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Chasing Zorro


April 4, 1967, was a milestone in the public life

of Martin Luther King. Heretofore, he had been

known primarily as a civil rights activist, but today

he was making a departure from his previous ideological

doctrine. Today in New York’s historical

Riverside Church he was going to come out publicly

against the Vietnam War. King had made public

utterances against the conflict before, taking care not

to alienate his supporters in the white community,

but today the war and its moral ramifications would

be the main focus of his address (hence its title

“Beyond Vietnam”) before over 3,000 parishioners

in one of the foremost black churches in the United


For Dr. King, it was part of a logical progression.

The conflict in a strange, little country few

even knew existed resonated mightily within the core

of his being, since increasingly larger numbers of

those designated for combat in that far off corner of

the world were young Negro boys, as they were

called by polite society back then, and many of those

close to him, especially his wife, Coretta Scott King,

were urging him to become more vocal. More

importantly, he may have reached a point where, as a

man of the cloth, he realized his allegiance to the

world at large as opposed to one specific church congregation

or ethnic group.

Finally, President Lyndon Johnson, normally an

ardent proponent of civil rights, took steps to divert

funds from the War on Poverty to Vietnam in

December of 1966, which forced the Baptist preacher

to question the rationale of taking “young black

men who have been crippled by our society and

sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties

in Southeast Asia which they had not found in

Southwest Georgia and East Harlem.”

J. Edgar Hoover enjoyed a position of power

equaled by few men in the history of U.S. politics.

Serving under eight American presidents, more than

one of his “superiors” suppressed the urge to have

him fired no doubt because of the political backlash

and retaliation that was sure to follow. During his

almost 50-year tenure at the helm of the F.B.I., he

amassed vast dossiers on potential enemies in the

government and political arena and beyond, specializing

in the sort of inflammatory information they

would go to great lengths to keep covered.

A man given to many pet peeves, the foremost

of which was subversion, he was known for his

relentless pursuit of those (in his view) who constituted

a threat to the security of the government.

During the course of his career they’d included leftist

radicals in the aftermath of World War I, bank robbers

and bootleggers during the Depression, Nazi

saboteurs in World War II, and communist sympathizers

during the 1950s.

Now, deep in the turbulence of the ‘60s, he

faced his biggest challenge. Radical elements

seemed to be sprouting up on every college campus

to openly exhibit contempt for American ideals and

institutions, and sweeping up the best and brightest

of the Baby-boomer generation in the process. Of

particular concern to Hoover was the burgeoning

Civil Rights Movement, which he saw as being ripe

for infiltration by the Communist Party. Specifically

distasteful to the F.B.I. director was the movement’s

most famous proponent, Dr. King, whose promiscuous

sexual liaisons offended Hoover’s puritanical


Since his death, Hoover has been the subject of

numerous insinuations and innuendoes, including

speculation that he was a cross-dressing homosexual

with hidden African-American ancestry, one source

being literary icon and fellow Washington, D.C.

native Gore Vidal, which may explain his relentless

pursuit of individuals with similar backgrounds and


“Hoover was becoming famous, and it was always

said of him – in my family and around the city – that he

was mulatto. People said he came from a family that

had ‘passed.’ It was the word they used for people of

black origin who, after generations of inbreeding, have

enough white blood to pass themselves off as white.

That’s what was always said about Hoover.” -Anthony

Summers, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of

J. Edgar Hoover, 1993.

The idea that homophobes (those with an irrational

fear or hatred of gays) are themselves repressed

homosexuals goes back to Sigmund Freud’s initial

musings on the nature of human behavior.

Ethnic self-hatred is common enough to have

spawned a number of studies, possibly the bestknown

case being that of closeted U.S. Attorney Roy

Cohn (and a political ally of Hoover) who zealously

railroaded fellow Jews Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to

the electric chair for passing atomic weapons secrets

to Russia, and strongly opposed gay-rights legislation

before he himself died of AIDS.

As for Hoover, much has been made of the fact

that for such a well-known public figure, little documentation

was available on his early life, with no birth

certificate on record until he was well into his 40s,

along with his unusually close association with fellow

F.B.I. man and lifelong bachelor Clyde Tolson.

Hoover’s inclination toward the persecution of

African-American political groups went back to

Marcus Garvey and the Black Nationalist movement

in the early 1920s.

