Against the Grain Presents Dr. Immanuel Wallerstein On the End of Capitalism


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LUMPENPROLETARIATGONZO:  As Lumpenproletariat readers may recall, your author earned his Economics BA from the pluralistic/heterodox economics department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  Those years of study included a course on the History of Economic Thought, for which your author’s thesis paper addressed “Theories of Capitalist Imperialism”.  And included therein were some of the more prominent theorists to address this topic, such as Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg, Hobson, et al., which included the world-systems approach to capitalist imperialism, or centre-periphery model, developed by sociologist Dr. Immanuel Wallerstein, for example, in The Modern World System (1974). [1]

Dr. Wallerstein, a Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is a name, of which many listeners of free speech radio (and TV) may be aware, especially on free speech radio’s Against the Grain, where he’s been a recurring guest over the years of the show’s existence.  On today’s edition of Against the Grain, Dr. Immanuel Wallerstein returned to discuss various aspects of the capitalist mode of production, including its global and cyclical dimensions, in an interesting discussion about the possible scenarios, whether emancipatory or enslaving, which might succeed the end of capitalism.  Listen (and/or download) here. [2]



[Working draft transcript by Messina for Against the Grain and Lumpenproletariat]

AGAINST THE GRAIN—[12 APR 2017]  [KPFA community announcement for a KPFA-sponsored book event for The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez hosted by Project Censored’s Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College educator)]

[KPFA station identification]

[Against the Grain theme music]

“Today on Against the Grain:  Our capitalist world seems mired in crisis, beset by low growth and instability.  Immanuel Wallerstein argues that the current malaise goes beyond the periodic fluctuations of the business cycle.  According to him, capitalism’s days are numbered.  In 20 to 40 years, it will be gone, he says.  What replaces it may be something better, or something worse.

“I’m Sasha Lilley.  Wallerstein will join me today to talk about the end of capitalism as well as resistance to [President] Donald Trump and the recent attack on Syria.  That’s after these [KPFA] News Headlines with Aileen Alfandary.”

[KPFA News Headlines (read by Aileen Alfandary) omitted by scribe]  (c. 5:35)

SASHA LILLEY:  “From the studios of KPFA in Berkeley, California, this is Against the Grain on Pacifica Radio.  I’m Sasha Lilley.

“Capitalism appears to be a permanent fixture in our world.  As chaotic and unequal as it is.  We are told that there is no alternative to it and any attempts to get rid of it will end badly.  But my guest today argues that in the next to two to four decades, capitalism will be gone.  What replaces it has everything to do with the strength of the forces of right and left.  To talk about the end of capitalism, I’m joined by sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein.  He’s the father of world-systems analysis and Senior Research Scholar at Yale University.  His many books include the multi-volume Modern World System [1974].  And he’s contributor to the recent work, Does Capitalism Have a Future? [2013].

“Immanuel, let’s talk about where we got to where we are now.  It’s so easy to focus on the particulars of [President] Trump in the American context.  But far-right, quasi-populist politics have found significant support elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe.  What were the forces, that took us to this place?  What has risen?  And what has been displaced?”  (c. 7:12)

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “We, all of us, have been operating within the framework of what I call the modern world system, which is a capitalist world economy and has been in existence for 400 to 500 years.  It was originally in a relatively small part of the world, west and northern Europe and parts of the Americas.  It expanded by its internal processes until it englobed the entire Earth.

“That structure is the structure, which was the basis of our lives and within which we operated.  It was a historical system, meaning—by system—that it’s something that is stable and repetitious and—historical—meaning it changes at every mini-second.  So, that’s a—it’s not a contradiction.  It’s a reality.  You have to take that reality and live with it.

“Now, like all systems, whether we’re talking of the universe as a whole or the most micro-system, that you can think of, it has a life.  It comes into existence.  It has a—what I think of as its—normal life.  And, because of its internal processes, it comes to a point where it can no longer operate and renew itself in its proper way.  And, then, we call that a structural crisis.  And a structural crisis is not a crisis of a second.  It’s a crisis of quite a long time.  (c. 9:10)

“And, when you’re in a structural crisis of the world-system, which is what we are in, there’s a bifurcation.  By a bifurcation, what, technically, physicists mean by a bifurcation is that there are two solutions to the same equation, something theoretically impossible, but in fact occurs.  And it makes it a fork.  You can move in one direction or the other direction.  And, while at one—you can’t know, which way the thing will end up going.  You can, in fact, affect it enormously.  So, that’s where we are.  We’re in a structural crisis of the modern world-system.

