Thanks to the nearly four-decade investigation by human rights lawyer William Pepper, it is now clear once and for all that Martin Luther King was murdered in a conspiracy that was instigated by then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and that also involved the U.S. military, the Memphis Police Department, and “Dixie Mafia” crime figures in Memphis, Tennessee. These and many more incredible details of the King assassination are contained in a trilogy of volumes by Pepper culminating with his latest and final book on the subject, The Plot to Kill King. He previously wrote Orders to Kill (1995) and An Act of State (2003).
With virtually no help from the mainstream media and very little from the justice system, Pepper was able to piece together what really happened on April 4, 1968 in Memphis right down to who gave the order and supplied the money, how the patsy was chosen, and who actually pulled the trigger.
Without this information, the truth about King’s assassination would have been buried and lost to history. Witnesses would have died off, taking their secrets with them, and the official lie that King was the victim of a racist lone gunman named James Earl Ray would have remained “fact.”
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 almost 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 of his book ‘Orders to Kill‘.
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.
As Pepper explains, King was not only hated by the establishment as he rose to prominence in the 1960s, he was feared. Not only did he have the ability to move large numbers of people with his message of peace and tolerance, but he had designs on a political career. According to Pepper, King was planning to run for president on a third-party ticket with fellow anti-war activist Dr. Benjamin Spock. He was also causing panic in powerful circles because he intended to bring hundreds of thousands of poor people to an encampment in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1968 to bring attention to the plight of the poor.
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. Forty-eight 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. The warden of Missouri State Penitentiary was paid $25,000 by Russell Adkins Sr. to allow the escape (as confirmed by Ron Adkins). The money was delivered to Adkins by Tolson, and it was this same connection that would later be used to finance the assassination of King.
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.”
Unfortunately, the mainstream media has ignored all of these revelations and continues to label Ray as King’s lone assassin. In fact, Pepper chronicles in detail how a disinformation campaign has featured the collaboration of many mainstream journalists over almost half a century. He says he suspects that those orchestrating the cover-up, which continues to this day, are no longer concerned with what he writes about the subject.
In the twenty-three 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.
As the official story of the shooting goes, at 5:50 p.m. on April 4, Kyles knocked on the door of room 306 of the Lorraine Motel to let King and the rest of his party know that they were running late for a planned dinner at Kyles’s home. Kyles then walked about 60 feet down the balcony where he remained even after King came out of the room at about 6 p.m. (Although Kyles has maintained ever since that he spent the last half hour in the room, Pepper has proven otherwise.)
Members of a militant black organizing group the Invaders, who were also staying in the motel because of King’s visit, were told shortly before the shooting by a member of the motel staff that their rooms would no longer being paid for by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and that they had to leave immediately. When they asked who had given this order, they were told it was Jesse Jackson. At the time of the shooting, Jackson was waiting down by the swimming pool. Ron Adkins also identified Jackson as the person who called the owners of the Lorraine Motel and demanded that King be moved from a more secure inner courtyard room to an exposed room on the second floor facing the street.
The Memphis Police Department usually formed a detail of black officers to protect King when he was in town, but did not this time. Emergency TACT support units were pulled back from the Lorraine to the fire station, which overlooked the motel. Pepper also learned that the only two black members of the Memphis Fire Department had been told the day before the shooting not to report for work the next day at the fire station. And black detective Ed Redditt was told an hour before the shooting to stay home because a threat had been made on his life.
Just about a minute after King exited his room, a single shot was fired and the bullet ripped through King’s jaw and spinal cord, dropping him immediately. The shot appeared to come from across Mulberry Street. King was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead just after 7 p.m.
According to the official story, the shot was fired by Ray from the bathroom of a rooming house above a bar called Jim’s Grill, which backed on to Mulberry and faced onto South Main Street. But, as Pepper’s investigation proves, the shot actually came from the bushes located in between the rooming house and the street. In fact, the only “witness” who placed Ray at the scene was a falling-down-drunk named Charles Stephens, who later did not recognize Ray in a photograph and who cab driver James McCraw had refused to transport a short time before because he was too intoxicated.
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