As of February 18, we're $15,900 in the red for the quarter. Donate here to support this vital work
Subscribe here and join the 13,823 subscribers to our free weekly newsletter

The Uncensored History of The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The Uncensored History of The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The role of the army and the other cooperating government agencies in the assassination of Dr. King has been one of our nation's deepest, darkest secrets.
- Dr. William Pepper, personal friend to King and attorney for the King Family

Dear WantToKnow.info friends,

Today, we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a galvanizing moral force for equality and human rights.

What is most fascinating and rarely discussed isn't his stance on civil rights, but his willingness to speak out about the crimes and atrocities committed by covert elements within the US government.

Below, we discuss nefarious efforts by the US military, intelligence, and law enforcement machinery to harass, blackmail, discredit, and spy on Dr. King. We also reveal undeniable evidence connecting these abuses of power to his tragic assassination on April 4, 1968. Few people know about the 1999 King Family civil trial in Memphis, where it took a jury only one hour to determine that the US government was behind the assassination of King.

In sharing this important and little-known information, we draw upon the powerful words and experience of journalist and human rights lawyer Dr. William Pepper in his book The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Pepper was a personal friend to King and the attorney for the King Family. He also represented King's alleged murderer James Earl Ray, and Sirhan Sirhan in the trial for the murder of Robert Kennedy.

While the information presented here is deeply unsettling, we honor the powerful vision and faith in human goodness that shaped King's activism. Heavily influenced by the nonviolent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi who he saw as a "guiding light," King believed that truth and peace are inseparable.

Truth is rooted in a refusal to do harm with our words and actions, and a personal readiness to suffer for it. He believed that death and destruction imposed on others, no matter who they are, was an injury to all other human beings. After grieving over photographs of slaughtered Vietnamese children and the destructive use of napalm and white phosphorus on innocent Vietnamese people, he resolved to call passionate attention to harmful US war agendas in every corner of America he visited.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway of destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride towards the city of freedom. When our days become dreary, with low hovering clouds, and our nights become darker than a thousand midnight's we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

- Martin Luther King Jr.

For a brief journey into the real story behind King's murder, watch an informative, six minute video of the 1999 civil trial and how it was covered up by the media. Read the full transcript of the trial here.

With faith in a transforming world,
Amber Yang for PEERS and WantToKnow.info


King Threatens Entrenched Power

We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

For those who ask the question, "Aren't you a civil rights leader?" and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: "To save the soul of America." We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear.

- Dr. King, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence," 1967

In the last year of his life, Dr. King had plans to move into mainstream politics as a presidential candidate with pediatrician and anti-war activist Dr. Benjamin Spock. The focus was to bring people together nationwide, highlighting the importance of an anti-poverty and anti-war agenda that would radically shift American society from a "thing-oriented society" powered by weapons and machines to a person-oriented society born out of freedom and equality.

King dreamed of a global society of peace and cooperation, where the forces and conditions that give rise to war would be eliminated. He envisioned a movement that would activate a deeper consciousness in activism and politics. His position on war was a natural extension of the civil rights struggle. As King once said, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."

The hefty cost of the war required that essential social services and programs in American communities be cut, disproportionately impacting low-income people and communities of color.

In addressing freedom and inequality, he began passionately organizing the Poor People's Campaign project, which would involve a tent city of hundreds of thousands of America's most marginalized and underserved communities occupying the Washington Monument. They would remain for as long as it took Congress to take action on restoring social welfare programs.

King's actions attracted negative attention from powerful interests. They were threatened by his unifying and empowering message. These interests included politicians, government agents, oil companies, military contractors and multinational banks that all profited lavishly from the war machine and economic inequality.

When one assesses the awesome array of privately established, nongovernmental, institutional power, it is eminently reasonable to consider those in government decision-making positions as being compelled to listen to, protect, and serve the unified interest of this corporate establishment.

When business speaks with one voice, as it did in respect to the war or the purported extreme threat of war, at the time when Dr. King set himself up in opposition, the relevant government agencies and their officials became mere foot soldiers for the mighty economic interests.

Out in front during war are the armed forces and the intelligence and law enforcement communities. Not far behind are the executive, the legislative, and the judicial legitimizers, who sanction the necessary action. Following in line are the media conglomerates, who as the publicists of government policy, though posing as independent voices of the people, vigorously support and defend the official policy in those serious national security instances of significant concern to the corporate establishment.