“A structural crisis of a modern world-system is, by definition, highly chaotic.  By chaotic, you mean that it swings wildly in all directions—alright?—at all times.  So, that’s extremely confusing.  And people don’t know how to handle it.  But they do, one way or the other. (c. 10:20)

“Now, people are talking about the neoliberal effects and the, shall we say, the, uh, right-wing populism, etcetera.  All that are responses, modes of responding, to this crisis, how people handle it in various ways.  And this crisis, however, poses itself as a struggle, as a struggle between people, who would like to move the hand, who would like to strengthen one prong of the outcome.

“So, what are the prongs?  And I created names for them.  But names are unimportant.  For me, one is the spirit of Davos.  And one is the spirit of Porto Alegre.  And what do I mean by that?  The spirit of Davos are those people, who have accepted the reality that capitalism no longer works for capitalists and want to replace it with another system, which has all the worst features of capitalism, and perhaps could be even worse than capitalism.  Right?  That’s the spirit of Davos.  And the spirit of Porto Alegre is the spirit of those people, who would like a system, that has never existed in the history of the world, which is one that is relatively egalitarian and relatively democratic.

“So, there we are.  We are pushing in two different directions [i.e., left and right].  Now, when people talk of what to do about it, what I say to them is, of course, you do those things, which will push you in many ways in the direction of the spirit of Port Alegre.

“The problem is even more confusing than that because, in each of these two prongs, there are two versions of what you do.  In the spirit of Davos, one version is the way powerful people could handle this challenge is to hit the others over the head and to hit them as hard as possible.  And they will quiet down. And we will have our way.  And there’s another group, who says: That won’t work because, when people are hit over the head, they resist even more. And what you have to do is you to follow the path of di Lampedusa in—what was the name of his book?”

SASHA LILLEY:  “The Leopard?”

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “Of course.  The protagonist says to his very conservative grandfather: We must change everything in order that nothing change.  Right?  So, you have to persuade people that they are changing when they are not really changing. [3]  So, there’s already there—they are split.

“And, on the side of the spirit of Porto Alegre, there are those, who say, what we have to do is create a situation, in which everybody does their own thing and tries to listen to each other.  It’s called horizontalism. [4]  Right?  And, because, if you have a vertical structure with control, you are in fact not going to change the system.  That’s the horizontalist.  And the verticalist says:  That’s very well. That’s all well and good. But, in fact, at that point, you’ll be hit over the head by those other guys. And you won’t get anywhere. [5]

“So, instead of two positions, we have four positions.  And that’s even more confusing.  And, then—”


DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “So, today, some people are saying: Well, what we should do is resist.  Now, I’m all for resistance.  But what does it mean to resist?  You see.” [6] (c. 14:48)

SASHA LILLEY:  “Indeed.  And I wanna ask you more about the conundrum.  And you’re describing it from above and from below.  So, getting into this moment of crisis and what comes out of the crisis and the contending ideas—let’s just say—on the left and on the right, for that moment.”

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “I’m more than happy to say the left and the right.  I have no trouble with that.”

SASHA LILLEY:  “Alright. [chuckles]  But let me talk to you, before we get to those competing forces and questions.  Let’s talk about the nature of that crisis.  So, you’re not talking about a crisis, that developed over the last couple years.  You’re talking about something deeper.  And I wondered if you could tell us when you see the crisis of the modern world-system beginning.  And, what’s the nature of the crisis?  You alluded to it.  You said that the conditions for the renewal of the system have been impeded in some way.”

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “Well, the way that the system got renewed always is that, uh—how shall I say?—it operated in terms of cyclical rhythms, that went up and down, except that’s how we think of them.  But, in fact, if you look at it carefully, they went up and then level, and then up, and then level.  Okay?

“Well, if you do that, and you begin to measure what’s happening, at a certain point, you get pretty close to the top.  You go up and level, and up and level.  If the, uh, if the vertical axis is a percentage of something—for example, a percentage of people, who are earning wage labour, or so forth—and you go up and level, then, you get to a point where you can’t go up anymore because you’re approaching the asymptote.  And it seems the estimate of people, who do these analyses, is that when you reach about about the 80 percent point you begin to shake. [laughs]  And, when you begin to shake, instead of—how shall I say?—a big change resulting in very—a big thrust resulting in very little change, it becomes a little change results in very big change.  Okay?

