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The Destruction Of Dr. King

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At'tei a seven yea no-holds-barred FBI campaign foi ihe tica] and personal destruction of the late L)r. Martin Luther King was revealed November lc) before ihe Senate gonce Committee, that ('oinmittee s starters s;iid the FBI was proliably gtiiliy of fai more than iheii invesíigatíon sliowed. Wlmi 1 showed was bad enough. Il showed that the FBI wanled Dr. King dead-badly enough to send liim an anonvmous letter threatenine him with public disgrace ü he did not commit suicide. It showed a calculateci. consistent, and unrelenting campaign, hended by the late FBI tor J. Edgar Hoovei, to deprive r the nation's black population of the right tu choose heii own sllip. w Between ll)64aiul 1'HiS.ihe 1151 mamtained ;i total ot eiglu taps and sixleen "bugs on King in all pliases of his life, amassing ihousands of liours of tapes which recorded Kim's every cough and sneee. The tapes produced no( even a suggeslíorí of Ilegal, pojitically iilegitimaie, or subversivo aetiitv by Knie. Nui were ihoy meant to. Turn in age { I lJ wm s Til 5? mM 3 LJ a 51 ...Dr.King continued from the cover They wer,e meant for blackmai! and slander, and the tapes allegedly did record King in some "compromising" situations with women. For several years Hoover circulated the ehoicest portions of the tapes, or reports on their contents, to high government officials and friendly reporters. Most of these officials and reporters con■v„_ sidered King's private life nobody's busi . ness but his own, for they did hui icjjcai wiiai mcy icamcu. The anonyiiKuis FBI letter revealed by the Senate Intclligence Committee was delivered to King along with a copy of this tape 34 days before King was scheduled to receive tlie Nobel Peaee Prize in December 1965. The letter read, in part: "King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it. (This exact nuinber has been selected for a specific reason.) It has definite practical significance. You are done. There uit one way out for yon." Staff lawyers for thc Intéllfgence Committee say the letter was found in the files of V former FBI Deputv tor William Sullivan at FBI headquarteis. Sullivan maintains the document was planted in lus file by someone within the k agency trying to discredit him. The FBI, ever, uoes not aispute tnat someone in tne agency authored and sent the letter. Technically, the FBI letter to Dr. King was an overt act of extortion- a federal crime which the FBI has a specific responfc cihilitv tn r'rwnhat Tlii iti tiiMi'il nninii. ' 1 I ' I 1 I y I ■ WUMILUli f I1V IIUIIV'IIUI lili nence of Dr. King, and the still-unsolved mystery of the FBI's role in his murder, pushed the story"into the headlines for a day or two in November, and then it was promptly forgotten. The Department of Justice, itself heavily impli1 cated in the crime, announced no in1 tentions of investigating or prosecutI ingit further. The extortion-letter bombshell drew media atlention away from the wider implications of the FBI's sixyear effort to destroy, by fair meáns or fout, the single most effective black leader in the nation d uring the )50'sand60"s. FBI assistant deputy director James Adams admitted to the Senate C'ommittee at least 25 sticli covert actions against King. Considering tlte FBI's reluctance, until now, to admil " its own occasional embarrassing human mistakes (much less its calculated violations of law), the actual number may run - higher than that. Between t()h2 and and 1968, for examfcj pte, the Senate Committee learned that the FBI tried to persuade a college not to grant King an honorary degree;appealed to an American Cardinal to prevent King from getting an audience with Pope Paul VI; and attempted to cut offVunding sources for King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Even after King's murder (and the supposedly "impartial" FBI investigation of it), the FBI scheduled "briefings" for key Congressmen in an attempt to keep Congress from declaring his birthday a national holiday. The FBI campaign was more than a public relations effort to take King "off his pedestal," as FBI planning documents put it. A January 1963 memo to Hoover from William C. Sullivan, former FBI deputy director for "counterintelligence" (a term used to hide the FBl's illegal domestic political warfare), suggested a more sweeping ambition and desperate puipose. "This can be done and will be done," the memo to Hoover declared. "Obviously, confusión will reign. . . the Negroes will be lef t without a national leader." FBI memos described King as "'the most dangerous and effective leader in the country." The agency seeined to be working on the assumption that the effectiveness of any black leader was what made him or her dangerous. The FBI campaign was widely pictured in the media as a purely personal vendetta by Hoover whicl'i began when King criticized the agency during the early 1 960's for failing to protect Southern black civil rights workers. Sena te Intelligence Committee counsel Fred Scliwartz, however, outlined a pattern of action against King that suggested ingrained government policies. Schwartz said FBI records in the Committee's possession show that ie agency stepped up its efforts each time - . the civil rights movement, or King's1 ---_ rote in it, ad vaneed: attci Tcontinued tín wíc 26 MLK continued frotft page 9 march on Washington; aftcr King's 1965 Nobel recognition; and aftèt King began linking the ' oppression of minorities and poor people with the Viet Nam war. Orr the very eve of his assassination, King was organizing the Hoor People's Campaign for anothei murdi on rhe Capítol. Most of the electronic surveillance was flatly illegal, but Hoovei maintained a flimsy cover of legality over the operation by claiming that it suspected two persons associated with the St'LC of "communist" lies. Six years of bugging prodaced do evidente of "communist" influente oti King, but the bugging continued. When FBI agents subrrtitted field reports showing that Kind was nota threat to national security, Hoover ordered them to rewrite the reports. The Senate Intelligence Committee's revelations placed the anti-King crusade within a pattern of institutionalized FBI racism. Until lloover's death in 1972, he refused to allow the hiring of black agents. The Senate Committee found extortion, slander, deceit, and violence to be routinely used in the FBIVfar more widespread campaign against other black political organizations. In 1970 the FBI ordered its agents to investígate ail-black student unions. The FBI "counterintelligence" lists of "subversive" and "violence-prone" persons to be spied upon included large numbers of black ministers never even involved in political activities or demonstrations. The agency was particularly fond of sending anonymous letters to spouses of both white and black civil riglits workers alleging that they were involved in interracial liaisons. The picture which emerged from the Senate Committee prompted U.S. Attorney Edward H. Levi to announce on November 26 that the Justice Department was reopening its investigation into the King assassinatioi) hut the Justice Department's Investigative arm is the I BI itseir. Levi's only publicly expressed concern was that the FBI might have been less tlian conscientious in solving King's miirder, and the-Senate Committee's conttnuing inquiry (vvhich cannoi resLilt directly in piosectition) may yet shed more light on King's assassination. The one question that remains unasked by any government agency is whethei the FBI played any role in a conspiracy to assassinate Martin Luther King- not simply by covering up a conspiracy of which James Earl Ray may have been only a part, but by its oft'icially-expressed attitudes as the nation's chief law enforcement agency, creating a climate which encouraged attempts on King's life. [In the nexi installment of this series, the SUN will pursue the questions of whettier the 1 BI wasn't "looking the other way" even before Kii]L' murdeq whethei il adequately protexted King trom the death threats which il was informed of; and whethei the agency may have played a more direct role in encouraging a conspiracy to kill King. We'll also take a look at the evidence for and againsl the proposition that James Earl Ray. acting alone, was responsible lor King's death. Joe Davis. a Jrcc-lance writer who lires in Ann Arbor, luis written for Good-Morning Michigan and other publications.