- Dr. Pepper, excerpt from Plot To Kill King

Freedom of Information Act lawsuits and official documents from the House Select Committee report on his assassination revealed a coordinated effort within law enforcement, military and intelligence agencies to tarnish King's reputation as a civil rights activist. Convinced he was a Communist, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had a particular obsession with taking down King and the larger civil rights movement.

Following King's powerful speech "Beyond Vietnam," 168 newspapers attacked him. Hoover once told a group of reporters at a Washington news conference that King was "the most notorious liar in the country." His efforts intensified, ordering the wire-tapping of King's phone lines, bugging his home and hotel rooms, and sending informants to infiltrate his inner circle.

Scores of ranking officials and agents at the F.B.I., dozens of elected officials and several informants embedded in King's inner circles knew what was going on, and none, as far as the public records indicate, blew a whistle on the campaign.

- Excerpt from New York Times, The Man Who Knew Exactly What the F.B.I. Was Doing to Martin Luther King Jr.

Soon after Hoover began his vicious surveillance campaign against King, a blackmail letter was sent to King along with a tape allegedly recording King's extramarital affairs. According to Senate investigations in 1975, a draft of the letter was found in the files of William Sullivan, who was head of the FBI's domestic intelligence division.

The letter denounced him as a "a colossal fraud . . . and a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile ... Your 'honorary degrees,' your Nobel Prize (What a grim farce) . . . will not save you ... You are done ... There is only one thing left for you to do," the letter said. "You know what it is . . . There is but one way out . . . You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation."

In 2022, the release of previously secret FBI records revealed how government complicity in the campaign against King reached the highest levels of power. President Lyndon Johnson was briefed weekly by Hoover regarding their surveillance of King.

A Brief History of Government Surveillance of Activists

Hoover built a collection of secret intelligence on anti-war and civil rights activists, who were added to his list of "enemies of the United States." This was part of a secret FBI program, COINTELPRO, which sought to destroy lives, ruin reputations, and disrupt socially progressive organizations that challenged establishment interests.

This involved harassment, wiretapping, psychological warfare, propaganda, and calculated assassinations among other techniques. Public knowledge of COINTELPRO eventually came to light from leaked files handed to the media by a group of citizens who had found them when they broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania.

The National Security Agency (NSA) was also involved in spying on King and drawing up "watch lists" and wire-tapping phone calls of those opposing the Vietnam War. Even the intelligence branch of the United States Army spied on King and his family for three generations.

A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the Center for National Security Studies exposed a little-known CIA division known as the Office of Security (OS), which focused heavily on Dr. King during the 60s and had a strong working relationship with Hoover of the FBI.

The OS coordinated a wide range of operations. This included assassination efforts, as illustrated in a declassified government document revealing OS collaboration with organized crime in attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Operation CHAOS and Project RESISTANCE were covert CIA programs that also engaged in collecting domestic surveillance on protesters, antiwar groups, and individuals challenging official stories. On the CIA's behalf, local police departments would conduct house break-ins and covert spying in exchange for training, services, and equipment.

Inquiring Deeper Into King's Assassination

Well, they had determined that they were going to kill him because of the two issues we've just been discussing. The [Vietnam] War was a very important monetary issue for major American corporations. You know; at one point, John Downie, who was head of the military intelligence group, the 902nd Military Intelligence Group, used to brief President Johnson, on a very regular basis. And every time he would come back from Vietnam, he would brief him. And he would ask him: "Why are we there? Why are we losing blood and treasure? What's behind all of this? What is the reason for it? It doesn't make any sense." And Johnson would ignore him for the most part. And, then, finally, one day, he pounded the table; and he said: "John, I can't get out of Vietnam. My friends are making too much money."

- Excerpt from an interview with Dr. Pepper in a powerful, 1 hour interview on The Project Censored Radio Show

In the years following his death, documents related to King's murder were destroyed, and all files of FBI surveillance on King were sealed for 50 years. The official story of King's murder was that there was no CIA or FBI involvement, and that James Earl Ray was a lone racist gunman.

Yet questions lingered, especially when Ray filed a motion to withdraw his plea days after his sentence, claiming he had been framed by his attorney and the FBI. Ray never had a fair trial, and Pepper was convinced of Ray's innocence. He continued to investigate the case even after Ray died.

In 1999, Pepper and the King family filed a civil action in Memphis against a man who admitted he was involved: Loyd Jowers, owner of a restaurant near where King was assassinated. Jowers would later admit to being part of the conspiracy to kill King, and he would be found responsible for the killing, along with various government agencies.

The King v. Jowers civil trial ... went on for 30 days with some 70 witnesses. It was not covered by the media. Because of the degree of media control in matters of this sort, very few people know that trial took place. But it did. And it took a jury 59 minutes to find that James Earl Ray had no involvement, knowing involvement, in the killing."

