Category Archives: Martin Luther King Jr.

What Dead GIs Would Say To the World on Memorial Day About Being Praised As Heroes

A lot of people in Third World nations previously invaded, currently being invaded, or suffering sanctions and the threat of invasion by Americans, will be watching telecasts via satellite of festive celebrations on Memorial Day in the great United States of America.

Telecasted news coverage of the Memorial Day holiday in the USA will show video clips of parades and speeches glorifying America’s military and sanctifying war itself, obscuring the mourning of the deceased soldiers by families and friends. Many people watching in countries Americans invaded, will surely be wincing, their gaze turning serious and solemn, as they hear American GIs, who died while dutifully taking part in the killing, maiming and destroying in dozens of smaller countries all around the world, praised as heroes.

Many people watching the telecast in the countries Americans invaded will have gotten to know these mostly young American men who died invading their country in a deeper and more poignant sense than even their own parents. For example, of the two and a half million uniformed Americans, who were sent to Vietnam, hundreds of thousands mingled with Vietnamese up close in following out criminal orders and experienced a variety of emotions, some feeling guilt, shame and anger about the horrific suffering they were creating within a soft-spoken Buddhist population.  Final body count statistics show fifteen Vietnamese defenders killed for every one American GI killed – imagine how many Americans GIs felt about this sickening ratio which they were perpetrating. This author, during Veterans For Peace meetings, has heard members speak personally of never-forgotten-atrocities they were pained to take part in. I remember one veteran telling of picking up the cap of a Vietcong his unit had killed and finding a picture of what must have been the Vietcong’s wife and child secured in the cap’s lining, and thinking ‘we just created another orphan and widow.’ The citizens of nations bombarded and invaded must sometimes wonder what the dead American soldiers being thanked and praised on Memorial Day by politicians and generals, would say if they could speak out from their graves.

Your author can well imagine what his four basic training bunk buddies, whose bodies were thrown into a hole somewhere in North Korea, would say about being thanked for dying for their country every Memorial Day. During sixteen weeks of basic training, how very full of life and fun they were, as most 18 or 19 olds are. Likable Ed, Joe, Bob and Bill found themselves in a very poor country – people speaking a language they could not understand – in mortal combat with Koreans in their Korea. They were told they were fighting communism, but they would have realized while dead in that hole that they were sent to die to protect capitalism, colonial capitalism, the opposite of freedom for most of the world. They would have been pissed to know criminal media portrays them as just so stupid to have been suckered into killing fellow human beings and dying young – for who and for what?

Granted that many who died in military action, remained to the end duped and loyal to the propaganda they had been fed, gung-ho to kill anyone designated as ‘communist’ or ‘terrorist,’ but a much greater multitude of those GIs who lost their lives in combat in someone else’s country, had come to see the truth of an imperialist USA, ruled by its wealthy speculative investors on Wall Street, who use the nation’s armed forces, as Martin Luther King said, “to make atrocity wars and covert violence to protect unjust predatory investments overseas.”1

Let’s suppose these hundreds of thousands of savvy dead Americans chose someone well spoken from their midst to be a spokesperson for all of them – the dead GIs who died fighting citizens of some country far from America – dead GIs who finally lost faith in their countrymen, their ministers, priests and rabbis, their universities.

Further suppose that having lost faith in their own countrymen, who had sent them to a ignominious death, these angry dead Americans had their spokesperson speak to the whole world, and especially to that great majority of humanity living in the Third World in nations once attacked or being attacked by Americans in uniform today, figuring that only the people in the nations attacked are capable of uniting and using their huge numerical superiority to halt America’s blood lust. Here below, in this author’s imagination, is what this intelligent phantom spokesperson for the dead GIs might best say:

(What Dead GIs Would Say To the World on Memorial Day About Being Praised For Their ‘Heroic Sacrifice’ – if They Could)

On Memorial Day, while our family and friends mourn our permanent absence, conglomerate-owned criminal media, having used our patriotism to have us fight unjust wars based on fake news and lies, now hypes our humiliating death as beautiful military service. All this unctuous praise is heard from commentators whose TV channels deceived us into participating in senseless massacres of millions of innocent human beings right inside their own beloved countries.

We expect those who mourn us as fallen comrades, must do so in bitter heartbreak and anger. For more than a half century, all of us veterans, both living and dead, were tricked into criminal disservice, in many cases genocidal disservice, to our country and humanity. While only some relatively few of us paid with our lives for our ignorance and naive belief in our country’s honorability, tens of thousands of living veterans are physical or mental cripples.

Confronted with constant indoctrination to love of war by fear promoting corporate mass disinformation media, veterans, who have survived, must remember that we who have paid the highly profiled ‘ultimate sacrifice’ [read threw away our lives for worst than nil] were sent to our death by capitalists to make money on the deaths of those we were killing. Our own vastly smaller number of deaths are praised as heroic, but the death of millions we were sent to attack are carefully never mentioned.

Whether we gave our lives in that ‘good war’ against the fascism that American industrialists and bankers seeking huge profits helped build up by rearming Germany, or died during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which presidential candidate Obama fluffed off as “a dumb war,” our politicians pat our families on the back with the same ‘compassionate’ thank you.

For whether we died fighting the powerful land, sea and air forces that had attacked and declared war on our country, or died after being lied to and deceived into committing war crimes in near defenseless small nations, it makes no difference to Wall Street. The Street makes money either way – from the death and destruction of a ‘good’ and officially declared war, or atrocious crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.

Whether we lose a war, after murdering millions of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians, or stalemate, after bringing death to  three million Koreans, our deaths are considered to have contributed to saving all those millions from having to live under communist governments.  We note that our government today, ironically enjoys lucrative trade, and has the warm relations, with the communist governments of China and Vietnam.  Today, no one repeats the slogan ‘better dead (like us), than red!‘

Whether some hundreds of us died killing Afghanis in Afghanistan to be better able to chase the Saudi Arabian, Osama bin Laden for years, or merely a dozen of us fell during the manslaughter of a thousand Panamanians, who stood in the way of America’s successful capture of their former CIA enrolled drug dealing President, we receive the same gratitude from the industrial-military-complex during commercial TV programing

Whether we were two dozen, dying during our invasion of the Dominican Republic to prevent the restoration of democracy and their elected but overthrown President, or three hundred blown away in our sleep by a suicide truck bomber in Lebanon, we all died in government issued clothes and were worthy of a thank you from the Presidential advisors whose plans our commanding generals were carrying out (for the profits of Wall Street scions).

Whether we fell serving atrocities happening before our very eyes or were victims of errant friendly fire, we receive the same level of appreciation from politicians and media. They hold us up as exemplary, to entice ever new bamboozled young men and women recruits to aspire to similar glorification.

We, the guilt ridden American military dead, appeal to the good people in all the nations invaded by Americans and Europeans to effect the same level of solidarity that the racist neocolonial speculative investment banker driven imperialists of the countries of mostly Caucasian population display2, and bring their five centuries of genocidal plunder to an end earlier than otherwise.

Confronted with constant indoctrination to love war by fear promoting corporate mass disinformation media, veterans, who have survived, must remember that we who have paid the highly profiled ‘ultimate sacrifice’ [read threw away our lives for worst than nil], are watching from our graves as criminal media portrays us as just so God damned willing to have forgone forty or fifty years of mornings, love, friendship, sunsets, and the sheer exhilaration of being alive, to have been shot like pig in a poke or shredded by some stupid land mine, as some mentally challenged moral failures as human beings chart the value of their dividends and derivatives watching the stock market figures while their hired CIA criminals keep their beholden politicians and media personalities in line.

And just one more thing. Let the Third World understand that that dippy ‘why me worry,’ Mr. and Mrs. average American overwhelmed with their personal enjoyments, it is they who are responsible for the murderous crimes of their US government. They, yes, the American-entertainment/news-advertising-TV-mesmerized public, glued to the flashing screens of idiot boxes, and suckered by charming commentators reading them the fake news from the prompter above their TV camera, unseen on the screen being watched.  They are responsible for all the deaths of the millions we were ordered to kill. Some day they will hear that Martin Luther King held all of them, that is, all Americans and himself responsible, not reelected government officials.3 The US  President is just one public servant, don’t let Americans shrug their responsibility off on him foolishly, for his being so highly profiled in the criminally collaborating fake news networks.

On Memorial Days no one should focus obsequiously on us. We paid both the price of our ignorance and our parents and teachers indifference to their citizen responsibilities.  Though they saw a good deal of the death and dying on TV they had no or too little compassion to act. Quite apart from the loving attention of dear families and acquaintances, we voiceless dead veterans despise your media anchors feigned pious interest in ‘honoring’ our cadavers.

Let a Third World in solidarity get Americans to join the human race and mourn the people we were sent to kill but fell in love with before dying ourselves. Everyone who died, died because of American indifference. Those millions of innocent beautiful people that we killed in their own beloved country, be it Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Congo, Guatemala, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, their dead children now belong to America more than to their parents. Americans violently took these children from their parents and sunshine and games, saw to these children never growing up to be men and women (oh, collaterally, of course).

Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark in his book The Fire This Time: US War Crimes in the Gulf wrote, and has since kept repeating, “the greatest crime since World War II has been US foreign policy.” America’s most famous defector from the war establishment would, of course, would be gratified to hear this spoken of by activists who present themselves as anti-imperialists and protest their government’s deadly use of America’s Armed Forces on innocent populations overseas, but do not tell the whole truth; namely, that the atrocities they protest are in reality prosecutable crimes against humanity and crimes against peace under the Nuremberg Principles of International Law, which former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark reminds us, are part of the law of the land by Article Six of the United States Constitution.

This is why the spokesperson for the GIs, who died in warfare on innocent populations directed an appeal to Majority Humanity in the ever targeted for plunder Third World and not to intellectuals and professors of the still plundering First World. It is the beautiful ordinary people of the Third World, less neutered by commercialized modernity, who will eventually throw forth leaders, who will not continue the mesmerizing diplomatic gentlemen’s agreement not to ever mention the law in regard to the First World’s free handed destruction of country after country of the former outrightly colonial Third World.

Crimes are meant to be prosecuted, and criminals made to pay for what they have done! Otherwise, how on earth will the US-led Western speculative investors in profitable genocidal crimes against humanity ever stop investing in the massive murder of millions of children in their own beloved countries, often as not in their own homes in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Congo, Guatemala, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, just to name some of the nations in which lives have been taken to a total of tens of millions in order to maintain, as Martin Luther King cried out, “unjust predatory investments.”3

  1. Martin Luther King’s New York Sermon that shook the world, “Beyond Vietnam – a Time to Break Silence“.
  2. Every single nation of majority Caucasian population, even tiny Lichtenstein, Andorra and Monaco, is a member nation of the coalition that murderously occupies Afghanistan.
  3. Ibid.

Today’s Poor People’s Campaign: Too Important Not to Criticize

On the progressive website OpEdNews (OEN), I recently posted a QuickLink to an article published in Black Agenda Report by its managing editor Bruce Dixon. Seeking to get Dixon’s piece maximal attention, I titled my framing introduction to it “The Most Important Political Article in Ages.” Despite the appearance of advertising puffery, I was not exaggerating.

