and to have that word repeated throughout by DeCosta-Klipa, as if he were Moldea’s echo.  The word conspiracy is used nine times in a highly pejorative sense.

(The conspiracy label was created by the CIA in 1967 to besmirch the name and reputation of anyone questioning the assassination of President Kennedy.  CIA agents and assets throughout the mass media were encouraged to use it constantly.  Of course, they have.)

To preposterously claim that all the eyewitnesses were wrong and that since the autopsy definitively showed Kennedy was shot from the rear at point blank range that he must have turned around so Sirhan, who was standing feet away to the front could shoot him in his back and head.  To which, of course, DeCosta-Klipa has no reply, as if it weren’t ridiculous.

To falsely claim – lie – that Paul Schrade, an aide to the senator, who was walking behind him and was the first person shot, fell into RFK, pushing him toward Sirhan, when, in fact, Schrade fell backwards feet behind RFK.

To absurdly claim that the many bullet holes found in the door frames and wall weren’t bullet holes at all, but in DeCosta-Kipa’s words, paraphrasing Moldea, “were most likely the result of any number of kitchen carts banging into the wall.”

Don’t laugh; there’s more.

To claim that the man highly suspected of having shot Kennedy from the rear, the security guard Thane Eugene Cesar, is innocent since he told him so.  But he doesn’t say that Cesar fled the country and is living somewhere in Asia under Moldea’s protection.

To claim the highly suspect police investigator of the shooting, Sirhan, who also falsely asserts that no extra bullets were ever found, is a reliable source, despite extensive evidence to the contrary.

And to top it off, DeCosta-Klipa grants Moldea the final words:  “I think [RFK Jr.] has been misled, conned, and corrupted by the conspiracy crowd to believe this garbage that the man that murdered his father is innocent.”

The truth is the readers of The Boston Globe have been misled, conned, and corrupted by a classic piece of propaganda.

It is a disgrace.

The Blatant Conspiracy behind Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s Assassination

Early in 1968, Clyde Tolson, F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover’s deputy and bosom buddy, a key player in the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed both the hope and intent of those making sure that there would never be another president by the name Kennedy, when he said about RFK that “I hope someone shoots and kills the son of a bitch.”  Earlier, as reported by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in his new book, American Values: Lessons I Learned from My Family, the influential conservative Westbrook Pegler expressed this hope even more depravingly when he wished “that some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter [Robert Kennedy’s] spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies.”

These sick men were not alone.  Senator Robert Kennedy was a marked man.  And he knew it.  That he was nevertheless willing to stand up to the forces of hate and violence that were killing innocents at home and abroad is a testimony to his incredible courage and love of country.  To honor such a man requires that we discover and speak the truth about those who killed him.  The propaganda that he was killed by a crazed young Arab needs exposure.

When he was assassinated by a bullet to the back of his head on June 5, 1968, not by the accused patsy Sirhan Sirhan, who was standing in front of RFK, but by a conspiracy that clearly implicates U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, not only did a precious and good man die, but so too did any chance for significant political change through the official political system, short of a miracle.  We are still waiting for such a miracle.

Robert F. Kennedy’s death, following as it did the assassination by U.S. government forces of Dr. Martin Luther King two months earlier, marked an emphatic end to the sense of hope that marked the election to the presidency of his brother John in 1960.  Henceforth, efforts to change the political system from within became moot; the coup d’état effected on November 22, 1963 with the CIA’s assassination of JFK was signed and sealed. RFK’s murder added the period to this sentence of rule by murderous deep state forces.  And despite valiant efforts of dissent from outside the system since, the systemic war machine has rolled on and the economic stranglehold of the elites has tightened over the decades. An RFK presidency was this country’s last chance from within to save itself from the tyranny that has ensued.

We now live in a country that would be unrecognizable to anyone who died prior to 1968.  All protest has become symbolic as the American Empire has expanded abroad through countless ongoing wars, coups and the undermining of foreign governments; civil liberties have been eviscerated; the wealthy elites, ably assisted by a corrupt political establishment, have made a mockery of economic justice; an endless war on terror and a national emergency engendered by the insider attacks of September 11, 2001 and enshrined in public consciousness with the planted emergency telephonic meme of 9/11 have been instituted to justify massive profits for the military-industrial complex; and a new and very dangerous Cold War with Russia has been resurrected to threaten the world with nuclear annihilation.  All this and more has vigorously been supported by every U.S. President since, Democrats as well as Republicans, with no exceptions, including the icons of the neo-liberals, Clinton and Obama, who have bombed and droned the world wide, smiling all the way. We live in very dark times indeed.  If significant change ever comes to the United States, it will be a result of pressures from without, for the political system is rotten to the core, and almost without exception our political leaders are cowards and liars.  This seems obviously true to me, though it pains me to admit it.

Fifty years have passed since RFK’s murder, and for those fifty years very few Americans have thought to question what is a conspicuous conspiracy.  It is as though a painful exhaustion or a veil of denial set in in 1968, a year in which 536,000 plus American troops were waging war against the Vietnamese and the slaughter was horrendous.  Body bags and slaughtered Vietnamese filled the TV screens. Chicago cops rioted and beat antiwar demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. American cities were exploding. Then the “peace candidate” Nixon, together with Kissinger, assumed the mantle of power only to increase the horror. War criminals ruled. It was a year when mere anarchy was loosed upon the world and the truth of Robert Kennedy’s assassination was lost in the storm. The manifest truth became latent, and there it has remained for most people all these years.  All most people “know” is that RFK was assassinated by a crazy Arab guy. His name?  Oh yeah, Sirhan Sirhan or something like that.  It was so long ago and, anyway, it doesn’t matter anymore.

But it does matter greatly.  Unless we choose to remain children forever, children in denial of the truth of their childhood traumas, the truth about RFK’s murder will haunt us and poison any hope we still might harbor for our country.  Killers seized the levers of power with the murders of JFK, MLK, and RFK (and Malcolm X, Thomas Merton, et al.), and they have never relinquished them.

It is time that each of us decide: Do we stand with the killers or their victims?

Finally a Kennedy family member has spoken out on the case.  As reported by Tom Jackman in The Washington Post, May 27, 2018, Robert f. Kennedy, Jr., after studying the case at the instigation of Paul Schrade, RFK’s assistant, who was the first person shot that night, and visiting Sirhan in prison, has publicly said that he doesn’t think Sirhan killed his father and has called for a reinvestigation of the case, a most mild request.  Who will do the reinvestigation? The authorities in the government and press that have covered up the truth for fifty years?  Nevertheless, Jackman’s article and RFK, Jr.’s statement bring needed attention to the assassination while focusing on the fact of a second gunman and therefore a conspiracy.  Its focus is on the ballistics of the case, which are, of course, crucial.

But I would like to focus on another angle that confirms the fact of a second gunman and a vast cover-up that involves the LAPD, FBI, and CIA, therefore not just asserting the presence of a second gunman, but one in the employ of state forces.  So let us look into this brutal murder, with its layers of subterfuge.

Right from the start the conspirators had intricate plans in place just in case questions were asked. Plans to confuse. False leads. Fallback stories. Something far beyond the ken of the 24 year old Sirhan Sirhan.  Consider the following questions.

If you were going to arrange a political assassination in an indoor crowded setting, would you have one of your operatives (not the assassin) at the murder site be a strikingly curvaceous young woman in a conspicuous white dress with black polka-dots, and then have her flee the scene, yelling, “We’ve shot him, we’ve shot him,” so that multiple witnesses would see and hear her as she made her escape?