- Excerpt from an interview with Dr. Pepper on The Project Censored Radio Show

Pepper's compelling investigation points to a conspiracy to silence King's growing criticism of the Vietnam War and his anti-poverty campaign by Hoover, elements within the military and intelligence agencies, the Memphis Police Department, and Mafia crime figures.

  • As revealed in a transcript of an ABC News PrimeTime Live program interview with Jowers, which was read to the jury in the Memphis courtroom, Jowers admitted that Ray did not kill King and that he was involved in a conspiracy. Jowers alleged the gunman was a Memphis police officer who fired from the bushes behind the grill, then handed Jowers the murder weapon. Jowers stashed the rifle behind the bar and said it was later picked up by Raul and tossed in the Mississippi River.
  • Leading up to King's assassination, Jowers revealed that a man asked him to help in King's murder, who was a Mafia-connected produce dealer named Frank Liberto. Liberto had a courier deliver $100,000 for Jowers to hold at his restaurant. The day before the murder, Jowers was visited by a man named Raul, who brought a rifle in a box.
  • Betty Spates, a waitress at his grill and girlfriend of Jowers, corroborated his story. In the civil trial, she testified that he had been delivered a large sum of money right before the assassination. Seconds after the gunshots, she saw him rush into the back of the grill through the back door with the rifle. He then wrapped the weapon in a tablecloth and hid it under the counter. He turned to her and said, "Betty, you wouldn't do anything to hurt me, would you?"
  • Testimonials from countless witnesses including King's driver and New York Times reporter Earl Caldwell described seeing the shot come from the bushes and not from the bathroom of the rooming house as the official story states. A witness testified that she heard a fireman announce to the police that "The shot came from that clump of bushes," indicating the heavily overgrown brushy area facing the Lorraine and adjacent to Fire Station 2. The next morning, Memphis public works employees cut down the bushes and destroyed a "possible crime scene."
  • Usual special body guards provided by the Memphis police were advised they "weren't needed" on the day of the assassination. Dr. King's room was also changed from a secure 1st-floor room to an exposed balcony room. Along with sanitizing a crime scene, police abandoned the standard investigative procedure of interviewing witnesses who lived by the scene of the shooting.
  • Testimony by ballistics expert and Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown established that the rifle in evidence was not the murder weapon, as it did not match to the bullet that killed King. Ballistics tests could not prove that the rifle, a Remington .30-06 Gamemaster, either did or didn't fire the fatal shot.

[King] was shot from the bushes in the back of the rooming house by a Memphis police department sharp shooter. He was hit in the face and went down and lost consciousness. He was, however, alive.

He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital. He was in the emergency room. They were working on him in the emergency room. The chief of neurosurgery, a head neurosurgeon, a doctor named Breen Bland, who was also the family doctor for the Dixie Mafia family, the Adkins family, came in with two men in suits and told the people: "Stop working on that nigger. Get out and just let him die."

The last one to leave the room was a surgical nurse. Her name was Shelby. And, as she was leaving, she heard them gathering spit up in their mouths like this. And that caught her attention.So, she turned around, looked over; and then she saw them spit on the body of Dr. King, saw Dr. Bland pull out the catheter, and take a pillow, put the pillow over his face and suffocate him.

- Excerpt from an interview with Dr. Pepper on The Project Censored Radio Show about the 1999 civil trial

Military Involvement in King's Assassination

Not only did the civil trial reveal that a Memphis Police officer fired the fatal shot, but two Special Forces military snipers were sent as back-ups if the primary shooter failed.

Pepper eventually tracked down these two Special Forces snipers, who he named as Murphy and Warren. Their cooperation was dependent on remaining anonymous. Warren and Murphy were both active in covert Special Operation Group (SOG) missions in Vietnam. Throughout 1967, they were involved in the highly secretive 902nd Military Intelligence Group (MIG) operations, which was run by Colonel John Downie, Lyndon Johnson's former Vietnam briefer.

As members of small "Alpha team" units for the 902nd MIG, Murphy and Warren were deployed in cities where violence was breaking out. They were issued photographs and personal information of black radical activists who were designated as targets to be "taken out" if a disruption or riot broke out.

Warren and Murphy would then participate in a Memphis Special Forces training team in civilian disguise, positioned to shoot King on top of the nearby Illinois Central Railroad Building. The two men told Pepper that their commander's "pep talk" involved showing pictures of King and Reverend Andrew Young, who was with King in Memphis. It was stressed to Warren and Murphy that these men were enemies of the US and had plans to bring down the government, which would result in catastrophic results for cities if their plans were executed.