To grasp why I find Dixon’s timely piece so hefty, readers must understand my constant political perspective—as an activist analyst intensely focused on strategy and organizing. Like Karl Marx in his Theses on Feuerbach, I’m inclined to say, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” If the world we desperately wish to change is the hellhole of U.S. politics, nothing remotely rivals in importance the current attempt to revive Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign (PPC).

But as we support that campaign, nothing is more crucial than keeping it true to the spirit—and depth of underlying political analysis—of Dr. King. Rightly conducted, today’s PPC could be (pun intended) just what the doctor ordered. This is why principled PPC critics like Dixon (who shares King’s race and radical socialist leanings, if not his religion) deserve our close and serious attention.

PPC’s Enormous Potential: To Lead Us from Our Political Desert

For a movement having, in King’s day and now, roots in U.S. black churches, religious allusions and metaphors are, of course, highly appropriate. So in saying today’s PPC could lead us out of our political desert, I am implying it could lead us into the Promised Land. Not, of course, that anyone acquainted with the nightmare of human history should expect the PPC to establish the millennium. But as a climate justice activist deeply influenced by Naomi Klein, I do think addressing humanity’s climate emergency will require a level of rapid-fire moral maturation unprecedented in human history. Our stark choice is between maturation and climate catastrophe, perhaps even between maturation and climate Armageddon. As a broad movement crying out for moral maturation—across an interrelated spectrum of issues including climate—today’s PPC is the closest approach anyone has made to a viable climate justice movement. It’s also the first movement—unlike Democrats’ pussy-hatted, Russophobic “McResistance”—offering a potentially deep response to the ghastly symptom of bipartisan disease known as Trump.

Provided, of course, today’s PPC attacks the bipartisan disease. Since doubts on that score are what I find most compelling in Dixon’s critique, I’ll say much more on that soon. But first I must dispose of the points—few but crucial—where I disagree with Dixon.

Religion and Morality: Where Dixon Seems Off Base

Any close reader of Dixon’s piece, and of my words so far, might have guessed (correctly) that my differences with him relate to religion and morality. Indeed, my previous section strongly hints that I’m comfortable with the PPC’s religious origins and morality-based language in ways that Dixon is not. In fact, I find in the PPC’s religious origins and moral language unique sources of effectiveness where Dixon sees only defects. But before elaborating on my two chief differences with Dixon, I wish to emphasize that they’re far outweighed by debt we owe him for his gutsiness in criticizing the PPC. I imagine that for many supporters, today’s PPC has already reached such iconic status that its critics must seem as perverse as detractors of Mom and apple pie would have seemed to characters in early 1960s sitcoms. Dixon honestly stuck his neck out for urgent public purposes, and even where his critiques seem mistaken, they’re hardly shallow or ill-willed, but instead rooted in realities clear-sighted people must acknowledge.

Now, anyone reading Dixon’s piece will instantly notice its snarky tone toward religion. As a frequent reader of Black Agenda Report (a black leftist publication, after all), I find this par for the course and hardly unjustified; how often, after all, has religion—especially U.S. Christianity—been used to buttress the powers that be? Or, in other words, to provide respectable support—even God’s sanction—for a ruthless capitalist or militarist establishment or even Nazis? Much more often, I’d venture, than it’s been used for the vastly more Christian purpose of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”  And that’s above all true when the comfort and affliction were to be offered in this-worldly terms; religion’s notorious postponement of any reckoning to the afterlife, of course, underlies Marx’s famous jibe at religion as “the opiate of the masses“.

For those who know Marx’s context (see the link just provided), not even Marx is as purely hostile toward religion as he’s typically portrayed. But given humanity’s vastly improved capacity to alleviate human misery via science, technology, and democratic institutions—resources that didn’t exist when religions like Christianity were founded—no religious voice should now be trusted that hasn’t come to terms with Marx. Dixon’s snarkiness is totally appropriate to shallow religion, whereas the religion behind the PPC, in its vigilance about universal human sinfulness, is capable of critiquing shallow establishment religion in terms as scathing as anything found on the Marxist left. A fact driven home for me by recent readings in The Radical King and some works by prominent Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, a significant influence on King.  Given the scholar-activist backgrounds of Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis (Theoharis is actually on the faculty of Union Theological Seminary, Niebuhr’s long-time home), leadership of today’s PPC seems in good, uncompromising hands.

And no one cognizant of the role churches played in the civil rights movement, as well as earlier social movements like abolitionism and woman’s suffrage, should doubt their immense value as community bases for political organizing. This seems especially true in a society that increasingly isolates individuals, and where labor unions, formerly powerful resources for organizing, have been decimated by successful political attacks. Now embracing Unitarian Universalism, that least dogmatic of religious faiths, I personally can (from an organizing standpoint) only regret I hadn’t been “churched” in my incarnations as an anti-fracking, and later Bernie or Bust, organizer.  Belonging to a church gives one special access not only to members of one’s own church, but to interfaith political organizing—a powerful weapon wielded by today’s PPC.

To close (very willingly) my criticisms of Dixon, morality seems the area where he’s most off base. To berate the PPC for its emphasis on political issues as moral ones is probably to attack its greatest strength—a strength quite evident in King. Dixon rather amazingly overlooks the crucial role moral appeals played in eliminating such societal horrors as slavery, dueling, public torture, family vendettas, child labor—and in the civil rights movement itself. What’s more, he flies in the face of cognitive scientist George Lakoff’s important advice to liberals and progressives: that we need to start articulating the moral foundations of our political positions with the same dedication that conservatives, through their well-funded foundations and think tanks, have.

But even in his biggest misstep, Dixon is neither shallow nor ill-willed; his mistake is intertwined with valid, important concerns. On the one hand, Dixon contrasts the PPC’s insistence on morality with a class struggle analysis he (unsurprisingly for a leftist) rightly finds missing. In its efforts at broad-based coalition building, the PPC, which never hesitates to give moral criticism, is unduly chary of giving political criticism based on unjust imbalances of economic (and thereby, of political) power. A strange stance indeed for a movement seeking to eliminate poverty and racism—and a radical neglect of crucial insight from Niebuhr, who saw such unjust imbalances as brutal instances of collective immorality. Class and power balance issues are moral issues, and Niebuhr saw collective immorality as even more pernicious for societies than the individual kind.

Finally, even Dixon’s off-kilter criticism of PPC’s moral language veils an extremely valid related concern. When Dixon (mistakenly) says “labeling your political opponents, their leaders, their misguided values and their persons as ‘immoral’ is never a persuasive political tactic” (ignoring the numerous social evils defeated by precisely moral critiques), his words do suggest a totally legitimate concern about the targets of such critiques. The powerful are in a radically different position of responsibility from the powerless; almost needless to say, Trump supporters—generally victims of propaganda in a system that offers few valid choices (Clinton was hardly a good alternative)—bear considerably less moral responsibility than Trump and the staffers of his thuggish regime. In politics, we should always fire our moral weaponry at the powerful; the powerless, rather like bystanders of armed conflict, should be left to infer the implications of associating closely with parties rightly under moral assault. Creating shame by proxy, without the resentment provoked by personal blame, is the needed moral tactic.

Democrats, Russiagate, and Third-Party Voices: What Dixon Gets Crucially Right

Given the great value I find in Dixon’s courageous article, I regret the amount of space I had to use for specifying my criticisms; if anything, that was because I had to disentangle even his weaknesses from intimately related strengths. Praising his unalloyed merits is a much more gratifying task.

Now, in splitting claims of merit between the PPC and Dixon, I’m inclined to say the PPC (as a movement with religious roots making moral criticisms) has a better toolkit for doing the needed political job than Dixon actually realizes. But on the existing evidence, I’d credit Dixon with a better understanding of what the job actually is. So I’d strongly urge the PPC to enlist Dixon (or someone with a similar perspective) as an adviser on its project, lest it botch that project by misapplying its powerful tools—or failing to use others it may need.

Setting tool and job metaphors aside, the existing evidence suggests Dixon’s diagnosis of our political woes is nearly identical to mine: the deep corruption, by plutocratic and militarist interests, of both parties in a structurally two-party system, with Republicans as the more straightforwardly extremist party and Democrats as their insincere, ineffective, and, in fact, enabling “opposition.” If it’s true, as Noam Chomsky states, that U.S. Republicans are “the most dangerous organization in human history“, it’s likewise true that Democrats like it that way, for only contrast with such a vile party could justify to voters corruption as deep as Democrats’ own. Dixon obviously prefers the Green Party to either (as do I), and if we face simple facts, Greens are almost infinitely closer to Dr. King’s values—and almost infinitely more willing to fight the PPC’s “four evils”—than either party with a prospect of actually holding power. Finally, any accurate diagnosis of our political woes must acknowledge that both major parties use every dirty trick in the book to keep intraparty reformers, let alone reformist third parties, from ever gaining power; and that both command vast media resources, likewise corrupted by plutocratic and militarist interests, that serve as propaganda organs to keep legitimate criticisms and political issues inconvenient to both parties from ever being aired.

While the PPC is quite willing to denounce the vile moral consequences stemming from this diagnosis—and to use civil disobedience to spread the message that those consequences are intolerable—they seem utterly unwilling to spread (by civil disobedience or any other means) the message of the underlying diagnosis.

If my political instincts (and Dixon’s) are correct, the PPC’s denouncing of the consequences of the diagnosis—without daring to pronounce the diagnosis itself—risks reducing the PPC to the role of ineffectual moral scolds, no matter how much civil disobedience they engage in. Why this is so is tellingly explained in terms of one of Dixon’s most spot-on criticisms: the PPC’s unlikelihood ever to denounce Democrats’ pernicious Russiagate narrative.

Taking matters at face value, the PPC would have more stake than anyone in being skeptical of Russiagate. After all, if Russia really is a dangerous enemy hellbent on destroying U.S. democracy, a considerable portion of U.S. military expenditure—such as updating our nuclear arsenal—is fully justified. Ditto for whatever vast new expenditures are required to ward off Russian cyberattacks. And since nuclear weapons are unusable (having value only as deterrence), countering Russian global aggression will likewise require vast spending on conventional defense. So, accepting the premise that Russia is our determined enemy means kissing goodbye to the domestic spending required for the PPC’s cherished aims, such as fighting poverty or rebuilding our infrastructure to address climate change. And speaking of addressing climate change, we can likewise kiss goodbye to cooperation with Russia—a petrostate whose close collaboration we desperately need—in arresting climate catastrophe.  And beyond all this, the clampdown on civil liberties that comes with an active state of war merits mentioning; in a wartime state, the civil liberties of a dissenting movement advocating peace (like the PPC) are most apt to be curtailed.

All in all, a pretty chilling blow to the PPC’s aspirations. Unless Russiagate is the overblown hysteria narrative—the self-serving Democratic propaganda narrative—Bruce Dixon and numerous other principled progressives are virtually certain it is. It’s curious—to say the least—that the PPC doesn’t amplify their voices (as only a movement can) in denouncing a narrative that thwarts its every aim.