Would you have the same woman earlier in the day pick up a salesman in the hotel where the assassination was planned, spend the day with him driving around and having dinner together, while repeatedly inviting (i.e. luring) him to join her later that night at a big public event where they will shoot their famous victim, whom she names?

Would you have your operative tell this man that, although she wasn’t staying at the hotel, and although she had been in town only three days, having flown from NYC where she had arrived from overseas, that she knew the hotel stair routes very well, including an unobtrusive one that she shows the man?

Would you have this woman tell this man that a few days earlier she had met with a very famous political operative (whom she names), diametrically opposed to your victim’s political philosophy and that she would need to flee the country after the assassination and would like the man’s help?

Would you have this woman be seen by multiple witnesses in the company of Sirhan?

Would you have your operative in the tight dress so conspicuously lay down a trail of breadcrumbs from morning until night, until she made her escape, never to be found despite having been seen by more than a dozen credible witnesses at the shooting site?

I think you would agree that you would have to be extremely stupid to plan an assassination in this manner, except if you were extremely devious, and the voluptuous stand-out girl was part of your intricate plot to create a false lead to someone other than the assassins.

This is exactly what happened when Senator Robert Kennedy, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, was shot shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, after celebrating his victory in the California Democratic Primary.  The woman in question came to be known as “the girl in the polka-dot dress,” but unlike the ways we associate girls with innocence, this woman was a key player in hideous evil.

Did the polka-dot girl scream “We shot Senator Kennedy” intentionally as part of some sort of “limited hangout” in a most sophisticated conspiracy?  For why would a person involved in the conspiracy run away screaming such words, drawing attention to herself and her fleeing companion, unless it was a diversionary tactic?

[“Limited Hangout” according to Former Special Assistant to the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Victor Marchetti, is “spy jargon for a favorite and frequently used gimmick of the clandestine professionals.  When their veil of secrecy is shredded and they can no longer rely on a phony cover story to misinform the public, they resort to admitting – sometimes even volunteering – some of the truth while still managing to withhold the key and damaging facts in the case.  The public, however, is so intrigued by the new information that it never thinks to pursue the matter further.”]

While many people are aware that President John Kennedy was killed five years earlier in a conspiracy organized by U.S. intelligence operatives and that Lee Harvey Oswald was the “patsy” that he said he was, far fewer realize that Robert Kennedy was also killed as a result of a conspiracy and that the convicted assassin Sirhan Sirhan did not kill RFK.  In fact, not one bullet from his gun struck the senator.  Sirhan was standing in front of Kennedy when, as the autopsy definitively showed, RFK was shot from the rear at point blank range, three bullets entering his body, with the fatal head-shot coming upward at a 45 degree angle from 1-3 inches behind his right ear.  In addition, an audio recording shows that many more bullets than the eight in Sirhan’s gun were fired in the hotel pantry that night. It was impossible for Sirhan to have killed RFK.

While Sirhan sits in prison to this day, the real killers of Senator Kennedy went free that night. For anyone who studies the case with an impartial eye (see this, this, this, this, and this), the evidence is overwhelming that there was a very sophisticated conspiracy at work, one that continued long after as police, FBI, intelligence agencies, and the legal system covered up the true nature of the crime.  That Sirhan was a Manchurian candidate hypnotized to play his part as seeming assassin is also abundantly clear. Dr. Daniel P. Brown, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, an international expert on hypnosis, affirms the obvious: that Sirhan was hypno-programmed to shoot his pistol in response to a post hypnotic touch cue, most likely from the girl in the polka-dot dress. Dr. Brown states that Sirhan “did not have the knowledge, or intention, to shoot a human being, let alone Senator Kennedy.” At the request of Sirhan’s defense team seeking a new trial and a parole for Sirhan (efforts led by the lawyer William Peppers and the heroic Paul Schrade), Dr. Brown “conducted a forensic assessment in six different two-day sessions over a three year span spending over sixty hours interviewing and testing Sirhan at Corona Penitentiary and Pleasant Valley in California.”

In his declaration to the Parole Board Dr. Brown stated unequivocally that Sirhan was hypnotized and was therefore a “Manchurian Candidate” who did not kill RFK (see the CIA’s programs  ARTICHOKE and MKUltra.

One of the sad ironies of RFK’s murder is that he and his family spent the day of the primary at the home of John Frankenheimer, the producer and director of the film, The Manchurian Candidate, and as Kennedy was being shot, Frankenheimer and his wife were waiting outside the Ambassador Hotel in their car to take the Kennedys back to their house.

But it is not my intention here to detail all the facts of the case that still scream out for justice, as do the linked assassinations of JFK and MLK.  In fact, referring to the Kennedy assassination is a misnomer; we should speak of the Kennedy assassinations, since JFK wasn’t the only one.  There were others.

I would like to focus on the so-called “girl in the polka-dot dress,” and ask you to think along with me as we explore why she was so conspicuous that day and night, and what function she may have served.  I know you will agree that it is counter-intuitive for her to have behaved the way she did.  Counter-intuitive for the general public, that is, but not for those who plan assassinations that they can pin on crazed lone gunmen or strange accidents.  Being counter-intuitive, however, is not dispositive.  More evidence is necessary to make a case, and that evidence is readily available.

The best detailed day-to-day account of this mysterious girl is in a book by Fernando Faura, The Polka-Dot File: on the Robert F. Kennedy Killing.  Faura, an old school reporter nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for another series of articles, investigated the case from day one. He rarely speculates.  He sticks to giving us the record of his investigation as it happened – transcripts, documents, FBI and LAPD records, his day-to-day itineraries, his doubts, hunches, confirmations, etc. – all in the space of days, weeks, months of the assassination. Therein lies its great value.

Quoting transcripts of his own tape-recorded interviews with key witnesses, as well as police and FBI records, Faura systematically takes us through his investigation from start to finish.  Reading it carefully, one cannot but be deeply impressed by his thoroughness and attention to detail.  Nor can one not be chagrined by the ways his work was stymied by law enforcement and he was “followed, spied on, and harassed.”  It becomes evident that his pursuit of the truth was dangerous.

He writes, “Seconds after the shooting stopped, a young woman in a polka-dot dress ran out of the kitchen, past Sandra Serrano, a Kennedy campaign worker.  The woman shouted, ‘We shot him, we shot him.’  Asked who they shot, the woman replied, ‘Kennedy,’ and ran into the morning darkness, never to be found.”  Although Serrano was interviewed by Sandy Vanocur of NBC News on live TV at 1:30 AM shortly after the shooting, she – as well as other eyewitnesses to this girl – was browbeaten by the police to retract her story, yet she never did.  The police shut down its pursuit of this girl, despite more than a dozen witnesses who saw and heard her. The LAPD officer in charge of the investigation, Lt. Manny Pena, was CIA connected, having worked for U.S. AID and been recently brought back to control the investigation.  So too was the brutal interrogator, Sgt. Hank Hernandez, CIA affiliated.

It is obvious that this girl was part of a conspiracy to kill Robert Kennedy and that it is equally obvious that she was meant to stand out, be seen, and to be heard shouting what she did.  Why?  And it is equally obvious the authorities had no intention of finding her, concluding, amazingly, that she never existed.  This becomes laughable after reading Faura’s chapter of his tape recorded interview with John Fahey, the man who picked up, or was picked up, by the girl in the polka-dot dress and who spent the entire day with her.