By the late ‘60s he had developed an intelligence

apparatus unsurpassed in its ability to amass information

on any conceivable person or subject, and implemented

a program called COINTELPRO specifically

to disrupt dissident political organizations. COINTELPRO

contributed to at least one murder, that of

white civil rights volunteer Viola Liuzzo, and after

her death circulated gossip about her alleged sexual

hi-jinks with her black co-workers.

Dr. King’s activism, viewed as radical and subversive,

had made him the subject of countless

vendettas, resulting in an arrest record consisting of

such various offenses as contempt of court, disorderly

conduct, disturbing the peace, driving without a

license, loitering, tax evasion, and violating probation.

The F.B.I. continued the harassment on their

end by forwarding damaging information on his personal

proclivities to colleges and universities that

conferred honorary degrees and other accolades on

him. His increased visibility in the media, nationally

and internationally, worked Hoover into a frenzy, and

his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 proved to

be the last straw, with King, under the code name

“Zorro,” designated for termination with extreme

prejudice. This humble Baptist preacher was quickly

becoming the embodiment of the F.B.I. director’s

worst fears: a Black Messiah with the charisma and

resources to unite the Masses.

Continuing his harassment in earnest, Hoover’s

minions uncovered evidence that a preteenaged

King, despondent over his grandmother’s illness and

subsequent death, had attempted suicide. Hoping to

capitalize on this, COINTELPRO concocted a bogus

letter purportedly written by a civil rights colleague

confronting King on a number of indiscretions, and

urging him to take his life. Such tactics were common

in the Bureau’s campaign against enemies of

the state.

Caucasian movie star Jean Seberg irked the

powers that be by using her fame to support such

distasteful organizations as the American Indian

Movement, the Black Panther Party, and the

NAACP. Hoover was reputed to have personally

vowed to “take care of those two bitches,” referring

to Seberg and fellow Hollywood activist Jane Fonda.

In the twisted mentality of those manning the F.B.I.’s

Los Angeles field office, Seberg’s associations

amounted to more than just political assistance.

Former agent and whistle blower M. Wesley

Swearingen reminisced:

“Jean was giving aid and comfort to the enemy,

the BPP … The giving of her white body to a black

man was an unbearable thought for many of the

white agents. An agent [allegedly Richard W. Held]

was overheard to say, a few days after I arrived in

Los Angeles from New York, ‘I wonder how she’d

like to gobble my dick while I shove my .38 up that

black bastard’s ass’” [a reference to BPP theorist

Raymond “Masai” Hewitt, with whom Seberg was

reputedly having an affair]. (

“Bonjour Tristesse – the story of Jean Seberg’s

destruction by COINTELPRO”)

Preying on her tendency toward depression and

paranoia, Hoover retaliated by concocting a rumor

that the child Seberg was pregnant with had been

conceived by a black civil rights worker and having

it placed in the gossip columns of such publications

as the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek. This

harassment so effectively traumatized her that it

caused her to miscarriage. Seberg achieved a twisted

sort of vindication when she held a press conference

the next day and openly displayed the still born

corpse of her dead white child, but COINTELPRO’s

efforts were eventually rewarded when she succumbed

to a lethal combination of alcohol and barbiturates

years later.

Similar efforts to neutralize King were not successful

(the letter reached King, but well after his

being awarded the Nobel Prize, which Hoover wanted

to prevent) but Hoover and his underlings were

nothing if not resilient. Legions of crack pot groups

committed to arrest the advance of integration were

available for deployment, along with countless sad

sacks and losers ready for enlistment as pawns in

whatever role was required, either as decoy or triggerman.

Surveillance and wiretaps were stepped up,

with special attention paid to Dr. King’s extramarital

sexual affairs. Illegal break ins of organizations

such as the Southern Christian Leadership

Conference (SCLC) popularly known as “black bag

jobs” were a common occurrence.

For the most part, James Earl Ray’s life had

been an exercise in mediocrity. Drummed out of the

army for “ineptness and lack of adaptability,” he

drifted into a life of petty crime in which he distinguished

himself with the uncanny knack for quick

apprehension shortly after his pathetic attempts at

burglary, forgery, or the liquor store holdups in

which he specialized.

Despite a lackluster career as a petty criminal,

Ray possessed ingenuity and resourcefulness, displayed

when he escaped from a state prison and went

on the lam for almost a year before his apprehension

at Heathrow Airport in London (presumably headed

for white supremacist Rhodesia). Along the way, he

somehow became involved in a convoluted scenario,

the origins of which we will assuredly never know,

and was conveniently fingered as the lone assassin

(under circumstances bearing a passing resemblance

to those surrounding the assassination of John F.