“So, what basically happened is that the mechanisms, which enabled a capitalist to make their profits have reached this point of shaking.  And they aren’t guaranteed any longer the possibility of profits.  Or they’re not guaranteed the perspective of making more.  And, therefore, they—most people think that a crisis, like this, is only because the people on the bottom are unhappy.  The people on the bottom have always been unhappy—”

SASHA LILLEY[soft chuckle, like a sigh]

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “—so to speak.  What’s added to that is that the people on top are unhappy as well.  That’s new.  That’s the crisis.  That caused the crisis.  When did this—I date it from the, um, early 1970s onward, more or less, as this period in which we are in, in this—what I call in one of my books—hell on Earth because it’s so devastating. [7]  We don’t know what is going to happen in the short run, in the middle run, and so forth.  And we find ourselves extremely frustrated by the—how shall I say?—the wild swings, that occur?”

SASHA LILLEY:  “Now, is this unhappiness from top evenly distributed around the world-system?”


SASHA LILLEY:  “That is are the—”


SASHA LILLEY:  “—conditions of reproduction in capitalism—”


SASHA LILLEY:  “—equally a problem?”  (c. 19:05)

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “But capitalism has always been a world-system.  It’s never—the idea that capitalism exists in a [separate] country is a mad idea.  It has no reality whatsoever.  So, if I am a capitalist located in country X, my inputs and my potential sales are calculated in terms of the world-system as a whole.  Right?

“So, um, when you say: Is it all evenly distributed?  The negative effects may be greater or less in one part or another; but in terms of the system, as a whole, it’s the people on top, who are not able to make the kinds of, be assured of the kinds of, profits, that they look for and, therefore, look for alternatives, alternative ways of retaining the kind of unequal income, that they profited from for several hundred years.  And that’s where we are.”  (c. 20:15)

SASHA LILLEY:  “The programme is Against the Grain on Pacifica Radio.  My name is Sasha Lilley.  And, today, I’m speaking with renowned sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein.

“So, in terms of thinking about how we got to this moment and the forces, that have produced this crisis—and I do wanna talk to you more about thinking ahead beyond this moment.  But, just staying with this moment, you were talking about different, um, cycles, that take place, and the intrinsic problems, that happen along the course of the cycle.  And I wanted to ask you more about that.

“How should we think of history moving in cycles?  What constitute these cycles?  And I know that you write about more than one kind of cycle.  How should someone, who hasn’t thought of any of this in cyclical terms, understand what may seem like a whole lot of economic chaos as being cyclical?”  (c. 21:12)

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “Well, all of life is a series of cycles.  It’s just a question of which are the sort of most important ones, or that have the most effect on our lives.  But, you know, think of it as breathing.  You breathe in.  You breathe out.  You breathe in.  And you breathe out.  There’s no way of not having a cycle, in that sense.  The question is what happens when you breathe out, as opposed to when you breathe in, and so forth.  So, that’s the idea of having this [set(?)].

“So, there are some things in which we put a great deal of effort.  Uh, we have cycles, that have to do with the economy.  They have a name, too.  They’re called Kondratiev cycles.  Right?  And what seems to happen is that the economy expands steadily for, roughly, 25, 30 years.  And, then, it can’t expand anymore.  [8]  Why?  Because the way the economy expands in a capitalist system is you have relative monopolies.  You can’t make money, if you don’t have a relative monopoly. [9]  But relative monopolies are self-liquidating for a whole series of reasons.  One reason is: If you have a good thing going, then other people wanna get in on it.  And there are various ways of getting in on it.  And, if enough of them get in on it, [laughs] then, they’re no longer as profitable as they once were.  And that’s when you have to pull back.  And all I’m saying is that when you pull back for various reasons you don’t pull all the way back because it’s—the resistance to pulling back also exists.  So, the compromise is to be more or less stable for another 25, 30, 40—these numbers are arbitrary.  But they’re real.  I mean we can measure Kondratievs over 500 years and see that the A phase and B phase, the expansion and the contraction phase have been, on the whole, 50 to 60 years combined—okay?—until they reach the point that they can no longer operate.  So, that’s one major cycle.

And a second major cycle is the geopolitical cycle.  One of the important things about capitalism as a system is you need a kind of relative stability in the geopolitics of the world system in order that people can create those monopolies. [10]  So, in order to create a monopoly in the economic sphere, you have to create a monopoly of geopolitical power.  Those are even harder to create.  But we’ve had, in my view, three of them, historically, which I can name in terms of the zone that was on top of the system at a given point was, first, the United Provinces, which is what we now call the Kingdom of the Netherlands or the Netherlands, plus Belgium. And, then, there’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  And, then, there was the United States—always United.  But that’s a small point.  (c. 25:23)

“And what happened is, after the Second World War, after 1945, we entered into the most extensive monopoly Kondratiev cycle, that we had ever had, so that it went further up and more extensively than prior to that.  And, at the same time, it was the high point of the geopolitical cycle with the U.S. as the dominant power.  Now, what happens is, therefore, that we have the biggest of each of these.  And they both begin their downturn circa the 1970s.  So, it’s the biggest.  And, then, it’s the biggest difficulty.