Logically it follows that she was meant to create false leads, and generate mystery when there was none.  Writing of the JFK assassination, Vince Salandria, the eminent and early critic of the government’s false conspiracy story, has recently said something quite appropriate to the RFK case and this girl: “The Kennedy assassination is a false mystery.  It was conceived by the conspirators to be a false mystery which was designed to cause interminable debate.  The purpose of the protracted debate was to obscure what was quite clearly and plainly a coup d’état….President Kennedy was assassinated by our national-security state…”  While far fewer people have yet to question the false narrative in the RFK case, when, or if, they do they will find that the polka-dot girl’s actions and her disappearance could keep them guessing for a long time, and that that guessing will lead away from the obvious and essential truth.

The recently deceased investigative journalist Robert Parry has written about how Richard Nixon sabotaged a possible peace accord in Vietnam in the summer/fall of 1968. This he did through an intermediary, right-wing Republican Chinese émigré Anna Chennault, wife of General Claire Chennault, legendary founder of the Flying Tigers.  Parry explains, “Nixon’s gambit was to have Chennault pass on word to South Vietnamese President Thieu that if he boycotted Johnson’s Paris peace talks – thus derailing the negotiations – Nixon would assure Thieu continued U.S. military support for the war.”  This treachery has been confirmed.  Having stumbled on Parry’s work in 2014, the reporter Fernando Faura was startled to find himself connecting the girl in the polka-dot dress to Anna Chennault and to Nixon.  This was because he remembered that the man, John Fahey, who had spent all day with the girl on June 4, 1968 and dropped her off in the evening at the Ambassador Hotel, had told him that the political operative she had met with three days before the assassination was Anna Chennault. Faura speculates that perhaps Nixon was therefore connected to RFK’s assassination because he feared that, if Robert Kennedy were to become the Democratic presidential nominee, he would push to end the Vietnam War and would be more likely than anyone else to defeat him in the general election. He speculates that the “peace talks” conspiracy might have been the origin of the Kennedy killing; that the two conspiracies were connected.

But at the same time Faura writes, “Why is the CIA’s shadow all over this?” And since the CIA’s shadow is all over the RFK assassination, we are left to ask if Nixon and the CIA were operating on the same page. Or was it the reverse, that Nixon and the CIA were at odds?  Did the CIA remove Nixon from office with Watergate?  Could the girl have been used to create a false lead to Nixon?  Or was it something else again?  Was it simply fortuitous that Sirhan’s Palestinian Arabic origins were emphasized and that his lawyers, who in no way defended him, suggested that he was mad at RFK for supporting the sending of planes to Israel and the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel?  What were JFK’s and RFK’s positions vis-à- vis Israel and their nuclear weapons?  Who was the girl?  What country had she come from when she arrived in NYC three days before?

While I could answer many of these questions, I will defer to my readers’ passion for investigating the truth.

For many questions leading hither and yon originate with this girl.  And it is obvious that she was meant to do that: to muddy the waters and keep people guessing once they came to realize that Sirhan obviously did not kill RFK.  And she “disappeared” as quickly as she “appeared.”  And the authorities shut down their investigation and pursuit of her.  They denied her existence against all the evidence.  Meant to stand out, she was also meant to go out, leaving a trail of questions.

Former Congressman Allard Lowenstein, who was investigating Robert Kennedy’s killing and was also strangely murdered, put it well:

Robert Kennedy’s death, like the President’s, was mourned as an extension of senseless violence; events moved on, and the profound alterations that these deaths…brought in the equation of power in America was perceived as random…. What is odd is not that some people thought it was all random, but that so many intelligent people refused to believe that it might be anything else.  Nothing can measure more graphically how limited was the general understanding of what is possible in America.

While such pseudo-innocence prevailed then and is still very widespread, perhaps no one epitomized the twisted mind games played by intelligence agencies more than James Jesus Angleton, the notorious CIA Counterintelligence Chief for so many years, in whose safe were found gruesome photos of Robert Kennedy’s autopsy.  Why, one may ask, were those photos there, since Angleton allegedly had no connection to the RFK killing and since Sirhan was said to be the assassin?  Was Angleton’s work as CIA liaison with Israel in any way connected?

As I wrote earlier, if one objectively studies the assassination of Senator Kennedy, one cannot but conclude there was a government conspiracy and that Sirhan is not guilty.  That much is not particularly complicated, although many people not familiar with the facts of the case may think otherwise.

The mystery girl is another matter.  Everything about her has served to hypnotize, first Sirhan, and then those seeking to get to the deeper forces behind this American tragedy.

Robert Kennedy, like his brother John, was a great danger to those virulent forces of war and oppression within his own government, and he died opposing them as a true patriot.

If we wish to honor him, we are obligated to pursue the truth of why he died and why it still matters.  No government agency will ever do that for us. Fifty years of silence must be ended, and it up to us.

Gina Haspel and Pinocchio from Rome

Being in Rome, Italy and thinking of Gina Haspel, the CIA nominee and admitted torturer who says her “moral conscience” has changed after the fact, seems most fitting.  Wherever you go in central Rome, you can hear the screams and smell the blood of those tortured and killed by the Roman Empire and those who ably followed in their stead.   And you can see the crumbled stones and the pathetic architectural remains of those who thought they had triumphed.  Their triumph turned to dust, and their belated mea culpas, if and when they ever came, always rang as hollow as Gina Haspel’s, Lt. William Calley’s, and Adolph Eichmann’s excuses that they were only doing their jobs and following orders.

Throughout Rome there are hawkers dangling Pinocchio trinkets in your face, constant reminders of the cost of lying.  Or perhaps more aptly, the fame that ensues from lying followed by a childish semi-apology, even when it’s as obvious as the nose on your face that you are lying still.  So in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Haspel was asked by Senator Mark Warner, D-VA., the kind of question that allows a respondent to answer in a deceptive way that means nothing, but seems profoundly sincere. Warned asked:

Q. If this president asked you to do something that you find morally objectionable, even if there is an [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion, what will you do?  Will you carry out that order or not?

To which Haspel replied:

A. Senator, my moral conscience is strong.  I would not allow the CIA to carry out any activity that I thought was immoral – even if it was technically legal.  I would absolutely not permit it.

From all reports, neither Warner’s nor Haspel’s nose grew longer, but perhaps such deceptive phrasing slyly falls beyond the parameters of Pinocchio’s sins and the Blue Fairy’s  sanctions.

So the woman who oversaw detainee torture at a CIA “black site” in Thailand tells us she has a strong moral conscience, but she doesn’t tell us what that conscience considers intrinsically evil, if anything. Nor what that “strong” moral conscience considers moral or immoral in any way, just that the “CIA must undertake activities that are consistent with American values,” whatever they might be.  And if she were ordered to carry out an action – let’s say kill a foreign agent or assassinate a political leader – that was technically illegal but accorded with her strong moral conscience, would she do so?  Don’t ask; she wasn’t. Even Pinocchio would get confused with this legerdemain, and his “strong” moral conscience, Jiminy Cricket, would be utterly bamboozled.

The good Senator, adept at playing deceptive verbal games as befits his stature, is happy to have his non-question answered with a non-answer, and both he and Haspel are happy.  Good question, good answer, good conscience.  Nothing bad about that.  Then Warner goes and votes for Haspel, who he says is “among the most experienced people to be nominated” to head the CIA, and Haspel says she thinks torture – excuse me, “enhanced interrogation” – doesn’t work anyway.  Practicality wins the day.

But here in Rome so many regular people are not so practical.  They seem to relish life, not as a task to accomplish, but as a pleasure to enjoy.  Despite the history that surrounds them, and the dismal political economy that weighs heavy on their lives and country, they seem less anxious and terrorized than Americans. Of course, this may be a visitor’s myopic vision, and when seen clearly, Romans might be as stressed as Americans.  But I doubt it.