Kennedy five years prior) in the murder of Martin

Luther King. To this day Ray has never been tried

before a jury of his peers, since he conveniently confessed

to the killing to avoid the death penalty

(before recanting three days later), and spent the rest

of his life unsuccessfully seeking a retrial.

Two separate schools of thought have evolved

around Ray, one viewing him as a right-wing fanatic

whose flirtation with Nazism contributed

to his early separation from the army,

while the other side contends he never exhibited any racist tendencies (as does Ray in his

1992 autobiography). Like many convicts, Ray

found time to be married while in prison.

Particularly remarkable about his wedding is that it

was presided over by the Reverend James Lawson,

associate and close personal friend of Dr. King, conducting

the ceremony not as a sign of his belief in

Ray’s guilt or innocence, but merely as part of his

obligation as a man of God. Also noteworthy was

the identity of Ray’s best man, one Mark Lane,

Kennedy-King conspiracy theorist and author of

numerous books (1966’s Rush To Judgement is considered

the catalyst in raising questions about the

JFK assassination).

Gerald Posner may be considered Mark Lane’s

polar opposite. Both are lawyers who transitioned

into authorship specializing in the lucrative genre of

investigative journalism, albeit on different sides of

the fence. In works like Code Name Zorro and others,

Lane has postured the idea that Ray could be no

more then a patsy, a role he assigned to Lee Harvey

Oswald in earlier books about the Kennedy affair.

Posner has focused his energies at poking holes in

theories linking Ray to Army Intelligence, the F.B.I.,

and other various shady individuals and groups, just

as he argued for the idea of the lone gunman in

1993’s Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the

Assassination of JFK.

On a recent week day afternoon, Rev. Lawson

graciously grantedOW a telephone interview and

reminisced about a pivotal point in our recent history

when every black public figure who didn’t “toe the

line” was assigned a “controller”, assigned to shadow

their movements (As an interesting aside, a

friend of Rev. Lawson encountered an individual at a

social function. After several minutes of polite conversation,

the man revealed that years earlier, he had

been Lawson’s controller!).

A leading theoretician of the tactics of nonviolence,

Rev. Lawson was chairman of the strike committee

that formed after black sanitation workers

went on strike for better working conditions in

Memphis, and invited Dr. King down to bring attention

to the protest and, unfortunately, an appointment

with destiny.

He confirmed preliminary research for this article

that indicated the first person to reach the fallen

civil rights advocate on that fateful day was a member

of a (militant) community organizing group.

This person was later revealed to be an undercover

police informant with possible ties to military intelligence

(and later a C.I.A. employee).

Also noteworthy are the scores of witnesses

present at the crime scene but never interviewed,

including Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young. The

catastrophic murder of an international known person

which ignited riots in most of America’s cities

from coast to coast was treated as a run of the mill

homicide and filtered through the justice system.

During the House Select Committee on

Assassinations in the mid 1970’s Rev. Lawson

declined to testify, reasoning that a closed session

(which was mandated) would merely be an opportunity

for unchecked tampering, citing the numerous

smear campaigns and other maneuverings that resulted

in a stacked deck involving those chosen to sit in

on the hearings.

Shifting through his personal recollections of the

alleged hitman, Lawson points out that Ray was a

petty criminal without a significant history of violence

(in one of the few instances where he used a

firearm, he actually shot himself in the foot!). Naive

and unsophisticated before his single brush with

notoriety, Ray used the prison complex to educate

himself, in the end achieving wisdom and an understanding

of the system that had made him an unwitting


One contemporary train of thought has the

President being merely a figurehead for the powers

that be, the seat of government too large, too consequential

to be an instrument of self-expression.

In the movie “JFK,” conspiracy theorist extraordinaire

Oliver Stone postulates that President John

Kennedy signed his own death warrant by going

against U.S. national security, which included continued

involvement in Vietnam.

Administration of a modern military expedition

(such as our current imbroglio in the Middle East)

involves billions of dollars, involves the well-being

of huge multi-national corporations, and affects the

economies of large segments of the globe.

Following this train of thought, individual lives, no

matter how powerful or prominent, must be sacrificed

for the greater good, along with irreverent concepts

of ethics and morality.

It has been said that America’s business is business.

President Dwight Eisenhower clarified this for

a modern constituency when he warned of the emergence

of a military-industrial-complex in his

Farewell Address in 1961, built on the ideas of

Marine General Smedley Butler in his brief “War is

a Racket” from 1935.