“And that’s how we enter in this situation in which we are today and which we don’t know the outcome—intrinsically impossible to predict the outcome because it is a function of an infinity of many micro-actions, um, and micro-moments at micro-levels.  Right?  But we can’t predict.  But because it’s, uh—how shall I say?—so chaotic, we can affect it because during the normal previous couple hundred years is what would happen is we would put in enormous social energy into changing things.  And very little would happen.  I usually use, as my examples, both, the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution.

“The French Revolution was an incredible input of effort to change the system.  And, if you just look at it, in terms of where we are, not in 1789, but in 1850 or 1873, we had basically moved back considerably, so that the change, the real change was very little—the same with the Russian Revolution, an immense input.  And, when you look at it, in 1970 or so, and you say: How much has really changed?  It turns out that very little has actually changed.”   (c. 28:04)

SASHA LILLEY:  “So, what you are suggesting, if I understand you correctly, is that although there are these cycles, that we can see over periods of time, that these don’t necessarily, then, predetermine the kinds of changes, that happen at these junctures.”

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “Absolutely.  They don’t predetermine it at all.  They just predetermine the fact that we are in a crisis where every mini-action affects us.  And that’s what brings us, then, to resist.  Right?

“The concept of resist is a concept, that says: Oh, goodness, these right-wing forces are basically strong everywhere, in my country and in other countries and so forth. And they are reinforcing one another. What can we do about it?  And the answer is: Resist!

“But resistance—also, there’s a problem with resist.

“It’s a question of temporality.  There’s what I call a short-run and a middle-run.  It turns out that people think, live in the short-run.  We have to eat every day.  We have to sleep every day.  Right?  We have to survive every day.  So, we’re very concerned with what happens today.  And today is, maybe, a maximum of three years.

“A capitalist entrepreneur who tries to—who invests his money, he has a perspective.  His perspective is: Can I make my basic money back within three years? Otherwise, who knows? I can’t predict further than that. If I can’t expect to make it back in three years, I’m not gonna invest.  Okay?

“So, what is happening is that people have to worry about the short term.  And a movement, that attempts to move them, cannot ignore these things.  So, they have to do things, that will help people in the short-run.  I call that minimising the pain. [11]  You can try to pass a bill through a legislature.  You  can try.  There are all kinds of ways, in which you can try to move things in the short-run.  And you can succeed, perhaps.  You can minimise the pain by increasing the amount of [income] redistribution here or there.  But minimising the pain is not transforming the system.  That’s the point to remember.  Minimising the pain is minimising the pain.  And it’s a good thing to do.  But it isn’t changing the system.  And changing the system requires a kind of—minimising the pain requires compromises with all sorts of people—a lesser evil kind of idea.  (c. 31:28)

“But the medium term, when transforming the system, requires quite the opposite.  It requires saying: You’ve got to move in this direction. There’s no compromise with the other direction.

“So, that’s again the problem of the movements, of resisting.  Are they thinking about the short-term?  Or are they thinking about the middle term?  Or do they know how to think about them, both, simultaneously?  Well, it ain’t easy.  That’s the real point.

“None of this is easy.  Right?  And we all make mistakes all over the place.  Looking back on what we’ve done a hundred years from now, people will look and say: My god, why did they do X? That was so stupid. We should’ve done Y.  Yeah.  But that’s a hundred years from now, looking back.  And we’re in the middle of it.  So, we can make mistakes all over the place.  And all I can say is: Try your best. Do what you can. Resist by minimising the pain. Resist by not compromising with the other side whatsoever. And hope.

“It’s, in effect, you hope that all of this adds up because what happens with the bifurcation is, at one point or another, enough forces are on one side rather than the other, so that it tilts.  And that side becomes the new system.”  (c. 33:00)

SASHA LILLEY:  “That’s the voice of sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein.  We’ll take a music break and be back with him.”

[Music break: vintage musical recording of 1940s-ish cabaret music in non-English language]

SASHA LILLEY:  “You’re listening to Against the Grain.  I’m Sasha Lilley.  And, today, I am speaking with sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein.  His many books include the multi-volume Modern World-System. He’s Senior Research Scholar at Yale University.  And my name is Sasha Lilley.