To get more information about the 902nd MIG, Pepper tracked down Steve Tompkins, an investigative reporter who spent 18 months researching the role of army intelligence in surveying and infiltrating black organizations and civil rights groups.

It was asserted in the 1972 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights led by Senator Sam Ervin that army surveillance in the 60s and 70s was "massive and unrestrained." Ervin had condemned the military for their regular practice of infiltrating and spying on US activist groups, finding that their surveillance was both "unauthorized and in violation of the first amendment."

In 1996, Tompkins received a phone call from Colonel Downie, who found Pepper's research on the King assassination in his first book Orders to Kill "remarkably accurate," yet felt that he gave Downie too much responsibility for the operation. Downie described himself as "an officer in a chain of command following orders."

Colonel Downie, refusing to meet with Pepper, agreed to meet with Tompkins. Downie confirmed he played a key role in coordinating the military units in Memphis during the week leading up to and on King's assassination. He also admitted that Ray was one of many people used as "patsies" in various covert operations. By the summer of 1997, Colonel Downie had disappeared.

We learned that the 902nd MIG was involved in a clandestine joint venture operation with Carlos Marcello's Mafia family, whereby stolen weapons from US military bases, camps, and arsenals were delivered to Marcello's property, loaded onto barges, and shipped to the Gulf at Houston, where they were off-loaded, repackaged, and sold to right-wing forces in Latin and South America. The profits were split 50-50 between the 902nd and the mob, with the 902nd using the profits to fund further black operations. This particular operation, the assassination of Dr. King, was ... confirmed by two members of the Alpha 184 sniper team.

- Excerpt from Plot to Kill King

King's Legacy

Many questions remain unanswered about the nature of the money, players, and motives behind the King assassination. His murder raises important questions about the deeper forces undermining meaningful efforts to radically transform society for the greater good. May the information presented here serve as a sobering reminder of the dangers of unchecked power, especially of the very forces within government for whom we put our faith in to uphold America's greatest interests.

Despite these stark realities, King remains a powerful moral voice for our times in the wake of the endless US war machine that continues to fuel conflict and destruction worldwide.

Now, what kind of man was he? A man of enormous courage. No matter how much money it cost him, no matter how much his life became increasingly in danger, he stood firm on behalf of values, that he thought were essential human values. And he thought: to be silent in the face of this type of criminality, war criminality in particular, was in fact, unconscionable. So, he was a man of enormous courage, depth, and integrity, and determined to have an impact on the structure of American democracy.

- Dr. Pepper

In these challenging times, there are many reasons for grief, confusion, and rage. King wrote about these related concerns in his final book Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos Or Community. He asserted that humankind has the resources and technology to overcome oppression and corruption.

King felt that our best hope for a durable future beyond the harms and abuses of our world must be rooted in the Greek concept of agape, a social concept that sustained him throughout his career. Agape is a moral imperative defined by King as an "understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all." It is the willingness to go to any length to restore community. In Chaos or Community, he calls on the "creative dissenters who will call our beloved nation to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humanness."

As a practitioner in nonviolence, he carried a deep faith in the future. His struggle for justice was accompanied by what he called a cosmic, creative force integrating the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole.

May we lead with the courage that King gracefully and fiercely role modeled for us, freeing ourselves from excessive fear and transforming "us" vs. "them" in thought and action as we work for the well-being of all.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
- Dr. King


Your financial support makes a difference. Donate here.

Learn more about our work at WantToKnow.info

Our site serves as a research tool and comprehensive archive for educating the public on deep government and corporate corruption. We offer whistleblower reports, declassified government documents, online books and videos, and educational courses on important topics avoided by the mainstream.

Finding Balance: WantToKnow.info Inspiration Center

Our Inspiration Center seeks to catalyze new connections and meaningful community action for systemic change. We've summarized over 3,000 inspiring news articles since the beginning of our organization in 2003, focusing on solutions, bridging divides, and unique human stories.

Explore the mind and heart expanding websites managed by the nonprofit PEERS network:
www.peerservice.org - PEERS websites: Spreading inspiration, education, & empowerment
www.momentoflove.org - Every person in the world has a heart
www.personalgrowthcourses.net - Dynamic online courses powerfully expand your horizons
www.WantToKnow.info - Reliable, verifiable information on major cover-ups
www.weboflove.org - Strengthening the Web of Love that interconnects us all

Subscribe here to the WantToKnow.info email list (two messages a week)