Of paramount importance is not the existence of

a legitimately elected Head of State, rather, it is the

occupancy of personage to ensure that the system

continues to run smoothly and efficiently. Intangibles

and abstract notions like equality, human rights,

virtue, and that arcane and antiquated whim called

morality must be secondary considerations at best.

Thus King’s concerns about the loss and suffering

of those conscripted to conduct armed conflict,

as well as ideas as to the fairness in how those fighting

were selected, were, and are dangerous, part of

an ugly trend that possibly started when Muhammad

Ali offered the opinion that he “got nothing against

no Viet Cong” (and not “No Vietnamese ever called

me nigger,” as has been widely quoted).

As King made his way toward Memphis, he was

feeling pressure from all sides. The growing militant

faction, if not dismissing him as an out and out

Uncle Tom, regarded him as behind the times.

His colleagues who had struggled at his side in

the trenches at the beginning of the movement felt

like he was overstepping his boundaries by meddling

in world affairs, and perhaps he was. It was one

thing to march for equal rights and the opportunity to

fully share in the privileges of American citizenship,

quite another to question the morality of an international

maneuver involving the economic prosperity

of a huge chuck of America’s (and the world’s) private

industry, not to mention the redistribution of the

country’s wealth.

Every Black soldier ought to say, ‘I am not

going to fight. This is not my war.’” –Martin Luther

King, III (his son), January 18, 1991 (on the occasion

of the US attack on Iraq in 1991)

To say that America was in a different state back

then is an understatement. Mysterious deaths involving

people in what was quaintly known as “the counterculture”

or who otherwise might be considered a

thorn in the side of the establishment were commonplace,

including that of Reuben Salazar, a journalist

who died after being hit in the head by an erratic tear

gas canister fired during a predominately Chicano

anti-war rally in East L.A., circa 1970.

Or has it changed? Nay-sayers point to circumstances

surrounding the death of journalist Danny

Casolaro (1991), judged to have committed suicide

after being discovered with his wrists slashed (after

tearing out several of his fingernails) while in the

midst of an investigation regarding improprieties

involving multi-million dollar software contracts

with links to the U.S. Government and various foreign

entities, including the ubiquitous Osama Bin

Laden and his al Qaeda cohorts (Casolaro predicted

his pending death to his brother).

Most recently witnessed was the controversy

surrounding the demise by self-inflicted gunshot

wounds (to the back of the head, no less) of Gary

Webb, notorious for allegations of tie-ins between

the American military, the Nicaraguan Contras they

backed, and the distribution of crack cocaine in the

ghettos of the U.S.

As this is being written, at least two of those

alleged to be victims of the tyranny of COINTELPRO

(Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald in California and

Marshall “Eddie” Conway in Maryland, both

accused of police killings) remain incarcerated with

over 35 years each in the penal system.

The dynamic that King faced is, needless to

say, still in place. As you read this, multi-national

conglomerate’s revenues dwarf the gross national

products of all but the wealthiest countries, and the

unequal distribution of the world’s assets will only

get worse.

Our current Chief Executive is caught in a quagmire

involving billings by defense contractor

Halliburton (among other things) the details of which

are accessible to anyone able to read a newspaper or

turn on a television. The fact that public officials are

comparatively accountable (as opposed to forty years

ago) is a sign of progress, and may be Dr. King’s

most important legacy.

On April 4, 1968, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr was

shot to death as he stood on the balcony of the

Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Retired FBI

Special Agent Arthur L. Murtagh testified before

Congress ten years later that he watched an Atlanta

Field Office agent that afternoon “jump for joy,” stating

something to the effect of “We finally got the s.o.b.”

Data covered in the contents of this article were

retrieved from the following sources:



MALCOLM X: Parts 1 through 4 by Dave Emory).

2) Target: Martin Luther King-A New Look at

America’s Most Unresolved Assassination by

Richard Goldstein January 8 – 14, 2003 The Village


3) Secrets Uncovered: J. Edgar Hoover–Passing

for White? / Millie L. McGhee Rancho Cucamonga,

Calif., Allen-Morris, 2000.

4) An Act of State: The Execution of Martin

Luther King / William F. Pepper Verso, 2003

5) The Murkin Conspiracy: An Investigation into

the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,

Phillip H. Melanson, Praeger Publishers, 1989.

6) FBI Secrets: An Agent’s Expose. M. Wesley

Swearingen South End Press, 1995.

7) Killing the Dream: James Earl Ray and the

Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr./ Gerald L.

Random House 1998.