But for this visiting American, it is hard to dismiss thoughts about the disgraceful charade happening back in Washington D.C.  Thinking here in Rome of the Haspel vote, I am reminded of the ex-CIA Director Allen Dulles’s and long-time Chief of Counterintelligence James Angleton’s organized “Ratlines,” the escape routes for Nazi and fascist killers and torturers, so many of whom were brought to the United States and other countries after World War II through Italy to help the newly formed CIA torture the truth out of detainees and assassinate opponents. Operation Paperclip, they called it.  No big deal; just a joining of two like-minded organizations by a tiny device.

Post September 11 torture is nothing new, and Haspel is nothing if not a traditionalist just doing her job. Is this what Haspel meant by “American values”?  Many victims would attest to that.

In an old city like Rome one tends to think old thoughts: that the history of torture, human treachery, lying, and violence has a long history; that secular and religious fanatics are nothing new; and that empires rise and fall and everyone dies, even those who build monuments to their own “glorious” deeds.

But if one wanders around Rome and through life with no itinerary, one also encounters beautiful people and small pockets of faith, love, and devotion.  One encounters magnificent art that embodies the heights to which humans can aspire.  One realizes that despite the gory history of the human race, the killers and torturers, humans have and do rise above their worst inclinations and do the work of angels, despite the devils.

As we were sitting at a café in the Piazza della Rotonda, my wife said to me, “You have your back to the Pantheon.”  It was true.  Those monumental gods bored me.  My glass of vino rosso whirled my mind to better things.  Lighter.  Not stone idolatry.  Not empires, except their death.  Not stone gods, nor inquisitors or black sites or hooded torturers with Ph’ds from Harvard. No palaces to Renaissance princes or Central Intelligence agents, corrupt bastards of different times and places.  No Wall Street/CIA nexus.  No dastardly gross stupid rich Trump with his orange hair and phallic towers, nor his doppelganger Berlusconi here in Italy.  No basilicas, nothing petrified, despite the city of stone that enclosed me. Like the sparrow that alighted on the next table and was pecking at the bread in a basket, my thoughts flew to lighter and more sustaining images of life and love and the spirit of care that sustains this beautiful world despite the torturers and killers.

Gina Haspel seemed so far away – yet so very near.  My thoughts kept returning to all the U.S. Senators who have voted for this torturer to lead the CIA.  Will they say they were only doing their jobs and following orders?  Do they think of themselves as civilized?

I then looked up as the bird took flight and saw a cross silhouetted against the blue sky.  Enough said.

Where will we conduct the next Nuremberg trials?

Though Invisible to Us, Our Dead Are Not Absent

Those titular words were sent to me by Fr. Daniel Berrigan shortly before he died.

It is a glorious spring day as I write.  The day my father died was also glorious, and I cried like a baby. It was 25 years ago today, May 1, 1993. To the young it must seem like a long time ago.  To me it is yesterday. I am his namesake for which I feel blessed.  Every day that passes I realize how profound his influence has been on me.  Perhaps not obvious to others, it runs like an underground stream that carries me forward and soothes my soul through the passage of days. The early morning he died was so beautiful, almost as beautiful as he was.  The call from the hospital came at 5 A.M.  When I was leaving his apartment shortly thereafter, the birds were in full throat, singing madly.  The flowering bushes leading into his apartment building were in full bloom and the smell intoxicating. The morning was arriving and my father departing and my heart was aching. The bittersweet juxtaposition of his day of departure has never left me, nor has the feel and smell of him as we would hug in those final years as he was weakening and preparing for his restless farewell.  My father never waivered from his faith that “though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.”  Those words ring their reminders in my ears continually.

Now it is spring again.  Yesterday as I drove to work through the gentle New England spring rain, I noticed how fast the grass was turning green and how in a few days the weather will turn quite warm and the flowers and foliage will explode with joy. “Explode,” yes.  That word dragged my thoughts across the world. And I thought of all the bombs and missiles exploding throughout the Middle East and the guns of the killers exploding everywhere, extinguishing the possibility for joy for so many. And the nuclear ones hiding in their silos and those treacherously sliding silently under the world’s oceans in Trident submarines, primed to kill us all.  And the indifference of so many people to this carnage, initiated and sustained by our own government.  Or was it indifference or something else?  It seemed to me as I wondered in the rolling silence of the car that it was that and yet wasn’t just that.  There was a missing link that I couldn’t fully understand, and still don’t.  Was it fear?

Then I recalled that yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Dan Berrigan two years ago, another father and mentor whose influence runs through my veins.  Dan and my father never met, and in ways they were opposites, but yet a marriage of opposites.  Both trained by Jesuits, and Dan a Jesuit priest, who became a renegade radical priest, a criminal felon in opposition to the American Empire and its terrifying violence; my father, eight years older, a gentle more conservative soul inspired by the same faith expressed in quieter and more personal ways and possessed of a gift with words equal to the eloquence of Dan’s writing but more humorous and sometimes acerbic.  Dan, the serious poet; my father, a master of the epistolarian’s art and quite the serious comedian.

The tragedian and comic, faithful to the paradox of our condition.  In one of his last letters to me my father wrote, “I am hooked up to a heart monitor and have been examined by a neurosurgeon named Block.  I think he is H.R. Block of tax forms.  I have also just signed a consent form for a cat scan.  I think that’s to see if I like cats.”

And, of course, Dan, in his role as dissident, wrote so famously, fifty years ago this May 17, as he stood burning draft records in Catonsville, Maryland with his brother Phil and seven other brave resisters to the war against Vietnam:

Excuse us good friends for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house.  We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.  For we are sick at heart.  Our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children…. We say killing is disorder.  Life and gentleness and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize…. In a time of death, some men… the resisters…those who preach and embrace the truth, such men overcome death, their lives are bathed in the light of resurrection, the truth has set them free…

Who am I?  Who are we?

The mystical and political poet Kenneth Rexforth wrote in “Growing”:

I and thou, from the one to
The dual, from the dual
To the other, the wonderful,
Unending, unfathomable
Process of becoming each
Ourselves for the other.

How do we become who we are? asked Nietzsche, while paradoxically telling us. But in speaking paradoxically, he, the alleged murderer of God but himself a paradoxical lover of Jesus, spoke the truth about us all, or at least about me.  I am a paradox, a combination of influences of those who came before me and now whisper to me from the shadows and those living friends and enemies who inspire me. Their spirits flow into me while I flow on.  It is a vast conspiracy of the communion of the living and the dead.

I can hear my father whisper to me what he wrote years ago: “The other day Mama saw a death notice of an Edward J. Curtin but happily he came from Brooklyn, so it wasn’t either of us.  I told you things would get better.”

I am laughing through my tears as I recall how he would often end his epistles with the word pax, and then further on the question – quién sabe? (who knows?).

I don’t know, but knowledge is overrated.

The world is beautiful, and we must save it by listening to the voices of our blessed dead, who instill us with life and love and the spirit of resistance.  We must carry it on.

Speaking the Unspeakable: The Assassination and Martyrdom of Thomas Merton

Killing a man who says ‘No!’ is a risky business,” the priest replied, “because even a corpse can go on whispering ‘No! No! No! with a persistence and obstinacy that only certain corpses are capable of.  And how can you silence a corpse?”

— Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine, 1936

Fifty years have elapsed since Thomas Merton died under mysterious circumstances in a cottage at a Red Cross Conference Center outside Bangkok, Thailand where he was attending an international inter-faith monastic conference.  The truth behind his death has been concealed until now through the lies and deceptions of a cast of characters, religious, secular, and U.S. governmental, whose actions chill one to the bone.  But he has finally found his voice through Hugh Turley and David Martin, who tell the suppressed truth of Merton’s last minutes on earth on December 10, 1968.