But for fear of offending its Democratic Party supporters, the PPC seems content to let stand Democratic propaganda narratives—lies of fact or omission—that sabotage its own noble aims.  So again, Dixon is totally justified in criticizing the PPC for accepting Greens and other left-of-Democrats progressives in its ranks provided they’re kept off stage and placed under a gag order about uttering certain “inconvenient truths.” Like, say, that Green Party principles and policies are infinitely closer to Dr. King’s than those of Democrats. Or, say, that the Democratic National Committee defended its right to rig primaries in court and has subsequently shown its determination to continue suppressing party progressives (see here and here).

Perhaps, ultimately, the PPC shares Chomsky’s view of Republicans as “the most dangerous organization in human history” and fears telling the ugly truth about Democrats will cause the election of Republicans.  But can’t a disciplined, tightly knit movement simultaneously tell the truth about Democrats while imposing the view that Republicans are worse and are under no circumstances to be voted for? I think of Adolph Reed’s “support” for Hillary Clinton in his superb piece “Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger: It’s Important”; this piece seems especially appropriate, since “lying neoliberal warmonger” seems to fit Democrats’ controlling leadership and not just Hillary Clinton. Thus portraying the Democratic Party seems much better preparation for practicing civil disobedience against—or issuing ultimatums to—corrupt Democrats the PPC had elected for purely defensive reasons. Like, say, the ultimatum of having its vast membership work to build the Green Party for 2020 if Democrats don’t seize the chance to shape up the PPC offered them in 2018.

If the PPC refuses to use its movement bully pulpit to tell hard truths about Democrats, Dixon’s words about its “lack of any political endgame” will prove prophetic: what good does it do to “vote like never before” when there’s no candidate in either major party worth voting for?

More Thoughts on the Poor People’s Campaign

Rev. William Barber is the closet thing to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that we have in our midst.
— Prof. Cornell West on the PPC’s Co-Founder

The Poor People’s Campaign, modeled on MLK’s original movement from fifty years ago, held its first rallies and direct actions this past Monday at 37 state capitals across the country. I was privileged to be arrested for blocking the roadway during the civil disobedience portion of our rally at the capitol building in Harrisburg, PA. These actions will continue every Monday for 40 days and culminate in a national mobilization at the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. The campaign is non-partisan and politicians are not allowed on the platform.

The primary reason I joined the Poor People’s Campaign and have encouraged others to do so is its potential for realizing basic structural change. So far, my personal experience with the PPC has been overwhelmingly positive. Hallmarks include dynamic leadership, superb organizational skills, a diverse membership and high morale. I’ve also witnessed instances of MLK’s “beloved community“ when interacting with the members. And I agree with radical activist and writer Patrick Taylor that “We need to articulate the moral foundations of our political positions.”

There is, however, one caveat and I offer it with only the best of intentions. The PPC is tantalizingly close to taking, for me at least, the next logical step for reaching its potential. Along with its powerful moral message, there’s a need to be explicit about how the class and power structure of capitalism is inextricably linked to the PPC’s “Four Evils” of systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation and the cost of America’s war economy. It’s not disparaging to either approach to advocate combining faith-based motives with a fact-based, political economy diagnosis of the problem. This symbiotic fusion would provide a formidable tool for advancing the PPC’s objectives.

Doing so, would be entirely in keeping with Martin Luther King’s own political evolution. By 1966, when speaking to his staff, King offered some positive words about democratic socialism and then said, ”You’re really getting on dangerous ground here because you’re messing around with the folks. You are messing around with the captains of industry.” Two years later, in an interview with a NYT’s reporter, King said “In a sense you could say we‘re involved with class struggle…”

This is why King was described as “the most dangerous man in America.” Jared Ball, writing for the Black Agenda Report described how King’s image has been sanitized (in Cornell West’s phrase, “the Santa Clausification“ of King) when powerful forces came together “…to ensure that King would be separated from his anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and patient work for a genuine revolution.”

Bruce Dixon, the managing editor of Black Agenda Report, has been critical of the PPC’s focus on symptoms but not causes. Yet Dixon writes, “we can and should march alongside them. What we cannot do, as socialists, is consent to be led by this cramped vision, a vision which refuses to name capitalism as the problem…”

Yes, there are risks that rank-and-file Democrat types might be offended. But telling the truth about the neoliberal capitalist DP national leadership can’t be avoided if the PPC is to obtain its radically transformative potential.

The title of Dr. King’s last book was Where Do We Go From Here?  We should be having that conversation.

• Author’s Note: There’s a good article about PPC co-founder Rev. William Barber entitled “William Barber takes on Poverty and Race” in The New Yorker, May 14, 2018.

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.

Nonviolence or Nonexistence? The Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Fifty years ago, on 4 April 1968, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

The night before he died, King gave another of his many evocative speeches; this one at the packed Mason Temple in Memphis. The speech included these words:

Men for years now have been talking about war and peace. Now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and non-violence in this world, it is non-violence or non-existence. That is where we are today.

In clearly identifying this stark choice and having been inspired by Mohandas K. Gandhi’s wide-ranging social concerns, King’s concerns were also broad:

The Triple Evils of poverty, racism and militarism are forms of violence that exist in a vicious cycle. They are interrelated, all-inclusive, and stand as barriers to our living in the Beloved Community. When we work to remedy one evil, we affect all evils.

So what has changed in the past 50 years? The world has traveled a great deal further down the path of violence. So far, in fact, that nonexistence is now the most likely outcome for humanity. See “On Track for Extinction: Can Humanity Survive?

Despite the vastly more perilous state of our planet, many people and organizations around the world are following in the footsteps of Gandhi, King and other nonviolent luminaries like Silo, and are engaged in what is effectively a last ditch stand to end the violence and put humanity on a path to peace, justice and sustainability.

Let me tell you about some of these people and organizations and invite you to join them.

In Bolivia, Nora Cabero works with the Movimient Humanista. The Movement has many programs including the Convergence of Cultures which aims to facilitate and stimulate true dialogue – oriented towards the search for common points present in the hearts of different peoples and individuals – to promote the relationship between different cultures and to resist discrimination and violence. Another program, World Without Wars and Violence emerged in 1994 and was presented for the first time internationally in 1995 at the Open Meeting of Humanism held in Chile at the University of Santiago. It is active in about 40 countries. It carries out activities in the social base and also promotes international campaigns such as Education for Nonviolence and the World March for Peace and Nonviolence.

Eddy Kalisa Nyarwaya Jr. is Executive Secretary of the Rwanda Institute for Conflict Transformation and Peace Building and also President of the Alternatives to Violence Program. For the past 18 years, he has been active in the fields of ‘peace, reconciliation, nonviolence, healing of societies, building harmonious communities’ in many countries including Burundi, Chad, eastern Congo, Darfur (western Sudan), Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan and northern Uganda. Late last year he was in New Zealand to deliver a paper on the Great Lakes conflict. In Rwanda, the Institute for Conflict Transformation particularly works on nonviolence education in schools, universities and refugee camps. Another initiative is the conduct of workshops on nonviolence and peace through sports for head teachers in the country but it also has programs to fight early marriages and pregnancies, as well as offering trauma counseling to refugees.

In Russia, Ella Polyakova is a key figure at the Soldiers’ Mothers of Saint-Petersburg. Ella and her colleagues work to defend the rights of servicemen and conscripts in the Russian military. Ella explains why:

When we were creating our organization, we understood that people knew little about their rights, enshrined in Russia’s Constitution, that the concept of “human dignity” had almost disappeared, that no one had been working with the problems of common people, let alone those of conscripts. We clearly understood what a soldier in the Russian army was a mere cog in the state machine, yet with an assault rifle. We felt how important hope, self-confidence and trust were for every person. At the beginning of our journey, we saw that people around us, as a rule, did not even know what it meant to feel free. It was obvious for us that the path towards freedom and the attainment of dignity was going through enlightenment. Therefore, our organization’s mission is to enlighten people around us. Social work is all about showing, explaining, proving things to people, it is about convincing them. Having equipped ourselves with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Russia’s Constitution, we started to demolish this dispossession belt between citizens and their rights. It was necessary to make sure that people clearly understood that, having a good knowledge of rights, laws, and situations at hand, they would be able to take responsibility and protect themselves from abuse.

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, was recently part of a committed effort to convince the Maine state legislature not to give warship-builder General Dynamics, which has already received more than $200 million in state and local tax breaks for the Bath Iron Works (BIW), any more ‘corporate welfare’. Bruce recently completed a fast, which lasted for more than a month, as one of the actions that Maine peace activists took to try to prevent this welfare payment to a company that has spent $14.4 billion buying back its own stocks between 2013-2017 and whose CEO was paid $21 million in 2016.

Despite their efforts, the Maine House of Representatives voted 117-31 in favor of the $45million General Dynamics corporate welfare bill and the Senate supported it 25-9. The decision was announced on the same day that General Dynamics sacked 31 workers from the BIW. As Bruce noted:

It was an honor to work alongside [those] who stood up for the 43,000 children living in poverty across Maine, for the tens of thousands without health care, for our starving public education system, and for the crumbling physical infrastructure as Maine joins Mississippi in the “race to the bottom”.

You can read more about this ongoing campaign to convert the Bath Iron Works into a location for the production of socially useful and ecologically sustainable non-killing technologies on the website above. There are some great photos too.

Gaëlle Smedts and her partner Luz are the key figures at Poetry Against Arms based in Germany. ‘The inspiration for this campaign is the life, work and legacy of the Latin American poet, philosopher and mystic: Mario Rodriguez Cobos, also known as Silo. His total commitment to active nonviolence, his denunciation of all forms of violence, his doctrine for overcoming pain and suffering and his magnificent poetry are a great affirmation of the meaning of life and transcendence.’ Poetry Against Arms publishes poetry/songs of people around the world who take action to resist militarism.

Since the 1970s, the world’s leading rainforest activist, John Seed, has devoted his life to saving the world’s rainforests. Founder and Director of the Rainforest Information Centre in Australia, one of his latest projects is to save the tropical Andes of Ecuador, which is ‘at the top of the world list of biodiversity hotspots in terms of vertebrate species, endemic vertebrates, and endemic plants’. From the cloud forests in the Andes to the indigenous territories in the headwaters of the Amazon, the Ecuadorean government has covertly granted mining concessions to over 1.7 million hectares (4.25 million acres) of forest reserves and indigenous territories to multinational mining companies in closed-door deals without public knowledge or consent. These concessions will decimate head water ecosystems and biodiversity hot spots of global significance. If you would like to read more about this campaign and what you can do to help, you can do so in John’s article ‘Ecuador Endangered’.

Apart from the individuals mentioned above, signatories and endorsing organizations are engaged in an incredibly diverse range of activities to end violence in one context or another. These include individuals and organizations working in many countries to end violence against women (including discriminatory practices against widows), to rehabilitate child soldiers and end sexual violence in the Congo, activists engaged in nonviolent defense or liberation struggles in several countries and occupied territories, as well as campaigns on a vast range of environmental, climate and indigenous rights issues, campaigns to promote religious and racial harmony as well as campaigns for nuclear disarmament and to end war.

