Gerald McKnight is the author of one my all-time favourite books, Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why, which is, for my money, the best critique of the official investigation into JFK's death ever written. So I was quite excited to come across a copy of his hard to find (in the UK anyway) 1998 book, The Last Crusade: Martin Luther King Jr., the FBI, and the Poor People's Campaign.
Man was I disappointed when I came across this passage:
“...there is nothing in the released documents to support, and persuasive evidence to reject, assertions that the FBI and the MPD conspired to assassinate King. Had Hoover and the FBI elites actually planned to neutralize King by assassination, it is reasonable to assume they would have called off their COINTELPRO campaign against him and destroyed these records once the decision was finalized. Any truly independent federal investigation into the King assassination uncovering this kind of incriminating evidence would place the FBI at the top of its list of prime suspects. It is equally untenable and baseless to imagine that the Hoover FBI, a virtually independent security state within a state that had succeeded so spectacularly over almost 50 years under the operational premise that control was the name of the game, would conspire with parties outside the bureau to kill King.” (pgs. 81-82)
When I read the above, I found myself saying out loud, “Are you serious, Jerry?” because I just don't see how the man who wrote Breach of Trust could also be responsible for writing such unmitigated nonsense. There is, in my opinion, nothing about his argument that is reasonable or logical.
Firstly, I have no idea how anyone could attempt to use Hoover's well-documented hateful campaign against Dr. King as some kind of “proof” that Hoover was not responsible for his murder. To me that's like saying you can rule out the KKK as having any involvement because they've spent a century persecuting African Americans and allegedly made numerous attempts on King's life! Seriously, does that make sense?
Secondly, despite McKnight's claim, destroying the records of its campaign would not have removed the FBI from any list of suspects. Why? Because it was never a secret anyway. Officials of the Justice Department and everyone in the SCLC knew about the surveillance and wiretaps and Hoover had been feeding his “friends” in the press derogatory information about King for years. Hell, in 1964 he publicly called Dr. King “the most notorious liar in the country.” And because it was no secret, destroying records would actually have cast more suspicion on the FBI, not less. On top of that, Hoover never had to fear being investigated because he was always going to be the investigator. He would lead the Bureau's investigation down the lone nut path and, just as they had done with the Kennedy assassination, the mainstream media would dutifully play along. And once the fix was in, the cover-up became institutional and there was never going to be a “truly independent federal investigation”. Did anyone ever seriously believe that the HSCA would find the FBI responsible for the assassination? It was never gonna happen! Not even if the bullet that Killed King had Hoover's fingerprint on it. It was always going to be a case of the fox investigating the chicken coop and Hoover was smart enough and arrogant enough to know it.
Finally, this stuff about conspiring with “parties outside the bureau”, which is presumably meant to dispel the notion of Memphis Police involvement, ignores the obvious fact that the director of the MPD, Frank Holloman, was a 25-year veteran of the FBI who, as McKnight admits, “was professionally close to Hoover, having served seven years as inspector in charge of the director's Washington office.” (p. 47) On top of that, key members of the MPD investigation like N.E. Zachary and Glynn King had attended the FBI academy. So just how far “outside the bureau” was the MPD? Not very. In fact, McKnight himself writes about their special relationship: “...relations between the FBI and the MPD resembled a textbook version of cooperation between local and federal law enforcement agencies. There appeared to be none of the instances of paranoia revolving around issues of control, refusal to share file resources, or attempts by the bureau to shoulder aside the local police and grab the headlines that historically marred relations between Hoover's agency and local police functionaries. Frank Holloman, the Memphis director of public safety, characterized this relationship as 'unique.'” (p. 46) How McKnight can provide these details and less than 40 pages later seem to completely ignore them is quite baffling to me.