This is an extraordinary book in so many ways.  First, because the authors prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Trappist monk and anti-war writer Thomas Merton was assassinated and did not die in a fabricated accident, as has been claimed for all these years.

Second, because it is so meticulously researched, sourced, documented, and logically argued that it puts to shame and the lie to so many works, including academic ones, that purport to be profound but fall apart once carefully inspected, especially all those that have been written about Merton and his alleged accidental death. These false accounts of his death, obviously presented purposely by the key players – that he was electrocuted by a fan while wet from a shower – have been repeated ad nauseam over fifty years as if curiosity were reserved for cats and a writer’s job were to repeat commonplace absurdities. And, of course, the mainstream media, the prime organs of propaganda dissemination, have carried out their function by repeating these lies at every turn. The transparency of Turley and Martin’s presentation is greatly enhanced by the presence of footnotes, not endnotes, which allow readers to easily check sources as they read. Most footnotes refer to primary documents – letters, police reports, etc. – that are reproduced in an appendix that is, however, in need of enlargement, but whose contents have, for some odd or not so odd reasons, escaped the thousands of writers who’ve penned words about Merton.

Third, because it greatly expands our understanding of that fateful year – 1968 – by adding the prophetic Merton’s name to the list of well-known anti-war leaders – MLK and RFK – who were slain that year by U.S. government operatives intent on crushing the growing opposition to their genocidal war waged on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The links between these assassinations are made manifest as one follows the authors’ brilliant analysis that allows an informed reader to see the template common to them all and one that clearly leads to intelligence agencies practiced in the arts of murder and cover-up.

Fourth, because it proves that in the long run the pen is mightier than the sword, and the spiritually powerful poetic words of a God-entranced man living in seclusion can rattle the cages of men who embrace the void of violence while rejecting the spiritual essence of all religions – that non-violence and love are the laws of existence.  Merton may be dead for his killers, but not for those who hear his voice whispering on every page: “The very thoughts of a person like me are crimes against the state.  All I have to do is think: and immediately I become guilty,” Merton wrote in “A Signed Confession of Crimes Against the State.”

Lastly, because The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton markedly forces the reader to face its harsh truths and examine one’s soul and complicity in evil as one learns of the perfidy and betrayal of Merton by friends, associates, and biographers whom a naïve person might assume are beyond reproach, until, that is, one reads this book.  It is a very hard lesson to accept and understand.  But Hugh Turley and David Martin sequentially force the reader to contemplate such matters; to conjecture why some have conspired and abetted in Merton’s murder and especially its fifty year cover-up.

Thomas Merton (Fr. Lewis) was a Catholic monk, poet, writer and theologian who became very well-known in 1948 with the publication of his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, which became a bestseller.  Over the next dozen or so years, he published many books on religious themes, mainly avoiding social or political subjects.  But although he lived in a monastery, and eventually by himself in a hermitage nearby, he corresponded widely and was tuned in to worldly events.  He became a friend and mentor to religious/political activists such as Martin Luther King, Fathers Philip and Daniel Berrigan, James Douglass, among many others.  He was a friend of Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker.  He corresponded with Boris Pasternak and Ethel Kennedy; wrote about Albert Camus and Eugene Ionesco.  During the 1960s his writing turned more overtly political while remaining rooted in a deep mystical and contemplative spirituality.  He became a major inspiration for radical activists who opposed nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War, and the materialist way of life fostered by capitalism that relied on the spread of the American empire through world-wide violence.  Although living far away from the din and drama of day-to-day politics, his writing, encouragement, and influence were profound, and he became a major impediment to the propaganda and policies of the military-industrial-political-intelligence complex.  He was an inspiration whose spirit disturbed church and state in the most radical way. Turley and Martin say of him:

Merton saw clearly that devotion to truth could not help but bring a person into conflict with sinister special interests.  The effectiveness of the truth-seeker would, of course, be greater to the extent he could rally others to his cause, but ultimately, he said, the truth seeker’s strength lay in trust in God.

Merton died on the afternoon of December 10, 1968 when those sinister special interests snuck up on him.  He had just given a talk, had lunch, and returned to his cottage shortly before 2 P.M., accompanied by Fr. Francois de Grunne, O.S.B. (Order of Saint Benedict) from Belgium, who shared the cottage with Merton and two others, Fr. Celestine Say, O.S.B. from the Philippines, whose room was across from Merton’s on the first floor, and John Moffit, a journalist editor whose room was directly over Merton’s on the second floor adjacent to de Grunne’s. The walk from the dining hall to the cottage took 10-15 minutes.  Say and Moffit were walking a good distance behind Merton and de Grunne and arrived at the cottage about 5-7 minutes after them. When they entered the unlocked building, they did not see Merton and de Grunne and presumed they had gone to their respective rooms.

Shortly after de Grunne and Merton entered the cottage, Merton was killed.  The actions of de Grunne, a mysterious figure who, according to the authors, “seems to have fallen off the face of the earth” and whose “abbey will not even respond to our questions about him,” clearly make him a prime suspect in the crime.  His actions and story are not believable and are contradicted by the most reliable witness, Fr. Say, whose statements have been absolutely consistent.

Beyond speculation, however, are the facts gathered by the authors that clearly prove that from the start there was a concerted effort to make a crime look like an accident.  These efforts were initiated by de Grunne, who was the first to call it an “accident,” but ably assisted by many others, including the Thai police or their surrogates, whose police report was released by the U.S. Embassy seven months after Merton’s death and has no title, author, date, photographs, laboratory reports, or investigators’ memos, and omits the testimony of the first two witnesses on the scene, Fr. Say and Fr. Egbert Donovan, who viewed Merton lying in a position and dressed in shorts totally inconsistent with the accidental death scenario.  Most importantly, this “report” omits an autopsy report since no autopsy was conducted, a dead giveaway that a cover-up was underway.  When a person is found dead, the first assumption of a competent investigation is that a crime may have been committed, and when the victim is found with a sever gash on the back of his head, is lying in a position inconsistent with an accident, an autopsy becomes essential.  But none was performed in Thailand or when Merton’s body arrived back at the Abbey of Gethsemani.  That the United States Embassy, at the request of Most Reverend Dom Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., who was presiding over the conference, had the U.S Army take possession of Merton’s body shortly thereafter, embalm it, and five days later fly it back to the U.S. aboard a military plane together with the corpses of American casualties of the Vietnam War is not only supremely ironic but downright suspicious.

The first public report of Merton’s death was delivered on December 11, as Turley and Martin report:

On December 11, 1968, the Associated Press reported that Merton had been electrocuted when he touched a short in a cord while moving an electrical fan, according to anonymous [my emphasis] Catholic sources.  The initial news reports did not include any important details such as who found Merton, the names of any witnesses or officials at the scene, or who determined it was an accident. The Thai doctor’s cause-of-death certificate and the official death certificate said Merton died of sudden cardiac failure, but failed to mention the bleeding rear head wound seen by witnesses.

Most importantly, when Say and Donovan first saw Merton lying on the floor on his back, his legs straight, and his arms straight down by his side with palms to the floor as if placed in a coffin, with a floor fan lying across a thigh to the opposite lower waist, Donovan urged Say to take photographs of Merton before the crime scene was subsequently disturbed.  They were very suspicious.  Through great detective work, Turley and Martin have acquired a copy of these two photos, but they have been prohibited by the current abbot of Gethsemani from publishing them or even an artist’s rendering of them.  The authors say:

The photographs taken by Say are the best available evidence of the actual scene of Merton’s death… The reason the monks took the photographs, as we have emphasized, was to document exactly how they found the body.  As we have seen, people whom they would hardly have ever suspected, have consistently done their best to suppress those images.  The photographs are an essential resource to anyone interested in knowing the truth about how Merton was killed.