But it also includes many individuals tackling violence at its source by focusing on their own healing and/or working on how they parent their children for a nonviolent world.

Given the perilous state of the global environment and climate, still others are focusing their efforts on reducing their consumption and increasing their self-reliance in accordance with the fifteen-year strategy outlined in “The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth“.

If you would like to be part of the worldwide movement to end violence that has drawn the six people and several organizations mentioned above together, along with many others in 103 countries around the world, you are welcome to sign the online pledge of “The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World“.

Reverend King posed the fundamental choice of our time: nonviolence or nonexistence. What is your choice?

America Hasn’t Learned a Thing

In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. [Y]ou can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization…filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love… What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black….”

— Robert F. Kennedy on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was sitting in a crowded bar, drinking a beer, when the news broke that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and killed.

The room erupted in cheers.

It was April 4, 1968.

I’ve never forgotten that moment.

Twenty-two years old and a junior at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, I was horrified that King’s death was being greeted with such glee. Then again, as hard it is to believe it today, there was rejoicing all across the country on that dark day that this man—a black activist—a troublemaker—an extremist—had been silenced for good.

Despite having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, graced countless magazine covers, and consorted with movers and shakers throughout the country, King was not a popular man by the time of his death. In fact, a Gallup poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans disapproved of King.

Fifty years later, the image of the hard-talking, charismatic leader, voice of authority, and militant, nonviolent activist minister/peace warrior who staged sit-ins, boycotts and marches and lived through police attack dogs, water cannons and jail cells has been so watered down that younger generations recognize his face but know very little about his message.

There’s a reason for that.

As a nation, we have a tendency to sentimentalize cultural icons in death in a way that renders them non-threatening, antiseptic and easily digested by a society with an acute intolerance for anything controversial, politically incorrect or marred by imperfection.

This revisionist history—a silent censorship of sorts—has proven to be a far more effective means of neutralizing radicals such as Martin Luther King Jr. than anything the NSA, CIA or FBI could dream up.

This was a man who went to jail over racial segregation laws, encouraged young children to face down police dogs and water hoses, and who urged people to turn their anger loose on the government through civil disobedience.  King called for Americans to rise up against a government that was not only treating blacks unfairly but was also killing innocent civilians, impoverishing millions, and prioritizing the profits of war over human rights and dignity.

King actually insisted that people have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

This is not a message that the government wants us to heed.

No, the government wants us distracted, divided, warring against each other and helpless to free ourselves from a lifetime of bondage and servitude to the powers-that-be.

It’s working.

In life, King was fiery, passionate, single-minded in his pursuit of justice, unwilling to remain silent in the face of wrongdoing, and unafraid of offending those who might disagree with him.

In death, King has been reduced to a lifeless face on a stone monument: mute, immobile and powerless to do anything about the injustices that continue to plague the nation.

America hasn’t learned a thing.

The “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism“ that King railed so passionately against have yet to be conquered.

In fact, the evils of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism have got us in a death grip.

America is still waging endless wars abroad, prioritizing profit margins over principle, and adopting institutionalized racist policies that result in a disproportionate number of people of color being stopped, searched, raided, arrested, thrown in jail, and shot and killed by government agents.

Fifty years later, we are repeating the mistakes of 1968.

As Julian E. Zelizer writes for The Atlantic:

Rather than deal with the way that racism was inscribed into American institutions, including the criminal-justice system, the government focused on building a massive carceral state, militarizing police forces, criminalizing small offenses, and living through repeated moments of racial conflict exploding into violence.

America looked away,” concludes Zelizer.

Unfortunately, modern America is doing more than just looking away from the evils of racism, materialism and militarism in its midst.

We have compounded those evils with ignorance, intolerance and fear.

Callousness, cruelty, meanness, immorality, ignorance, hatred, intolerance and injustice have become hallmarks of our modern age, magnified by an echo chamber of nasty tweets and government-sanctioned brutality.

“Despite efforts to curb hate speech, eradicate bullying and extend tolerance, a culture of nastiness has metastasized in which meanness is routinely rewarded, and common decency and civility are brushed aside,” observed Teddy Wayne in a New York Times piece on “The Culture of Nastiness.”

Every time I read a news headline or flip on the television or open up an email or glance at social media, I run headlong into people consumed with back-biting, partisan politics, sniping, toxic hate, meanness and materialism. Donald Trump is, in many ways, the embodiment of this culture of meanness. Yet as Wayne points out, “Trump is less enabler in chief than a symptom of a free-for-all environment that prizes cutting smears… Social media has normalized casual cruelty.”

Whether it’s unfriending or blocking someone on Facebook, tweeting taunts and barbs on Twitter, or merely using cyberspace to bully someone or peddle in gossip, we have become masters in the art of meanness.

This culture of meanness has come to characterize many aspects of the nation’s governmental and social policies. “Meanness today is a state of mind,” writes professor Nicolaus Mills in his book The Triumph of Meanness, “the product of a culture of spite and cruelty that has had an enormous impact on us.”

This casual cruelty is made possible by a growing polarization within the populace that emphasizes what divides us—race, religion, economic status, sexuality, ancestry, politics, etc.—rather than what unites us: we are all human.

This is what writer Anna Quindlen refers to as “the politics of exclusion, what might be thought of as the cult of otherness.” She writes:

Otherness posits that there are large groups of people with whom you have nothing in common, not even a discernible shared humanity. Not only are these groups profoundly different from you, they are also, covertly, somehow less: less worthy, less moral, less good. This sense of otherness is the single most pernicious force in American discourse. Its not-like-us ethos makes so much bigotry possible: racism, sexism, homophobia. It divides the country as surely as the Mason-Dixon line once did. And it makes for mean-spirited and punitive politics and social policy.

As Quindlen rightly points out, only the deepest sense that “they” are not like us, that “they” do not love or live or hurt like us makes it possible to decree that they are undeserving of whatever rights and privileges we might claim for ourselves.

This is more than meanness, however.

This is the mindset adopted by the architects of the American police state.

The aim is not merely dissension and division, although that is effective at keeping “we the people” under control.

This is a psychopathic mindset at work.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about Democrats or Republicans.

Political psychopaths are running the show and have been for the past 50 years or more. Such leaders eventually create pathocracies—totalitarian societies bent on power, control, and destruction of both freedom in general and those who exercise their freedoms.

“At that point, the government operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups,” author James G. Long notes. “We are currently witnessing deliberate polarizations of American citizens, illegal actions, and massive and needless acquisition of debt. This is typical of psychopathic systems, and very similar things happened in the Soviet Union as it overextended and collapsed.”

When our own government no longer sees us as human beings with dignity and worth but as things to be manipulated, maneuvered, mined for data, manhandled by police, conned into believing it has our best interests at heart, mistreated, jailed if we dare step out of line, and then punished unjustly without remorse—all the while refusing to own up to its failings—we are no longer operating under a constitutional republic.

Instead, what we are experiencing is a pathocracy: tyranny at the hands of a psychopathic government, which “operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups.”

Worse, psychopathology is not confined to those in high positions of government.

It can spread like a virus among the populace. As an academic study into pathocracy concluded, “[T]yranny does not flourish because perpetuators are helpless and ignorant of their actions. It flourishes because they actively identify with those who promote vicious acts as virtuous.”

People don’t simply line up and salute. It is through one’s own personal identification with a given leader, party or social order that they become agents of good or evil.

To this end, “we the people” have become “we the police state.”

By failing to actively take a stand for good, we have become agents of evil.

It’s not the person in charge who is solely to blame for the carnage. It’s the populace that looks away from the injustice, that empowers the totalitarian regime, that welcomes the building blocks of tyranny.

This realization hit me full-force recently.

I had stopped into a bookstore and was struck by all of the books on Hitler, everywhere I turned.

Yet had there been no Hitler, there still would have been a Nazi regime.

There still would have been gas chambers and concentration camps and a Holocaust.

Hitler wasn’t the architect of the Holocaust. He was merely the figurehead.

Same goes for the American police state: had there been no Trump or Obama or Bush, there still would have been a police state.

There still would have been police shootings and private prisons and endless wars and government pathocracy.

Why? Because “we the people” have paved the way for this tyranny to prevail.

By turning Hitler into a super-villain who singlehandedly terrorized the world—not so different from how Trump is often depicted—historians have given Hitler’s accomplices (the German government, the citizens that opted for security and order over liberty, the religious institutions that failed to speak out against evil, the individuals who followed orders even when it meant a death sentence for their fellow citizens) a free pass.

The German people chose to ignore the truth and believe the lie.

They were not oblivious to the horrors taking place around them. As historian Robert Gellately points out, “[A]nyone in Nazi Germany who wanted to find out about the Gestapo, the concentration camps, and the campaigns of discrimination and persecutions need only read the newspapers.”

The warning signs were definitely there, blinking incessantly like large neon signs.

“Still,” Gellately writes, “the vast majority voted in favor of Nazism, and in spite of what they could read in the press and hear by word of mouth about the secret police, the concentration camps, official anti-Semitism, and so on. . . . [T]here is no getting away from the fact that at that moment, ‘the vast majority of the German people backed him.’”

Half a century later, the wife of a prominent German historian, neither of whom were members of the Nazi party, opined: “[O]n the whole, everyone felt well. . . . And there were certainly eighty percent who lived productively and positively throughout the time. . . . We also had good years. We had wonderful years.”

In other words, as long as their creature comforts remained undiminished, as long as their bank accounts remained flush, as long as they weren’t being discriminated against, persecuted, starved, beaten, shot, stripped, jailed and turned into slave labor, life was good.

This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

None of us who remain silent and impassive in the face of evil, racism, extreme materialism, meanness, intolerance, cruelty, injustice and ignorance get a free pass.

Those among us who follow figureheads without question, who turn a blind eye to injustice and turn their backs on need, who march in lockstep with tyrants and bigots, who allow politics to trump principle, who give in to meanness and greed, and who fail to be outraged by the many wrongs being perpetrated in our midst, it is these individuals who must shoulder the blame when the darkness wins.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that,” King sermonized.

The darkness is winning.

It’s not just on the world stage we must worry about the darkness winning.

The darkness is winning in our communities. It’s winning in our homes, our neighborhoods, our churches and synagogues, and our government bodies.

It’s winning in the hearts of men and women the world over who are embracing hatred over love.

It’s winning in every new generation that is being raised to care only for themselves, without any sense of moral or civic duty to stand for freedom.

John F. Kennedy, killed by an assassin’s bullet five years before King would be similarly executed, spoke of a torch that had been “passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”

Once again, a torch is being passed to a new generation, but this torch is setting the world on fire, burning down the foundations put in place by our ancestors, and igniting all of the ugliest sentiments in our hearts.

This fire is not liberating; it is destroying.

