ORDERS TO KILL -- THE TRUTH BEHIND THE MURDER OF MARTIN LUTHER KING
PART 1: BACKGROUND TO THE ASSASSINATION
Chapter 1: Vietnam: Spring 1966-Summer 1967
THIS STORY BEGINS IN VIETNAM, where I had gone as a freelance journalist in the spring of 1966.
Soon the picture became clear. Wherever I went in South Vietnam, from the southern delta to the northern boundary (I corps), U.S. carpet bombing systematically devastated the ancient, village-based rural culture, slaughtering helpless peasants. Time and again, in hospitals and refugee camps, children, barely human in appearance, their flesh having been carved into grotesque forms by napalm, described the "fire bombs" that rained from the sky onto their hamlets.
After a time in the field, I suffered a minor injury in a crash landing near Pleiku caused by ground fire. I returned to Saigon, where I went to a party held by some casual friends. I was tired and upset. For several days in the Central Highlands I had been confronted with one atrocity after another. Because I was far from a battle-hardened correspondent, I wasn't taking it very well. Soon I was approached by a young Vietnamese woman who solicited information from me. Aided by a few drinks, I expressed my disgust with the U.S. involvement in the war. The woman appeared sympathetic. After that evening, I never saw her again.
The next day I was summoned by Navy Commander Madison, the press accrediting officer, who my colleagues advised was an intelligence operative. He commented on my absence from the daily Saigon press briefings (at which the military line was disseminated) and stated that he had received reports of unacceptable remarks made by me. He advised me that my accreditation was going to be revoked.
I returned home and began to prepare articles for publication and testimony to be given before Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's Subcommittee to Investigate Problems Connected with Refugees and Escapees. My article "The Children of Vietnam" was published by Ramparts in January! 1967, during which time Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was becoming increasingly concerned over the Johnson administration. s plans to reduce its domestic antipoverty spending in order to channel more funds to the war effort.
Dr. King hadn't yet categorically broken with the White House over the issue, but soon after the Ramparts article appeared he received calls from Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Nation editor Carey McWilliams, Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas, and others, urging him to take a more forceful antiwar stand and, indeed, to even consider running as a third-party presidential candidate in 1968. I would later learn that wiretaps of the conversations in which the candidacy was discussed were relayed to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and, through him, to Lyndon Johnson.
On Saturday, January 14, King flew to Jamaica, where he had planned to work on a book about one of his most ardently held beliefs -- the idea of a guaranteed income for each adult citizen. He was accompanied by his friend and associate Bernard Lee. While having breakfast he began to read the January Ramparts. According to Lee, and also recorded by David Garrow in his historical account, Bearing the Cross  Dr. King was galvanized by my account of atrocities against civilians and the accompanying photographs. Although he had spoken out against the war before, he decided then and there to do everything in his power to stop it.
Dr. King's new commitment to oppose the war became his priority. He told black trade unionist Cleveland Robinson and longtime advisor Stanley Levison that he was prepared to break with the Johnson administration regardless of the financial consequences and even the personal peril.  He saw, as never before, the necessity of tying together the peace and civil rights movements, and soon became involved in the antiwar effort. He spoke at a forum sponsored by the Nation in Los Angeles on February 25, 1967, joined Benjamin Spock (a proposed running mate in his possible third-party candidacy) in his first anti-war march, through downtown Chicago on March 23, and began to prepare for a major address on the war to be presented at the April 15 Spring Mobilization demonstration in New York.
From the beginning of the year, he began to devote more time to the development of a new coalition. He had come to believe it was time to unite the various progressive, single-issue organizations to form a mighty force, whose power would come from increased numbers and pooled funds. The groups all opposed the war and all wanted equal rights for blacks and other minorities, but their primary concern was eliminating poverty in the wealthiest nation on earth. These common issues formed the basis of the "new politics," and the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP) was established to catalyze a nation- wide effort. I was asked to be its executive director.
Though our emphasis was on grassroots political organizing, our disgust with the "old politics," particularly as practiced by the Johnson administration, compelled the NCNP to consider developing an independent presidential candidacy. To decide on this and adopt a platform, a national convention -- to be attended by delegates from every organization for social change across the land-was scheduled for the 1967 Labor Day weekend at the Palmer House in Chicago.
In New York on Tuesday, April 4, exactly twelve months be fore his death, Dr. King addressed an audience of more than three thousand at Riverside Church and made his formal declaration of opposition to the war. He expressed his concern that his homeland, the Great Republic of old, would never again be seen to reflect for the world "the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but rather come to mirror the image of violence and militarism." He called for conscientious objection, antiwar demonstrations, political activity, and a revolution of values whereby American society would radically shift from materialism to humanism.
Response to the speech was prompt and overwhelmingly condemnatory. Old friends (such as Phil Randolph and Bayard Rustin) either refused to comment publicly or disassociated themselves from King's position. The domestic economic and civil rights progress of Lyndon Johnson was strongly supported by liberals and civil rights leaders who were loathe to alienate the president by opposing his war effort. I noted Dr. King's increasing pessimism that resulted from continued sniping from civil rights leaders like Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Whitney Young of the National Urban League. (We didn't know at the time that Wilkins was meeting and working with the FBI's assistant director, Cartha DeLoach,  throughout this period.) Even some of King's closest longstanding personal advisors were opposed to the speech. For example, it was ironic that Stanley Levison, long labeled by the FBI as the strongest "communist" influence on Dr. King, attempted in every way possible to restrain. King's efforts to oppose the war formally.
The reaction from newspaper editorials was virtually always negative. The Washington Post, the New York Times, and Life magazine joined the chorus of criticism.
During the run up to the April 15 antiwar demonstration, Dr. King and I discussed not only the effect of the U.S. war effort in Vietnam but also political strategy in general and particular details of the demonstration. Five days before the demonstration, the NAACP board of directors passed a resolution attacking King's effort to link the peace and civil rights movements. Martin said to me in a moment of frustration, "They're all going to turn against me now, but still we must press on. You and the others must not only be steadfast, but constantly so."
He and others asked me to put forward the idea of a King-Spock ticket at the demonstration. He didn't want to appear to be explicitly seeking such a nomination, for the media would certainly paint him as engaging in a self- serving quest, to the detriment of his professed calling and cause. If, on the other hand, he was pressed or drafted into the race, he could answer the call and run-not to win, but to heighten national debate and awareness.
On April 15, as Dr. King concluded his speech by calling on the government to "stop the bombing," the crowd had grown to about 250,000 cheering and chanting partisans. When I put forward the notion of a King-Spock ticket, the assembled mass exploded as one in support. For many of us the end of that demonstration marked the first step in the establishment of a "new politics" in the United States.
On April 23, 1967, as Martin and I rode together to Massachusetts to announce, with Ben Spock, the beginning of a grassroots organizing project called Vietnam Summer, a man whose name meant nothing to us at the time but whose life was to become inextricably intertwined with ours, was being helped into a bread box in the kitchen of the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. The box was loaded onto a delivery truck that would take James Earl Ray through the gates to freedom.