But it is clear that many people would like to suppress that truth and have been hard at work doing so for half a century.  But since this is intentionally a quasi-review because one must read this book from beginning to end to grasp the intricacies of this murder mystery and the cast of characters that comprise it (no review can do justice to such a detailed and brilliant investigation, and, even so, attempting one would spoil the book), I will end with the authors’ words:

Contrary to the common view, there is really no mystery about how Merton died.  The best evidence indicates beyond any serious doubt that Merton was murdered.  It’s a simple fact that the average person is far more likely to be murdered than to be killed by an electric fan, and Merton was no average person.  The story that a fan killed Merton is so preposterous that a series of fantastic stories have had to be invented to make it believable….Who did it and why? The CIA had the motive and the means.

1968: It was a very dark year: MLK, RFK, and Thomas Merton – martyrs all.

If we want to see clearly and revive hope, the time has come to face the faces of the ghastly gallery of liars and deceivers guilty of these crimes.  Only then can we live the truths their victims suffered and died for.

Then we too can confess with Merton that we have thought “Crimes Against the State.”

Fifty Years Ago the United States Government Killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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 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. Fifty 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 his 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.

In the years leading up to Pepper’s 1978 involvement, only a few lonely voices expressed doubts about the government’s case – Harold Weisberg in 1971 and Mark Lane and Dick Gregory in 1977.  The rest of the country put themselves and the case to sleep.  They are still sleeping, but Pepper is trying with this last book to wake them up.  Meanwhile, the disinformation specialists continue with their lies.

While a review is not the place to go into every detail of Pepper’s rebuttal of the government’s shabby claims, let me say at the outset that he emphatically does so, and adds in the process some tentative claims of which he is not certain but which, if true, are stunning.

As with the assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother, Robert (two months after MLK), all evidence points to the construction of patsies to take the blame for government executions.  Ray, Oswald, and Sirhan all bear striking resemblances in the ways they were chosen and moved as pawns over long periods of time into positions where their only reactions could be stunned surprise when they were accused of the murders.

It took Pepper many years to piece together the essential truths, once he and Abernathy interviewed Ray in prison in 1978.  The first giveaway that something was seriously amiss came with the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations’ report on the King assassination.  Led by Robert Blakey, suspect in his conduct of the other assassination inquiries, who had replaced Richard Sprague, who was deemed to be too independent, “this multi-million dollar investigation ignored or denied all evidence that raised the possibility that James Earl Ray was innocent,” and that government forces might be involved.  Pepper lists over twenty such omissions that rival the absurdities of the magical thinking of the Warren Commission. The HSCA report became the template “for all subsequent disinformation in print and visual examinations of this case” for the past thirty-seven years.

Pepper’s decades-long investigation, not only refutes the government’s case against James Earl Ray, but definitively proves that King was killed by a government conspiracy led by the FBI, Army Intelligence, and Memphis Police, assisted by southern Mafia figures. He is right to assert that “we have probably acquired more detailed knowledge about this political assassination than we have ever had about any previous historical event.”  This makes the silence around this case even more shocking.  This shock is accentuated when one is reminded (or told for the first time) that in 1999 a Memphis jury, after a thirty day trial and over seventy witnesses, found the U.S. government guilty in the killing of MLK.  The King family had brought the suit and William Pepper represented them.  They were grateful that the truth was confirmed, but saddened by the way the findings were buried once again by a media in cahoots with the government.

The civil trial was the King family’s last resort to get a public hearing to disclose the truth of the assassination.  They and Pepper knew that Ray was an innocent pawn, but Ray had died in prison in 1998 after trying for thirty years to get a trial and prove his innocence (shades of Sirhan Sirhan who still languishes in prison).  During all those years, Ray had maintained that he had been manipulated by a shadowy figure named Raul, who supplied him with money and his white Mustang and coordinated all his complicated travels, including having him buy a rifle and come to Jim’s Grill and the boarding house on the day of the assassination.  The government has always denied that Raul existed.

Blocked at every turn by the authorities and unable to get Ray a trial, Pepper arranged an unscripted, mock TV trial that aired on April 4, 1993, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the assassination.  Jurors were selected from a pool of U.S. citizens, a former U.S. Attorney and a federal judge served as prosecutor and judge, with Pepper serving as defense attorney.  He presented extensive evidence clearly showing that authorities had withdrawn all security for King; that the state’s chief witness was falling down drunk; that the alleged bathroom sniper’s nest was empty right before the shot was fired; that three eyewitnesses, including the NY Times Earl Caldwell, said that the shot came from the bushes behind the rooming house; and that two eyewitnesses saw Ray drive away in his white Mustang before the shooting, etc.  The prosecution’s feeble case was rejected by the jury that found Ray not guilty.

As with all Pepper’s work on the case (including book reviews), the mainstream media responded with silence.  And though this was only a TV trial, increasing evidence emerged that the owner of Jim’s Grill, Loyd Jowers, was deeply involved in the assassination.  Pepper dug deeper, and on December 16, 1993, Loyd Jowers appeared on ABC’s Primetime Live that aired nationwide.  Pepper writes, “Loyd Jowers cleared James Earl Ray, saying that he did not shoot MLK but that he, Jowers, had hired a shooter after he was approached by Memphis produce man Frank Liberto and paid $1,000,000 to facilitate the assassination.  He also said that he had been visited by a man names Raul who delivered a rifle and asked him to hold it until arrangements were finalized …. The morning after the Primetime Live broadcast there was no coverage of the previous night’s program, not even on ABC …. Here was a confession, on prime time television, to involvement in one of the most heinous crimes in the history of the Republic, and virtually no American mass-media coverage.”

In the twenty-five years since that confession, Pepper has worked tirelessly on the case and has uncovered a plethora of additional evidence that refutes the government’s claims and indicts it and the media for a continuing cover-up.  The evidence he has gathered, detailed and documented in The Plot to Kill King, proves that Martin Luther King was killed by a conspiracy masterminded by the U.S. government.  Much of his evidence was presented at the 1999 trial, while other was subsequently discovered.  Since the names and details involved make clear that, as with the murders of JFK and RFK, the conspiracy was very sophisticated with many moving parts organized at the highest level, I will just highlight a few of his findings in what follows.  A reader should read the book to understand the full scope of the plot, its execution, and the cover-up.