We are teaching our children all the wrong things: we are teaching them to hate, teaching them to worship false idols (materialism, celebrity, technology, politics), teaching them to prize vain pursuits and superficial ideals over kindness, goodness and depth.

We are on the wrong side of the revolution.

“If we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution,” advised King, “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.

Freedom demands responsibility.

Freedom demands that people stop sleep-walking through life, stop cocooning themselves in political fantasies, and stop distracting themselves with escapist entertainment.

Freedom demands that we stop thinking as Democrats and Republicans and start thinking like human beings, or at the very least, Americans.

Freedom demands that we not remain silent in the face of evil or wrongdoing but actively stand against injustice.

Freedom demands that we treat others as we would have them treat us. That is the law of reciprocity, also referred to as the Golden Rule, and it is found in nearly every world religion, including Judaism and Christianity.

In other words, if you don’t want to be locked up in a prison cell or a detention camp—if you don’t want to be discriminated against because of the color of your race, religion, politics or anything else that sets you apart from the rest—if you don’t want your loved ones shot at, strip searched, tasered, beaten and treated like slaves—if you don’t want to have to be constantly on guard against government eyes watching what you do, where you go and what you say—if you don’t want to be tortured, waterboarded or forced to perform degrading acts—if you don’t want your children to grow up in a world without freedom—then don’t allow these evils to be inflicted on anyone else, no matter how tempting the reason or how fervently you believe in your cause.

As long as we continue to allow ignorance, intolerance, racism, militarism, materialism and meanness to trump justice, fairness and equality, there can be no hope of prevailing against the police state.

Martin Luther King Jr. dared to dream of a world in which all Americans “would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

He didn’t live to see that dream become a reality.

It’s still not a reality. We haven’t dared to dream that dream in such a long time.

But imagine…

Imagine what this country would be like if Americans put aside their differences and dared to stand up—united—for freedom…

Imagine what this country would be like if Americans put aside their differences and dared to speak out—with one voice—against injustice…

Imagine what this country would be like if Americans put aside their differences and dared to push back—with the full force of our collective numbers—against the evils of the police state…

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, tyranny wouldn’t stand a chance.

The “Crucifixion” of the Black Messiah

Dick Cavett: A lot of people…were astounded at how you got [alleged assassin of Martin Luther King, James Earl] Ray to change the plea [from “not guilty” to “guilty”].

Percy Foreman [Ray’s lawyer and LBJ crony]: I didn’t get him to change the plea. [Laughing] I simply told him that I thought he would be executed if he didn’t.

— The Dick Cavett Show, August 9, 1969.1

 A Piece of Work, and then Some!

Choose any notable event between presidents Calvin Coolidge and Richard Nixon (even beyond), such was his impact that any subsequent discussion is far from complete without significant reference to J Edgar Hoover, the long-time founding Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); chances are that its Director’s ‘fingerprints’ were all over said “event”. That said, such knowledge about one of the most iconic and consequential figures in American history has only come to pass incrementally in the ensuing years after his death in 1972.

Moreover, choose any significant individual public or political figure during that era, and the likelihood is that Hoover knew more about that person than they might’ve known about themselves. He most certainly knew much more about them than they themselves might’ve cared for anyone else to know, much less someone like Hoover.

As we will see, one such “individual” on Edgar’s radar was the iconic civil rights leader and anti-Vietnam war campaigner Dr Martin Luther King (MLK); one such “event” was his assassination on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, TN., and the subsequent cover-up by the forces behind the murder and/or those closely aligned with them. The man who was subsequently charged with the crime, James Earl Ray, spent the rest of his life in prison, despite maintaining his innocence up until his last breath, an outcome we might safely opine ranks as one of the greatest perversions of justice in the Grand American Narrative.

There can surely be no doubt now there was a high level conspiracy to eliminate King, one planned and orchestrated from the highest levels of the U.S. government on down the ranks and that James Earl Ray was framed. In short, he was the fall-guy, and his involvement in the King assassination was both peripheral and unknowing. We will return throughout to the subject of King, Ray, the assassination, the conspiracy, and its 50 YO cover-up.

But first up, some background on Hoover and his alter ego and partner-in-crime (in this instance and in so many others) is necessary: president Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ). Few politicians of any political stripe and any significant import throughout Hoover’s lingering reign – and crucially, few Oval Office occupants – had a tighter relationship with America’s then Number One G-Man than did LBJ. That their fortunes, ambitions, and destinies intertwined in unique ways is axiomatic for those in the know. That all this was to come in handy for both men doesn’t even begin to explain it.

Beyond their involvement in King’s murder, individually their impact was not only to change everything from the course of the lives of millions of people to the political direction and very character of their nation and many others as well; together their impact proved to be much greater than the sum of the parts. That such new knowledge continues to be exposed by intrepid researchers and writers is also a given, even if such information doesn’t always filter through to – much less become accepted by — the mainstream. The “mainstream” in this sense being both the media gatekeepers and their readership.

The essence of this preamble becomes compelling when one reads the forthcoming book by Phil Nelson titled: Who REALLY Killed Martin Luther King Jr.? – The Case Against Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover. (Author’s note: I’ve been privy to an advance copy of this book for several weeks.) By referencing all available evidence and documents whilst drawing upon the extraordinary work of previous authors, most notably Dr William Pepper (to whom we shall return), but others as well — and in the process duly debunking both the renditions and reputations of several other authors whose names have frequently been linked with the official, yet totally bogus, narrative of his assassination, again most notably William Bradford Huie — Nelson delivers a thorough exposition of the real backstory behind one of modern American history’s most defining and traumatic events.

In doing so, as already indicated, the author shines the spotlight on two of the most reprehensible, coldblooded, megalomaniacal, treasonous, and criminally minded public figures ever to ‘grace’ the political stage and be accorded the public trust in the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free: Messrs Hoover and Johnson. Given the plethora of folks — both living and dead — who might fit the above profile, by any measure we can say that that is one very big call.

It’s axiomatic that there was no shortage of people throughout his reign who pissed Edgar off, a not especially difficult achievement even for those who went out of their way to avoid doing so. Hoover was to be sure one of the Great Haters in that aforementioned narrative. And there can be little doubt that it was King — along with Robert Kennedy and his brother John Fitzgerald Kennedy — who invited Edgar’s hatred more so than anyone else. Hoover, along with LBJ — arguably the most unhinged, criminally psychopathic Oval Office occupant to date, an observation difficult to refute for those who take the time to read Nelson’s earlier work on the man; see here, here, and here — conspired to eliminate King. All up then, if there is a more symbiotically iniquitous alliance in the annals of U.S. political enterprise, then this writer who’d be keen to know about it.

Insofar as Nelson’s book is concerned, space herein precludes a detailed ‘blow by blow’ of the key dramatis personae involved in the King plot, the machinations behind it all, and the subsequent cover up that has endured to this day. In any event it is not the main purpose of this exercise. Suffice to say his meticulous deconstruction of the circumstances attending the assassination and the actual (versus the fabricated) facts related to it, and the now 50 year old campaign to preserve intact the official narrative, must now stand as the definitive account of this extraordinary event – both deeply shameful and tragic in equal measure — in America’s history.

That said, in a ‘cut to the chase’ kinda way, the following summary may be sufficient to inform those not overly familiar with some of the “actual facts”, and set the stage for what is to follow.

  1. a)  The assassination of MLK was planned more than 2 years before, and was the brainchild of Johnson and Hoover, with Edgar’s 2IC Clyde Tolson the point-man, ably abetted by Cartha “Deke” DeLoach;
  2. b)  The motivations for Hoover and LBJ were various and sometimes over-lapping, with Hoover having a visceral hatred of King because of his activism and his race, and LBJ resenting his popularity, political influence and vehement opposition to the Vietnam war;
  3. c)  The plotters cunningly planned to have the assassination portrayed from the off as the work of another “lone nut”, in Ray’s case, ‘[A] vicious Southern racist and hater, stalker, [and] murderer’, itself a total fabrication;
  4. d)  It was the famed novelist, William Bradford Huie, an old friend/crony of Hoover’s, who was given a “mission” to create this meme for Ray, one whose shelf life endures to this day, and from whom so many others took their lead in its perpetuation;
  5. e)  A civil trial in 1999 exonerated Ray (who’d died in prison the previous year just over 40 years after the murder), and it found that a government conspiracy was responsible for King’s murder, [and] that Ray was a ‘patsy’ with no knowing involvement in the hit.

From these basic premises, Nelson methodically unpacks this bespoke meme regarding James Earl Ray – as removed from reality as it could possibly be imagined — as the massive deceit that it was. He then presents us with a revised account in its place, based upon hard evidence that exonerates Ray. It needs be noted that Nelson’s account is supplemented by many other authors, including Harold Weisberg, Mark Lane, and, particularly, William Pepper.

Nelson also posits many instances of how government investigators — the FBI originally, then the Department of Justice in 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) investigators in 1978, and the DOJ again in 2000 — deliberately avoided pursuing any and all leads which pointed toward Ray’s innocence. In the latter case, it is noteworthy this aversion to allowing the truth to emerge regarding King’s murder was presided over by none other than William Jefferson Clinton, a man who interestingly enough, like LBJ himself at least post-1963 — owed his political career in no small measure to the black vote.

The Most Notorious Liars in America

As regards J Edgar Hoover then, given that he ruled the roost at the FBI for almost half a century right up until his demise, he surely qualifies as one of the most enduring — if not quite endearing – characters in the Grand American Narrative. More to the point, Edgar was one hombre who in the popular American idiom might be described as ‘a piece of work, and then some’, an accolade that could’ve been coined with just him in mind. In this LBJ himself was no less “a piece of work”.

Whether together or separately, in almost everything they touched or became involved in, this “impact” however it might be identified and so defined rarely manifested itself in a good way. Moreover, that their behaviour and actions went against everything their country purported to represent to the world at large and was at odds with every principle and value they were sworn to uphold as per the hallowed Constitution and the rule of law is a given.

For his part, along with pissing off – and instilling abject fear in – a lot of very famous, important and powerful people, Hoover’s main talent was being able to keep a secret, including as it turned out not only his own ‘deepest and darkest,’ but some of Johnson’s as well. That is to say he knew ‘where the bodies were buried’, a statement that again we might reflexively equate with the life, personality, and times of LBJ himself.

It should be noted that at the time they were still strutting the political stage, few folks would have known whose “bodies” Hoover and LBJ actually knew about, how they became “bodies” in the first place, and/or how much their ‘resurrection’ at the time might have changed the course of events as we now know them to have done. In both cases we’re not just speaking figuratively here. Whether by accident, expediency, or design, such information almost always worked to both men’s advantage. Insofar as their respective legacies go, it probably does so to this day, several decades after they both passed on (within just over six months of each other).

It needs be noted at this point that readers should not expect this narrative to be gleefully embraced by the mainstream media, given that for half a century they have by omission or by commission avoided revealing anything remotely resembling the truth of the matter. As with almost any significant event in U.S. history and the key players therein, the mainstream media – including many purported progressive, ‘liberal’ types – have proven themselves tireless gatekeepers inoculating their constituencies against that virulent infection called ‘truth’ for fear such a ‘pandemic’ will overwhelm the immune system of the republic.

