Martin Luther King assassination conspiracies

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Like the Kennedy assassination, conspiracy theories have been mentioned by prominent figures regarding the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which took place on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. James Earl Ray was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 99 years imprisonment: Ray, a racist and career criminal who was already on the run from prison, had rented a room near the murder scene and his fingerprints were found on a rifle and binoculars dumped nearby.[1][2]

Various theories suggest either that King's assassin, James Earl Ray, did not act alone and was helped by a conspiracy of wealthy businessmen, organised crime, the US government (possibly the FBI), people around racist politician George Wallace, or other associates (possibly Ray's brothers), or that Ray was not the true killer, and there was another gunman. Such theories have been propounded by various prominent black civil rights leaders, including King's own family.[3]

Proponents[edit]

According to Reverend Jesse Jackson, "I have always believed that the government was part of a conspiracy, either directly or indirectly, to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," he wrote in the foreword to James Earl Ray's autobiography Who Killed Martin Luther King Jr.?

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young also believes the government was responsible for King's death. "I've always thought the FBI might be involved in some way," he said. "You have to remember this was a time when the politics of assassination was acceptable in this country. It was during the period just before Allende's murder. I think it's naïve to assume these institutions were not capable of doing the same thing at home or to say each of these deaths (King and the two Kennedys) was an isolated incident by 'a single assassin.' It was government policy."

Even Dr. King's family believes that Martin was killed as the result of a conspiracy involving government officials. Dexter King met with the man convicted of killing his father and later said he believed Ray was not the shooter.

William Pepper, a lawyer and civil rights activist who worked with King, has spent 40 years investigating the assassination and proposing conspiracies. He has suggested that FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover funneled money to organised crime figures in Memphis, and that King was shot by a police sharpshooter rather than Ray. Pepper also defended Ray in a televised mock-trial for HBO in 1993 which found Ray innocent.[3]

Ray's brother John Larry Ray (himself involved in crime including bank robbery and an attempt to assassinate a prison warder) wrote a bizarre, semi-coherent book published in 2008 which claimed James Earl Ray actually liked black people but was involved in secret government mind control experiments and manipulated by the mysterious Raul.[4][5]

Unlike the Kennedy assassination, there is less debate on how the assassination happened, such as the number of shots fired or from where: King was killed by one shot fired from a nearby rooming house. [6] However, ballistics tests on Ray's rifle proved inconclusive, which has encouraged some people to think more creatively.[1]

Is there any evidence of a conspiracy?[edit]

Conspiracy theorists often base their accusations on the assassin's contradictory confessions: Ray plead guilty to the murder in return for a guarantee from Tennessee authorities not to seek the death penalty. However, once he was sentenced to 99 years, Ray began saying he had not acted alone. Ray later claimed he had given the murder weapon to a mysterious man called Raul (or Raoul) who pulled the trigger; Raul has never been conclusively identified.[3]

Ray's attorney, Jack Kershaw, also convinced Ray to take a polygraph test as part of an interview with Playboy. The magazine said that the test results showed "that Ray did, in fact, kill Martin Luther King Jr. and that he did so alone." [7]

Ray has been linked with a large number of strange and dubious figures, any of whom may feature in conspiracy theories. He corresponded with the John Birch Society. He was an admirer of racist Alabama politician George Wallace. He consulted the hypnotist Rev. Xavier von Koss in California a few months before the assassination. There are even claims that Ray was involved with Scientology, although the Church of Scientology denies this.[8]

One legitimate question is over where James Earl Ray got his money from, including rumors that businessmen had put a large bounty on King's head or guesses that he was funded by a conspiracy. Ray spent a lot of cash stalking King prior to the assassination, including on cosmetic surgery. Then after the assassination he fled to Canada then travelled around Europe, planning an escape to one of the remaining white colonies in Africa, before being arrested in London. He was involved in petty crime for many years, including trading contraband in jail and committing small-time bank robberies, as well as working as a pornographer, and performed at least one bank robbery while on the run; so he had some sources of money although of uncertain value. Historian George McMillan estimated his total spending was around $6800, which he could have accumulated through his criminal schemes and saved up - certainly he spent a long time talking about killing King beforehand, so he had time to save, although it's hard to track his income from crime.[9] The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that Ray had financed himself in this period through criminal activity, while rejecting Ray's own claims that the mysterious Raul had paid him $7750 for two smuggling operations and as an advance on future work.[10]

The House of Representatives' Select Committee's 1979 report considered evidence that Ray was primarily motivated by money in all his actions, including his criminal history, and concluded that, despite his racism, "his predominant motive lay in an expectation of monetary gain", leading them to suspect conspiracy. However they found no evidence that Ray had actually been paid for the assassination. They were unable to identify any co-conspirators, guessing that his brothers Jerry and John would be among the most likely suspects.[10] None of this is anything like conclusive evidence.

Civil suit[edit]

A jury in a 1999 civil suit brought by the family of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decided that a retired Memphis cafe owner was part of a conspiracy in the 1968 killing of Dr. King. The family was awarded $100 which was donated to charity. [11]

References[edit]