  • Pepper refutes the government account and proves, through multiple witnesses, telephonic, and photographic evidence, that Raul existed; that his full name is Raul Coelho; and that he was James Earl Ray’s intelligence handler, who provided him with money and instructions from their first meeting in the Neptune Bar in Montreal, where Ray had fled in 1967 after his prison escape, until the day of the assassination. It was Raul who instructed Ray to return to the U.S. (an act that makes no sense for an escaped prisoner who had fled the country), gave him money for the white Mustang, helped him attain travel documents, and moved him around the country like a pawn on a chess board. The parallels to Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan are startling.
  • He presents the case of Donald Wilson, a former FBI agent working out of the Atlanta office in 1968, who went with a senior colleague to check out an abandoned white Mustang with Alabama plates (Ray’s car, to which Raul had a set of keys) and opened the passenger door to find that an envelope and some papers fell out onto the ground. Thinking he may have disturbed a crime scene, the nervous Wilson pocketed them.  Later, when he read them, their explosive content intuitively told him that if he gave them to his superiors they would be destroyed.  One piece was a torn out page from a 1963 Dallas telephone directory with the name Raul written at the top, and the letter “J” with a Dallas telephone number for a club run by Jack Ruby, Oswald’s killer. The page was for the letter H and had numerous phone numbers for H. L. Hunt, Dallas oil billionaire and a friend of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.  Both men hated MLK. The second sheet contained Raul’s name and a list of names and sums and dates for payment.  On the third sheet was written the telephone number and extension for the Atlanta FBI office. (Read Jim Douglass’s important interview with Donald Wilson in The Assassinations, p.479-491.)
  • Pepper interviewed four other witnesses who confirmed that they had seen Raul with Jack Ruby in Dallas in 1963 and that they were associated.
  • Pepper shows that the alias Ray was given and used from July 1967 until April 4, 1968 – Eric Galt – was the name of a Toronto operative of U.S. Army Intelligence, Eric St. Vincent Galt, who worked for Union Carbide with Top Secret clearance. The warehouse at the Canadian Union Carbide Plant in Toronto that Galt supervised “housed a top secret munitions project funded jointly by the CIA, the U.S. Naval Surface Weapons Center, and the Army Electronics Research and Development Command …. In August 1967, Galt met with Major Robert M. Collins, a top aide to the head of the 902nd Military Intelligence Group (MIG) Colonel John Downie.”  Downie selected four members for an Alpha 184 Sniper Unit that was sent to Memphis to back up the primary assassin of MLK.  Meanwhile, Ray, set up as the patsy, was able to move about freely since he was protected by the pseudonymous NSA clearance for Eric Galt.
  • To refute the government’s claim that Ray and his brother robbed the Alton, Illinois Bank to finance his travels and car purchase (therefore no Raul existed), Pepper “called the sheriff in Alton and the president of the bank; they gave the same statement. The Ray brothers had nothing to do with the robbery.  No one from the HSCA, the FBI, or The New York Times had sought their opinion.”  CNN later reiterated the media falsehood that became part of the official false story.
  • Pepper proves that the fatal shot came from the bushes behind Jim’s Grill and the rooming house, not from the bathroom window. He presents overwhelming evidence for this, showing that the government’s claim, based on the testimony on a severely drunk Charlie Stephens, was absurd.  His evidence includes the testimony of numerous eyewitnesses and that of Loyd Jowers, the owner of Jim’s Grill, who said he took the rifle from the shooter in the bushes and brought it into the bar where he hid it.  Thus, Ray was not the assassin.
  • He presents conclusive evidence that the bushes were cut down the morning after the assassination in an attempt to corrupt the crime scene. The order to do so came from Memphis Police Department Inspector Sam Evans to Maynard Stiles, a senior administrator of the Memphis Department of Public Works.
  • He shows how King’s room was moved from a safe interior room, 201, to balcony room, 306, on the upper floor; how King was conveniently positioned alone on the balcony by members of his own entourage for the easy mortal head shot from the bushes across the street. (Many people only remember the iconic photograph taken after-the-fact with Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, et al., standing over the fallen King and pointing across the street.)  Pepper implicates that Reverends Billy Kyles, Jesse Jackson, and, to a lesser extent, Ralph Abernathy were involved in these machinations.  He uncovers of the role of black military intelligence agent Marrell McCollough, attached to the 111th MIG, within the entourage.  McCollough can be seen kneeling over the fallen King, checking to see if he’s dead.
  • Pepper confirms that all of this, including the assassin in the bushes, was dutifully photographed by Army Intelligence agents situated on the nearby Fire House roof.
  • He presents evidence that all security for Dr. King was withdrawn from the area by the Memphis Police Department, including a special security unit of black officers, and four tactical police units. A black detective at the nearby fire station, Ed Redditt, was withdrawn from his post on the afternoon of April 4th, allegedly because of a death threat against him.  And the only two black firemen at Fire Station No.2 were transferred to another station.
  • He names and confirms the presence of Alpha 184 snipers at locations high above the Lorraine Motel balcony.
  • He explains the use of two white mustangs in the operation to frame Ray.
  • He proves that Ray had driven off before the shooting; that Loyd Jowers took the rifle from the shooter who was in the bushes; that the Memphis police were working in close collaboration with the FBI, Army Intelligence, and the “Dixie Mafia,” particularly local produce dealer Frank Liberto and his New Orleans associate Carlos Marcello; and that every aspect of the government’s case was filled with holes that any person familiar with the details and possessing elementary logical abilities could refute.
  • So importantly, Pepper shows how the mainstream media and government flacks have spent years covering up the truth of MLK’s murder through lies and disinformation, just as they have done with the Kennedy and Malcom X assassinations that are of a piece with this one.

But since this is a book review and not a book, I will stop listing Pepper’s very detailed and convincing findings.  While he may not have answered every aspect of the case, and may be mistaken in some small details, he has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt the basic fact that James Earl Ray did not kill Martin Luther King, but that this great and dangerous leader was killed by a conspiracy organized at the highest levels of government.

The Plot to Kill King will mesmerize any reader seeking the truth about MLK’s assassination. Even when Pepper, towards the end of the book, offers circumstantial and non-corroborated testimony from witnesses Ronnie Lee Adkins and Johnton Shelby, the reader can’t help but be intrigued and to consider their stories highly plausible given all that Pepper has proven. Adkins claims that his father, a friend of Clyde Tolson, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s deputy, and then he himself, were part of the plot to kill King.  This involved politicians, the FBI, MPD, and mafia, including the aforementioned produce dealer Frank Liberto and others, making payoffs with FBI money to various people, including Jesse Jackson (whom Adkins, Jr. claims was a paid FBI informer) and working closely on the details of the assassination.  Johton Shelby’s story as recounted in his deposition (2014) to Pepper (reproduced, together with Adkins’ (2009), as appendices in the book), is that his mother, who was working as an emergency room aide at St. Joseph’s Hospital when King was brought there, inadvertently witnessed men spitting on Dr. King as he lay in the emergency room and a doctor putting a pillow over his head and suffocating him to death. Pepper tends to accept these accounts, but says he isn’t completely convinced of all aspects of them. The reader is offered plenty of food for thought concerning these claims.

Besides clearly proving the government’s part in killing Martin Luther King, this book is very important for the way Pepper links the case to those of JFK and RFK, who was murdered two months after King. At the center of all these murders is a trinity of men who were devoted to ending the Vietnam War and all wars, restoring economic justice for all Americans, and eliminating racial inequality.  That their goals were the same provides a motive for their murders by forces opposed to these lofty objectives. That their murders clearly involved highly sophisticated operations and cover-ups that could never have been pulled off by “crazed lone assassins” points to powerful forces with those means at their disposal. And when it comes to opportunity, when did the shadowy forces of the deep state ever lack for that?

The ramifications of the MLK assassination profoundly inform our current condition. For anyone who truly cares about peace, love, and justice, The Plot to Kill King is essential reading. William Pepper should be saluted.  He has carried on Martin King’s noble legacy.

  • This is an updated review first published on 28 November 2016 at Global Research.

Disembodied Americans and the Crucifixion of the World

The existent, the body, disappears.  We live within a spectacle of empty clothes and unworn masks….Nobodies and no Necessity – for Necessity is the condition of the existent.  It is what makes reality real.
— John Berger, “Steps Toward a Small Theory of the Visible”.

The real body.  To be real, it must be bodily; and to be a body is to be eaten.  The humiliation in incarnation; to become bread.  To be eaten: to be consumed by sorrow, sickness, and death.
— Norman O. Brown, Love’s Body, 1966, Re-issued by University of California Press, September 1990.