This is, of course, not just in the case of King’s assassination, but just about any significant episode in American history where accounts differing from the official narrative are at best patronisingly reported, or relegated to the realm of conspiracy theory. Indeed in his must view interview last year with James Corbett, William Pepper alluded to this reality.

Preserving the secrets of the republic is as much, if not indeed more so, about protecting the reputations of individuals as it is about defending the ever so fragile integrity of ‘hallowed’ institutions, the Fourth Estate being one of these, along with the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Congress, and, of course, the presidency itself, to name just a few that are especially relevant in this instance.

In a recent Washington Post piece by Tom Jackman, the title from the off gives us a hint of what to expect: “Who killed Martin Luther King Jr.? His family believes James Earl Ray was framed.” The perfunctory concession embodied in the title — that King’s family “believes” Ray was innocent – and the ensuing narrative ends up being far removed from actually presenting any authentic detail that supports that belief, or offering anything that might invite readers to explore the matter further.

One also suspects that if it was any one other than the King family itself making these assertions, they’d have been ignored at best, or at worst, dismissed as conspiracy theorists. Jackman — ever the dutiful MSM ‘presstitute’ it would seem, and in an apparent attempt to inject some balance and objectivity — cites David Garrow of all people, a ‘Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of MLK’.

As Jackman tells it, Garrow viewed the King family as part of a larger population of American people who ‘need to believe that the assassination of a King or a Kennedy must be the work of mightier forces’ rather than the victims “of small-fry, lifetime losers”‘, as if to suggest the victims of the assassinations in question were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As Jackman himself seems keen to emphasise (in the process holding up the Pulitzer winner as the go-to man on all things King), [Garrow he notes] is all but dismissive of such folks’ thinking: In Garrow’s palpably condescending opinion, ‘People need to see something of a balance between effect and cause’, he observes….[That] ‘if something has a huge evil effect, it should be the result of a huge evil cause.’ For those of us who’ve examined the whole “conspiracy theory” construct, this is a familiar trope, one that is trotted out with monotonous frequency.

Yet here is just one example of Nelson’s attention to detail in dismissing the likes of Garrow and other writers and authors of the King narrative, with Garrow himself a long way from being amongst the most egregious of those who’ve perpetuated the official narrative. Whilst acknowledging Garrow’s ‘partial revelations’ of Hoover’s ‘malfeasance and assorted criminal acts’ in his and the FBI’s campaign against King, Nelson states that these revelations ceased after the assassination.

He [Garrow] did not address the closing episode of King’s life; there is little reflection evident as to the forces that came to bear on King’s murder in Memphis within Garrow’s book, despite the intensive examination of them up until that point…. yet Garrow portrayed himself as the expert in later interviews on the subject. In not connecting anything he had examined up to 1968 with what happened next, he created a major disconnect.

Without any discernible nod to his own proclivities in this regard, it is interesting to note that Hoover himself once publicly designated MLK the “most notorious liar in America”. This Hooverian ‘accolade’ equally applies to not just the man himself, but his kindred spirit LBJ, along with the many authors who have ‘fought the good fight’ against truth and justice. It can and does also apply – albeit in the more collective sense – to the corporate media, whom I’ve hitherto described as the ‘praetorian guards of the empire’s liars’.

We are again talking about a recurring motif in the Grand Narrative then, and one which this writer has frequently cited as irrefutable evidence against that age-old truism: [that] ‘America doesn’t do irony’. Indeed, America does irony so well, it doesn’t realise how well it does “[do] irony”. To underscore this from a more contemporary perspective, the most accomplished purveyors of fake news are the corporate media, the very ones who are first to criticise any narrative that is at odds with their own. For those Americans then who harbour few illusions about their past history and the key political and public players who’ve populated it and driven the narrative, such observations will simply serve to underscore what many already know.

On the other hand, for those folks who, despite all evidence to the contrary, still see their country as the bastion of democracy, freedom, justice, equality, truth, and a force for good in the world – and may not have been acquainted with the individual and shared history of the aforementioned individuals – then this is a story which should leave one and all in a breathless state of disbelief, revulsion and shame. “Should” is the operative word herein; that “will” (ahem) should be in lieu thereof, may be expecting a tad too much.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

For his part, along with pissing off – and instilling fear in – a lot of very famous, important and powerful people, for his part Hoover’s main talent was being able to keep a secret, including as it turned out not only his own ‘deepest and darkest’, but some of Johnson’s own. That is to say he knew ‘where the bodies were buried’, another statement we might reflexively equate with the life, personality, and times of LBJ himself.

Again much the same can be said of the one man to whom he was most beholden, LBJ, even more so than Hoover. And although by no means the only one, this includes in LBJ’s case, one of the most prominent champions of liberal, progressive values in the media, a man named Bill Moyers. The recently retired Moyers has consistently refused to entertain a bad word about his former boss LBJ, which is understandable to some degree since he was complicit in many of his nefarious schemes whilst in office.

This included his proxy involvement in the harassment via Hoover’s FBI of the civil rights leader, which itself extended to the bugging of MLK’s phones, blackmail, in addition to death threats. Moyers even embroiled himself in a threat to sue the History Channel a few years back over a documentary series aired on the Channel that dared to suggest that LBJ was indeed a key plotter in the assassination of his predecessor. Well might we say: So much then for the purported liberal defenders of truth, justice, freedom of speech, and the American way.

Insofar as the MLK story goes, it is to Dr William Pepper that Nelson ‘dips his lid’ most prominently as being his most inspired source and the most indefatigable of investigators in the search for the real truth about the man’s murder, one of America’s most seminal and quintessential of ‘state crimes against democracy’. Pepper has written three books on this event, the latest being 2017’s The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

In his aforementioned interview with James Corbett, he reveals that in the forty plus years he’s been involved in investigating and reporting on the King assassination, he has spent over a million dollars of his own money and at one point relocated himself and his family to the UK as a resulta of numerous death threats. It is also notable that Pepper has given his seal of approval to Nelson’s more recent effort to add further insight into this extraordinary story. Here’s part of what he had to say (via email to this writer and Nelson):

Phil Nelson….has provided us with some valuable missing information about the actions of Lyndon Johnson in the context of events in the 1960’s. I’ve long believed the information given to me…about LBJ’s knowing involvement and collusion in the assassination of JFK. Nelson’s research about Johnson’s collaboration [with] and his support of the profoundly illegal and evil, public actions of J. Edgar Hoover [in the assassination of Martin Luther King] fills in many blanks and is a highly valuable historical contribution. I urge, and hope, that this work will be widely read.

If Nelson has written the definitive account of King’s murder then, it is to his credit that he goes out of his way to ensure that these people receive due acknowledgement for their contributions. This is not only evident in the course of the narrative itself, but was consistently reinforced to me in the recent conversations I had with him via Skype.

By the same token, Nelson has been unsparing in his criticism of those who have muddied the waters, and especially so of William Bradford Huie, the man whom Hoover personally tasked with authoring the meme that became irrevocably associated in the public’s mind regarding James Earl Ray. As Nelson tells it, Huie – a novelist it should be noted — reinvented Ray as a man completely at odds with his real persona. Instead of being depicted as ‘a backward, uneducated but non-violent man of low self-esteem’, Huie successfully remolded Ray into an aggressive, violent, hate-filled Southern-born racist whose main ambition in life was to see his name topping the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list. Huie did this via a series of lies, fabrications, and inventions, ‘presented as only a novelist could do’. He wasn’t even born in the south.

Being Black in America: The King Legacy Today

According to Eddie Glaude Jr., in a recent article titled “The Whitewashing — and Resurrection — of Dr. King’s Legacy“, the civil rights leader began second guessing the certainty of his ‘moral vision’. He’d “underestimated how deeply the belief that white people matter more than others was ingrained in the habits of American life.’ King apparently saw that white resentment was ‘not simply a sin of the South. It was embedded in the very psyche of white America”. When we consider the state of racial relations in America today – fifty years after LBJ’s Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964 – few could argue there’s been a substantive across the board shift for the better in the social, educational, financial, legal, economic, or political standing of African Americans. This is palpably obvious even to non-Americans, even after the election of a black president in 2009, and whose second term in office embraced the 50th anniversary of the Act. Yet his tenure was ironically characterised by an unprecedented uptick in racial tension, division and violence (again, obvious to anyone with a passing interest in the country’s national affairs), and it could be argued that the standing of African Americans is in so many respects worse than it was in 1964.

This realisation is made even more unsettling by the fact that Obama seemed disinterested in lending the weight of his office to meaningful leadership on the issue, or for that matter was incapable of grasping the gravity of the situation. One suspects if he’d spent more time addressing this issue than bailing out Wall Street criminals; attacking journalists and whistle-blowers for their attempts to hold his government to account; resisting the pressures of the neo-con crowd and their so-called liberal interventionist confreres to interfere in the affairs of other countries; and bombing wedding ceremonies in the Middle East and beyond – to name just a few of those activities to which he seemed more focussed on that those of the concerns of his fellow African Americans, we might be talking about a different reality for many of them today. This from a president who reportedly opined that the iconic TV series The Wire was one of his favourites shows!

In King’s final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, he argued in part that white supremacy stood in the way of America’s democracy, that it was an ever-present force in frustrating the dreams of the nation’s darker-skinned citizens. At the heart of it was a distorted understanding of the meaning of racial justice. He wrote:

Negroes have proceeded from a premise that equality means what it says, and they have taken white Americans at their word when they talked of it as an objective. But most whites in America … proceed from a premise that equality is a loose expression for improvement. White America is not even psychologically organized to close the gap–essentially it seeks only to make it less painful and less obvious but in most respects to retain it. This is a devastating judgment about our so-called national commitment to progress.…It reduces racial justice to a charitable enterprise by which white people “do good” for black people. This, in turn, provides white Americans with a necessary illusion that preserves the idea of innocence and insulates their conscience or, perhaps, their soul from guilt and blame.

One is left to ponder if King’s assessment isn’t as pertinent now as it was then.

And for those folks uncertain as to whether Johnson was a man capable of such a treasonous, criminal act as to arrange the murder of the most prominent African American of the ear, they might like to get up close and personal with Nelson’s 2012 book, LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination, wherein as the title suggests, he charges LBJ – convincingly so — with being the principal orchestrator of the assassination of his predecessor and the subsequent cover-up.

As we might rightly opine, that’s some “form” indeed!

And if that doesn’t do the trick, they should try reading this author’s account of the attempted sinking of the USS Liberty in 1967 by Israeli Defence Forces during the Six Day War, and from there consider LBJ’s direct role in planning and stage-managing both of these events. (See here and here.)

Not noted for being a conviction politician by any stretch, there was always a disconnect between Johnson’s drive to push his country to its limits in Vietnam (and beyond), and his drive to push the Great Society and its accompanying reforms (the War on Poverty anyone?) as far as he could. In keeping with his unique psychopathology, the Great Society was always all about LBJ. Any altruism embedded in its goals — these being egalitarianism, justice, equality, economic and social emancipation, and securing basic civil rights for African-Americans and other minorities in general — would have been foreign to the Johnson psyche.

By the same token LBJ, ever the consummate political chameleon and ‘chancer’, may just have been sucking up the zeitgeist; the Civil Rights movement at that time was unstoppable in any event. He knew supporting change in this area was one of many keys to his re-election in 1968, as well as providing him with extra ballast for his legacy, something that Johnson became increasingly obsessed with.

That is to say, there are still plenty of folks who’d refute any hard-core, warts ‘n all assessment of both these men, their tenure, and the sheer depth and breadth of damage they visited upon the republic, the fabric of which was very much torn and frayed at the time. It needs be noted this was during an era when, notwithstanding the intergenerational acrimony, economic inequality, social division, political turmoil, and cultural discord, of the times, said republic – or at least a sufficiently critical mass of its rank and file members — appeared to show some preparedness to reflect on the direction in which it was heading and what it might do about it.

For his part, in his championing of civil rights, social equality, justice, racial harmony, Martin Luther King both embraced, embodied, and echoed that promise, and there can be no doubt that that is what ‘scared the horses’ the most. That we haven’t seen anything quite like the movement he inspired since may be one of the most damning indictments on the prevailing political zeitgeist, and one of the most telling pointers to the republic’s future.

As for Johnson himself, like with his successor Obama mentioned earlier, had Johnson not embarked on his disastrous Vietnam adventure, there might have been some time, money, and energy remaining to devote to those issues that at the time really mattered to ordinary Americans, regardless of their colour.

There can be no doubt that his Great Society – no matter the potential and the promise it offered in principle – suffered from Johnson’s numerous other obsessions. Not least in this case his obsession with eliminating the very man who inspired the sentiment underpinning his whole civil rights/war on poverty crusade to begin with.

And they say, “Americans don’t do irony”. As I’m fond of pointing out, this author begs to differ.

  1. From: Who REALLY Killed Martin Luther King Jr.? – The Case Against Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover, © Phillip F. Nelson/Skyhorse Publishing. Pub. Date: April 17, 2018.

A Blueprint for Resistance: Jesus Christ vs. the Police State

“In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime — the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps …the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Just as police states have arisen throughout history, there have also been individuals or groups of individuals who have risen up to challenge the injustices of their age.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer risked his life to undermine the tyranny at the heart of Nazi Germany.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn challenged the soul-destroying gulags of the Soviet Union.

Martin Luther King Jr. called America on the carpet for its color-coded system of racial segregation and warmongering.

And then there was Jesus Christ, an itinerant preacher and revolutionary activist, who not only died challenging the police state of his day—namely, the Roman Empire—but provided a blueprint for standing up to tyranny that would be followed by those, religious and otherwise, who came after him.

A radical nonconformist who challenged authority at every turn, Jesus was a far cry from the watered-down, corporatized, simplified, gentrified, sissified vision of a meek creature holding a lamb that most modern churches peddle. In fact, he spent his adult life speaking truth to power, challenging the status quo of his day, and pushing back against the abuses of the Roman Empire.

Those living through this present age of militarized police, SWAT team raids, police shootings of unarmed citizens, roadside strip searches, and invasive surveillance might feel as if these events are unprecedented, the characteristics of a police state and its reasons for being are no different today than they were in Jesus’ lifetime: control, power and money.

Much like the American Empire today, the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day was characterized by secrecy, surveillance, a widespread police presence, a citizenry treated like suspects with little recourse against the police state, perpetual wars, a military empire, martial law, and political retribution against those who dared to challenge the power of the state.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, a police state extends far beyond the actions of law enforcement.  In fact, a police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

Indeed, the police state in which Jesus lived and its striking similarities to modern-day America are beyond troubling.

Secrecy, surveillance and rule by the elite. As the chasm between the wealthy and poor grew wider in the Roman Empire, the ruling class and the wealthy class became synonymous, while the lower classes, increasingly deprived of their political freedoms, grew disinterested in the government and easily distracted by “bread and circuses.” Much like America today, with its lack of government transparency, overt domestic surveillance, and rule by the rich, the inner workings of the Roman Empire were shrouded in secrecy, while its leaders were constantly on the watch for any potential threats to its power. The resulting state-wide surveillance was primarily carried out by the military, which acted as investigators, enforcers, torturers, policemen, executioners and jailers. Today that role is fulfilled by the NSA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the increasingly militarized police forces across the country.

Widespread police presence. The Roman Empire used its military forces to maintain the “peace,” thereby establishing a police state that reached into all aspects of a citizen’s life. In this way, these military officers, used to address a broad range of routine problems and conflicts, enforced the will of the state. Today SWAT teams, comprised of local police and federal agents, are employed to carry out routine search warrants for minor crimes such as marijuana possession and credit card fraud.

Citizenry with little recourse against the police state. As the Roman Empire expanded, personal freedom and independence nearly vanished, as did any real sense of local governance and national consciousness. Similarly, in America today, citizens largely feel powerless, voiceless and unrepresented in the face of a power-hungry federal government. As states and localities are brought under direct control by federal agencies and regulations, a sense of learned helplessness grips the nation.

Perpetual wars and a military empire. Much like America today with its practice of policing the world, war and an over-arching militarist ethos provided the framework for the Roman Empire, which extended from the Italian peninsula to all over Southern, Western, and Eastern Europe, extending into North Africa and Western Asia as well. In addition to significant foreign threats, wars were waged against inchoate, unstructured and socially inferior foes.

Martial law. Eventually, Rome established a permanent military dictatorship that left the citizens at the mercy of an unreachable and oppressive totalitarian regime. In the absence of resources to establish civic police forces, the Romans relied increasingly on the military to intervene in all matters of conflict or upheaval in provinces, from small-scale scuffles to large-scale revolts. Not unlike police forces today, with their martial law training drills on American soil, militarized weapons and “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset, the Roman soldier had “the exercise of lethal force at his fingertips” with the potential of wreaking havoc on normal citizens’ lives.

A nation of suspects. Just as the American Empire looks upon its citizens as suspects to be tracked, surveilled and controlled, the Roman Empire looked upon all potential insubordinates, from the common thief to a full-fledged insurrectionist, as threats to its power. The insurrectionist was seen as directly challenging the Emperor.  A “bandit,” or revolutionist, was seen as capable of overturning the empire, was always considered guilty and deserving of the most savage penalties, including capital punishment. Bandits were usually punished publicly and cruelly as a means of deterring others from challenging the power of the state.  Jesus’ execution was one such public punishment.

Acts of civil disobedience by insurrectionists. Starting with his act of civil disobedience at the Jewish temple, the site of the administrative headquarters of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish council, Jesus branded himself a political revolutionary. When Jesus “with the help of his disciples, blocks the entrance to the courtyard” and forbids “anyone carrying goods for sale or trade from entering the Temple,” he committed a blatantly criminal and seditious act, an act “that undoubtedly precipitated his arrest and execution.” Because the commercial events were sponsored by the religious hierarchy, which in turn was operated by consent of the Roman government, Jesus’ attack on the money chargers and traders can be seen as an attack on Rome itself, an unmistakable declaration of political and social independence from the Roman oppression.

Military-style arrests in the dead of night. Jesus’ arrest account testifies to the fact that the Romans perceived Him as a revolutionary. Eerily similar to today’s SWAT team raids, Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night, in secret, by a large, heavily armed fleet of soldiers.  Rather than merely asking for Jesus when they came to arrest him, his pursuers collaborated beforehand with Judas. Acting as a government informant, Judas concocted a kiss as a secret identification marker, hinting that a level of deception and trickery must be used to obtain this seemingly “dangerous revolutionist’s” cooperation.

Torture and capital punishment. In Jesus’ day, religious preachers, self-proclaimed prophets and nonviolent protesters were not summarily arrested and executed. Indeed, the high priests and Roman governors normally allowed a protest, particularly a small-scale one, to run its course. However, government authorities were quick to dispose of leaders and movements that appeared to threaten the Roman Empire. The charges leveled against Jesus—that he was a threat to the stability of the nation, opposed paying Roman taxes and claimed to be the rightful King—were purely political, not religious. To the Romans, any one of these charges was enough to merit death by crucifixion, which was usually reserved for slaves, non-Romans, radicals, revolutionaries and the worst criminals.

Jesus was presented to Pontius Pilate “as a disturber of the political peace,” a leader of a rebellion, a political threat, and most gravely—a claimant to kingship, a “king of the revolutionary type.” After Jesus is formally condemned by Pilate, he is sentenced to death by crucifixion, “the Roman means of executing criminals convicted of high treason.”  The purpose of crucifixion was not so much to kill the criminal, as it was an immensely public statement intended to visually warn all those who would challenge the power of the Roman Empire. Hence, it was reserved solely for the most extreme political crimes: treason, rebellion, sedition, and banditry. After being ruthlessly whipped and mocked, Jesus was nailed to a cross.

As Professor Mark Lewis Taylor observed:

The cross within Roman politics and culture was a marker of shame, of being a criminal. If you were put to the cross, you were marked as shameful, as criminal, but especially as subversive. And there were thousands of people put to the cross. The cross was actually positioned at many crossroads, and, as New Testament scholar Paula Fredricksen has reminded us, it served as kind of a public service announcement that said, “Act like this person did, and this is how you will end up.”

Jesus—the revolutionary, the political dissident, and the nonviolent activist—lived and died in a police state. Any reflection on Jesus’ life and death within a police state must take into account several factors: Jesus spoke out strongly against such things as empires, controlling people, state violence and power politics. Jesus challenged the political and religious belief systems of his day. And worldly powers feared Jesus, not because he challenged them for control of thrones or government but because he undercut their claims of supremacy, and he dared to speak truth to power in a time when doing so could—and often did—cost a person his life.

Unfortunately, the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics.

Yet for those who truly study the life and teachings of Jesus, the resounding theme is one of outright resistance to war, materialism and empire.

What a marked contrast to the advice being given to Americans by church leaders to “submit to your leaders and those in authority”—which in the American police state translates to complying, conforming, submitting, obeying orders, deferring to authority and generally doing whatever a government official tells you to do.

Telling Americans to march in lockstep and blindly obey the government—or put their faith in politics and vote for a political savior—flies in the face of everything for which Jesus lived and died.

Ultimately, this is the contradiction that must be resolved if the radical Jesus—the one who stood up to the Roman Empire and was crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be—is to be an example for our modern age.

We must decide whether we will follow the path of least resistance—willing to turn a blind eye to what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as the “evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination, to the moral degeneracy of religious bigotry and the corroding effects of narrow sectarianism, to economic conditions that deprive men of work and food, and to the insanities of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence”—or whether we will be transformed nonconformists “dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.”

As King explained in a powerful sermon delivered in 1954:

This command not to conform comes … [from] Jesus Christ, the world’s most dedicated nonconformist, whose ethical nonconformity still challenges the conscience of mankind.