If Marx were functioning today he would have been hard put to avoid saying that imaginary sex is the opiate of the people.
— John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards, Simon & Schuster, July 2013.

Why are so many Americans indifferent to the savage slaughter of millions of people around the world carried out by their own government under a long string of presidents?   Why were they stone-cold silent during eight years of Obama’s many wars and drone killings of which he boasted?  Why are they silent in the face of the Trump administration’s continuation and expansion of those wars and its push for a nuclear war with Russia?  Why this incestuous turning in and away from the bloody havoc their government keeps inflicting on the world?

And why all this denial while focusing on the pornographic media spectacles of Stormy Daniels (the porn queen turned “Adult Film Actress”), Monica Lewinsky, and a host of others paraded before the cameras to distract and entertain a population of spectators?

I, like many people, wonder why.  What follows is an attempt at an answer, with the focus of my thinking being primarily on middle to upper class Americans, for the poor and working classes have a hard enough time making ends meet and keeping alive themselves, since they are the victims of a domestic war waged by the same heartless ruling class that kills so many overseas.

For when people lose touch with the physicality of life and embrace spectral images, mediated reality, and abstractions as real, they have stepped into a totally nihilistic world.  A disembodied world. When this is joined to a narcissistic self-preoccupation with one’s own well-being and comfort, indifference to the suffering of others becomes the norm.  This is the world of unreality populated today by so many Americans, who have grown progressively indifferent to the slaughter by their own government of people throughout the world – heaps of millions of dead bodies, blood, and body-parts everywhere.  In “Song in the Blood” the French poet Jacques Prévert says:

There are great puddles of blood on the world
where’s it going all this spilled blood….
murder’s blood…war’s blood
misery’s blood…
and the blood of men tortured in prison….
Where’s it going all this spilled blood
the earth that turns and turns and turns
with its great streams of blood.

To the bodiless bloodless insouciant ones, however, the blood of “others” is invisible. It is our lives that matter.  What is being done to these “others” is of little consequence because it is experienced as an abstraction – unreal – as if it weren’t happening, even as it is.  And in a twist of fate straight from Greek tragedy, those who embrace this delusion are in denial of the very real possibility that they too will be “disappeared” by a nuclear war being provoked in their names.  Having turned their backs on nature and the corporeal reality of all living beings, having denied the passion play that is life on earth for all people, having denied that there are limits to American hubris and the West’s clearly insane and nihilistic push for nuclear war with Russia, they will pleasure themselves “until the atom too bursts into flames,” as Albert Camus warned, “and history ends in the triumph of reason and the death agony of the species.”

In an incisive article, “It is Us,” John Steppling recently asked a series of Tolstoyan questions about the ruling class (and by extension most Americans): “What does the ruling class want?” he asked.  How much money do these people need?  Is it power they are after with their mad quest to gobble up the world and slaughter as they go?  Power for what?  For more money?  Why are they provoking a nuclear war with Russia?  Are they simply crazy?  Don’t they know they too will die?  And what about all those affluent liberals and conservatives, the narcissistic bourgeoisie, the average person, are they all suicidal?

I believe they think in their delusional way that the coachman will pass them by. They are living in the unreality that has overtaken so much of the Western world.  They believe they will pass.  No failure for them.  They won’t die.  They will “pass on.”  They are different, special, they live in a fantasy of bodiless abstractions, even as they work on their bodies to go on and on, exercise and diet, pill after pill, supplements, dreams of running marathons at 98, body parts replaced as they do yoga poses to dreamy ethereal music in the safe surround of a warless environment where bombs and missiles are for the others in bloody bodies over there far away.  The pornography of war out of sight and thought; the screening of pornographic titillation in everyone’s face.

It is generally assumed that the United States is a materialist society where the voluptuous life of bodily existence is affirmed and celebrated.  Big breasts and bigger butts, skinny jeans and streaming sex scandals. To the contrary, I think this is not true.  American society has joined its Puritan tradition to instrumental reasoning and its go-go-get-it-done practicality to create a culture where the human body has become, like everything and everyone else, a thing to be manipulated – an instrument to be masturbated, a thing to be pampered, paraded, and presented in a society of looking-glass selves. Selfies in flight from others and human encounters where care and communion of consciousness lead one to love the world as one’s body and to feel compassion for others far away in other lands who are being slaughtered by our guns and bombs.  And to say No, not in my name, not over my dead body. To burst the bubble of the self. W.H. Auden, in his poem “Are You There?”  put it this way:

Whatever view we hold, it must be shown
Why every lover has a wish to make
Some other kind of otherness his own:
Perhaps, in fact, we never are alone.

Yet Americans pursue loneliness as if their mirror images were the world.  Or the things they so avidly buy reflect who they are: interior decorating for the soul.  Souls divorced from their instrumental bodies.  With packaged and commodified consciousnesses, so many “interact with products” these days, as they pursue constantly retreating phantoms; the social narcissism of images falling in love with their own images and reaching out to embrace their shadows.

This is as far from eroticism as one can get, if one grasps the true meaning of Eros, the god of love, life, joy, and becoming, whose growth was stunted until his mother Aphrodite was oracularly told that “Love cannot grow without Passion.”  And passion is a reaching out for others, not for oneself, or one’s phantom image.  The brilliant psychologist Rollo May summed up our situation by saying that when “eros has lost passion,” it has become “insipid, childish, and banal.”  And when the cult of technique and technology becomes a social addiction, feeling, passion, and individual identity is blotted out and, “mirabile dictu, we discover that the myth [of Eros] proclaims exactly what we have seen happening in our own day, eros, then, even loses interest in sex.”  Except on screens.

Once the human body becomes an object of narcissistic preoccupation – its maintenance, presentation, coddling, etc. – it has become an instrument to be used, as do other people.  The body remains but the human disappears, and the remaining “instrumental” body is “disembodied.”  Once the human body is reduced to a machine and human intercourse in its multiple meanings is accepted as a “mediated reality” through so-called smart devices, we know that the era of humanoids has arrived, as Howard Beale so famously announced in the film Network over forty years ago.  Smart phones for dumb people; always in touch but never touching.

To be human is to be embodied, incarnated, to love and suffer passionately, body and soul.  Sexual passion and tenderness in the service of life, not death.  Eros, not Thanatos. Passion for a suffering world and victims everywhere.  I think one important reason why so many Americans have turned their backs as their government crucifies the rest of the world is because they have lost their bodies not their minds, and in exchanging shadows on the wall for flesh and blood they have abandoned the world and embraced the unreality of things that a capitalist, consumer society proffers in lieu of life.  And as so many great thinkers (Coleridge, Swift, Brown, et al) have pointed out, to try to rise above the body is ironically to equate the body with excrement.  Norman O. Brown writes, “Thus the morbid attempt to get away from the body can only result in a morbid fascination in the death of the body.”  From this flows the narcissistic focus on self-preservation and the spending of one’s life energies on the acquiring of dead things rather than the carefree letting go of one’s love and care into the whole world that is crying out for redemption from an orgy of violence.

Of course, the paradox of the disappearance of the living body into spectral images and things is the departure of the soul as well, the embodied soul.  And a soulless country is a place where reality no longer exists and one can, for example, view Michelangelo’s Pietà and think, “What an amazing sculpture, how did he do it?” but fail to feel heartache and rage that so many mothers across this planet are now weeping and cradling the crushed and crucified bodies of their children, victims of American weapons of war.  Our weapons.  Our wars.

When will we dead awaken?