We need to recapture the gospel glow of the early Christians, who were nonconformists in the truest sense of the word and refused to shape their witness according to the mundane patterns of the world.  Willingly they sacrificed fame, fortune, and life itself in behalf of a cause they knew to be right.  Quantitatively small, they were qualitatively giants.  Their powerful gospel put an end to such barbaric evils as infanticide and bloody gladiatorial contests.  Finally, they captured the Roman Empire for Jesus Christ… The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.  The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists.  In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist!

…Honesty impels me to admit that transformed nonconformity, which is always costly and never altogether comfortable, may mean walking through the valley of the shadow of suffering, losing a job, or having a six-year-old daughter ask, “Daddy, why do you have to go to jail so much?”  But we are gravely mistaken to think that Christianity protects us from the pain and agony of mortal existence.  Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear.  To be a Christian, one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonizing and tragedy-packed content, and carry it until that very cross leaves its marks upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way that comes only through suffering.

In these days of worldwide confusion, there is a dire need for men and women who will courageously do battle for truth.  We must make a choice. Will we continue to march to the drumbeat of conformity and respectability, or will we, listening to the beat of a more distant drum, move to its echoing sounds?  Will we march only to the music of time, or will we, risking criticism and abuse, march to the soul saving music of eternity?

A Few Thoughts on the “March for Our Lives”

In yesterday’s New York Times, regular op-ed contributor David Brooks heaped effusive praise on last Saturday’s March for Our Lives. Brooks wrote:

I have to say, I loved the gun-control march I observed  last Saturday in Washington. The crowd was good-hearted, gracious, diverse and welcoming… Everybody kept underlining their faith in our democratic system, that voting is the way to make change…Of course some of the student speakers were grandiose and pretentious. Most of us were like that when we were 18.

Brooks is sometimes described as ‘the liberals’ favorite conservative,” perhaps because of his erudition and seeming reasonableness. In truth, Brooks has invariably condemned political activism while remaining oblivious to structural and class realities in this country. What this pompous moralizer and the Democratic establishment share is fear that this youth-led, increasingly inclusive protest movement can’t be cooped and contained by “vote, vote, vote” mantras, working within the two-party status quo or bought off with free food. They already see students of color standing in solidarity with Parkland while simultaneously linking that shooting with systemic violence in Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

If, as promised, their courageous campaign continues, it will quickly encounter the system’s recalcitrant resistance to any serious changes. And if a critical mass of students begins seeing the connections among violence, racism, injustice, capitalism and Washington raining death on people abroad, the MSM will abruptly cease its fawning approval. Many of us recall how quickly the liberal establishment turned on Dr. King the moment he gave voice to these same connections.

Finally, most of us older folks didn’t come to radical politics through our formal educations or the good fortune of being red diaper babies. In fact, R,W & B diapers were the norm. Instead, we stumbled through a process that, looking back, included naive liberal actions and expectations. For example, we knew the U.S. attack on Vietnam was immoral but had yet to fully grasp that it wasn’t a “mistake.” That it was only one inevitable consequence of a vile economic system and was preceded and followed by countless other covert and overt interventions.

We learned some hard lessons, not the least of which was that we’d been lied to our entire lives. At the time I recall seasoned activists sharing their experiences, pointing us toward information sources and above all, being infinitely patient with us.  I sense that’s a critically important role for us in the days ahead.

Soul on Ice Goes to College, and the Murder of Dr. King

Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are enriched beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change, we are going to have to change the system.

— Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967

The murder of Dr. King on April 4, 1968, marked a  sea change in black America’s long, tortuous sojourn in this nation-state.  Of course, assassination of black leaders and sympathizers has been a mainstay of American life from even before this country’s inception.  Still, the Civil Rights and Black Power era of the ’50s and ’60s featured an especially gruesome series of murders that included, to name only a few of the most spectacular:

November 22, 1963,  A date seared into everybody’s consciousness.  We watched on live TV half of President John Kennedy’s head get blown off on that mid-morning in Dallas.

Robert F. Kennedy’s gut-wrenching take-down in Los Angeles a mere six weeks after Dr. King’s assassination.

Medgar Evers (top state NAACP executive) collapsed into a pool of his own blood under the relentless rain of rifle and shotgun fire on the steps of his own Mississippi home, also in ’63. Evers’ killing fit seamlessly between the rhythmic drumbeats of black church bombings across the south.

Then, on February 21 of 1965,  Malcolm X’s enormous black heart was  shredded by gunfire as he stood on stage in Harlem’s famed Audubon Ballroom.

Since 1955, I have been troubled by an indefinable pain as the sad, sad saga of the lynching of Emmett Till, in a place ominously called Money, Mississippi, played out on our eight-inch Motorola television set.  As a small child, I listened hard with little understanding while my elders recalled some of our own kinfolk who, unlike them, had opted to stay in the south (or had failed to escape) and therefore suffered fates identical to Emmett Till’s and so many faceless, nameless others.

Each of these murderous moments presented to our black consciousness as earth-rending points in time. But, again, none of these past or ongoing days and nights of terror affected, changed, black America as profoundly as the wholly expected, public, and unspeakably brutal execution of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1968:  How to Avoid  the “Paralysis of Analysis”

I was a  junior at Indiana University’s main campus in Bloomington in that revolutionary year.  Our mass marches, demonstrations and protests, walk-outs, stand-ups, sit-ins, lay-ins,  strikes, boycotts, and occupation of buildings paralleled and, more often than not, spearheaded the campus Hippies’, Yippies’, etc. assorted protests.  They, understandably, were offended by the Vietnam War, and inspired by a renewed white Women’s Liberation Movement.

We black students protested unjust and racially discriminatory practices and policies of the University itself – especially its abominable admissions policy. There were 500 black students on this, the state of Indiana’s flagship and largest state-supported university, a campus of 29,000 students.  There were just three black professors, not one of whom was tenured. And, naturally, there were no courses, let alone curricula, which even pretended to address the 400-year-old history and contemporary lived experience of black folk in this nation-state.  Thus, another of our non-negotiable demands was establishment of a degree-granting Black Studies Department.

We refused to allow our protests to be dismissed as momentary expressions of youthful exuberance. Through our marches, meetings, poetry slams, and classes, we questioned the fundamental assumptions of the University, especially its historical embrace of white supremacy/white racism. And, in concert with the anti-War movement, we challenged those who provided the financial wherewithal for corporations like Dow Chemical to do its lethal, on-campus research for napalm gas, which engulfed untold millions of Vietnamese in excruciating, fiery injury and death. We were at war, all right…at war with campus honchos who made peace with the war, and who were more committed to keeping peace on campus rather than in exploring the ways in which the University collaborated with the war efforts and its deliberate mis-education of all its students.

“Soul on Ice” Goes to College

In late ’67, Indiana University’s Black Theater Workshop was organized by black students to produce plays, poetry and nonfiction that addressed this nation-state’s real history, our present condition, and hoped-for revolutionary future. We breathed deeply, freely, of the burgeoning Black Arts Movement as it raced through the blackosphere like a fast-moving river. Those black tributaries flowed from, to, and back again through Harlem, Gary, Oakland, Madison, Watts, Ann Arbor, Chicago’s South and West Sides, Ohio’s Central State University, and New Jersey’s newly christened “New Ark.”

Our literary high priests and priestesses included, but were by no means limited to:  Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Sonia Sanchez, Hoyt Fuller, Maya Angelou, Ishmael Reed, Rosa Guy, Sterling A. Brown, LeRoi Jones, Richard Wright, and, of course, the Master of them all, James Baldwin.

In ’68, the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Information published a black-busting tome entitled Soul On Ice. Eldridge Cleaver had done lots of California prison time, mainly for rape and robbery; but he was a powerful, even essential essayist.  Soul On Ice provided a first-hand look at the Panthers sans the usual establishment media bias.  Soul on Ice also chronicled Cleaver’s own astounding rise from prison inmate to Ramparts Magazine’s star, revolutionary writer.  

The BTW converted Cleaver’s book into a play.  Because his life and persona were so deeply conflicted, we divided the “Eldridge Cleaver” character into three parts:  The Rapist; The Revolutionary; and The Writer. Guess which part I played.

The Murder of Dr. King

On April 4, 1968, I was hiking – sans umbrella – across IU’s idyllic campus to play rehearsal. A light, steady Spring rain began to fall, so I decided to cut through the blocks-long Student Union building.

I passed through the giant cafeteria and approached an open-area TV lounge.  A large group of students stood gathered around a television. I stopped, but could hear only  muffled voices. Just as I came up directly behind them, Walter Cronkite said, “….and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.”

The students before me burst into loud, raucous whistles, hoots, and applause.  They cheered.  I stood directly behind them and watched and listened in open-mouthed shock….dumbfounded – not at the heart-stopping news  – that had not had time to register – but at the utterly appalling scene unfolding right before my eyes.

I never saw the TV screen and could no longer hear it.  I stared at the backs of these my fellow students for what seemed a long moment as some of them began to guffaw and slap each other’s backs.

Slowly….ever so slightly, the laughter began to subside.  And then, en masse, they turned their faces in my direction — as though they shared a single neck.  Their toothy, ear-to-ear grins looked weird, distorted. I could sense – feel –  sharp-edged daggers of hate radiating from them.  I could see their disgust at not just my presence among them but at my very existence. It was clear that I had intruded upon an electronic lynching and had inadvertently disrupted their blood lust.  It was only then, however, that I noticed the thing that has come back to haunt me each and every 4th of April since that night:  Every single one of these faces was “white.”

I dared not turn my back to these people.  I tentatively began walking backwards, furtively eying each one of them as I carefully placed one foot behind the other.  I made it out into the hallway and then sprinted to the nearest exit.

“Burn, Baby, Burn!” versus Learn, Baby, Learn!

I arrived at our director’s off-campus apartment soaking wet.  She was a strikingly beautiful, jet-black East Indian political science PhD. candidate, a devotee of both Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi. Although she was East Indian, she “identified” completely with “black” Americans. Indeed, she was so dark-complected (black) that when the sun touched her skin just right, she actually sparkled.

Standing there, just inside her pad, dripping onto the threshold, I watched  the girls gathered around the TV sobbing uncontrollably, hysterically. The guys, enraged, walked around the place pounding their fists into their hands, “We gotta get ’em!  We gotta get ’em,” they alternately mumbled or shouted. “How could they kill him?!” somebody said. “Not this man!”

The TV began showing scenes of riots breaking out across the country:   Chicago was ablaze; New York; L.A.; St. Louis; Detroit, even staid Indianapolis.  Later, we learned that over 110 cities had gone up that night.

“We can’t meet violence with violence,” the director said finally.  “If we even try,” she continued, “we will lose. They’ve got all the guns.”

“Not this one!,” a brother said, pulling out a shiny snub-nosed .38 pistol.

“Put that thing away!”, she ordered.  “The last thing Dr. King would want you young people to do is commit violence in his name,” she declared.  “Let’s use our heads! All of you must stay in school and graduate.  It’s more important now than ever before that we complete and present this play.”

Like so many other black people, that night changed my life.  I was one person before Dr. King’s murder, and a completely different person afterwards.