“So, we were talking about—you’ve been talking about your prediction that in 20 to 40 years, approximately, from now the crisis, that we’re already in, the crisis that the modern system is going to come to a head in some way.  And, in a sense, echoing Rosa Luxemburg‘s notion of socialism or barbarism, it could either go in a positive anti-capitalist direction or a very negative direction, that would be not capitalism, but potentially something worse. [12]  What does that bleakest option, how might you envisage that looking?  The worst-case scenario.” (c. 35:06)

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “The worst-case scenario.  I think the worst-case scenario is we have a new system, which is inegalitarian and undemocratic, but which is—how shall I say?—solidly based, begins ts own process of whatever rules they set up.  The normal period of a system is the system operating by the rules they invent.  Right?  And you can’t know what all the rules are.  You can’t predict what all the rules are, that they will invent.  For example, I often say: Look, suppose we were sitting around a table in the year 1500 and we said to each other: Boy, this feudal system in western Europe is coming to an end for X, Y, and Z reasons. So, let’s create a new one. We’ll call it capitalism. And here are the kinds of institutions, which we’ll need to set up.

“Do you really think that anybody sitting in 1450 or 1500 could imagine all the structures, that would get created.  And the answer is, of course, obviously not because these structures come into existence in the process of the operation of the system.  So, if you ask me what the system will look like, I can’t tell you.  I can only tell you whether it tends to be inegalitarian, hierarchical, polarising—that’s what we now have or we’re coming out of—or whether it’s relatively egalitarian and relatively democratic.  Again, I say relatively because nothing is perfectly anything.  But we can do a lot better than we’ve ever done before.

“And I wanna emphasise that there’s never been a case; none of these so-called past socialist, or blah blah, systems of various kinds were in fact relatively egalitarian or relatively democratic.  So, it isn’t a question of sort of trying to revive one of those systems.  It’s trying to create a system, which the world has never known, but is theoretically possible.”  (c. 37:40)

SASHA LILLEY:  “Would you think of the worst-case scenario and, perhaps, not the worst-case scenario—I’m not sure—as both being forms of class society?  Would it be fair to say the bleakest option of all would be some form of class society?  Just not this one?  And the other form would be—”


SASHA LILLEY:  “—would transcend that?”

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “They would be a class society, of course, but in the sense that they would be hierarchical—right?—and they would be exploitative.  And they would be polarising, so they would get worse and worse as time goes on.  So, you wanna call that a class society, I’m perfectly happy with the language.  But, as long as we know what we’re talking about.

“The problem with all our languages is they’re all so laden over with historical usages that almost always I have to wonder, when somebody says something to me, what they mean by it.  And I have to try to read into, or—how shall I say?—figure out what people mean by using a word like class society.  But I have no objection to it.  I would call that a class society.  Sure.”

SASHA LILLEY:  “So, what would be crucially different, then, just staying with the most sort of odious possibility for how society might go coming out of this crisis, how the world-system might go?  What would not continue?  I mean you talked about hierarchy and polarisation and exploitation, which are all hallmarks of capitalism.  But there, obviously, have been societies, that have been hierarchical and exploitative, that haven’t been capitalist, obviously.  And you’ve written that you see capitalism as a system of accumulation without end.  Is that what would be fundamentally changed in a society, that was—let’s just say—highly reactionary, but not capitalist?”  (c. 39:39)

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “That’s an interesting question.  I’m not sure I know the answer to that.

“The endless accumulation of capital is my defining feature of a capitalist system. [13]  So, if you had a non-capitalist system, that was nonetheless exploitative and so forth, would they center around the endless accumulation of capital?  They might not.  They might not.

“I can’t know exactly how they would organise things, except that they would organise it, such that the outcome was exploitation; the outcome was hierarchy.  But, structurally, whether—I would doubt it, as a matter of fact because I think that’s a defining feature of the capitalist system.  It would not necessarily be the defining feature of another kind of awful system.”

SASHA LILLEY:  “But you’re, of course, also arguing that this is not the only way things could go, and that there is an opening, a possibility, of moving beyond capitalism in a more—”


SASHA LILLEY:  “—egalitarian way.  Now, I know that you’ve just said we can’t look into a crystal ball and picture a society, that goes entirely beyond whatever we’ve experienced.  But do you have—when you suggest that there’s this sort of Porto Alegre avenue—let’s just say.  At its base, are there things, that you imagine would be essential in terms of getting beyond capitalism?”  (c. 41:28)

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “Well, you know, I kind of believe in the human imagination.  And what that kind of situation would do would be to release the human imagination to thinking about how they could maintain a system, maintain it as relatively egalitarian and relatively democratic because there would always be people within it, who would try to undo that.  And [pause]—you know, they speak in, especially in Latin America, they speak of buen vivir, which is itself a translation of an Amara word and of a Quechua word.  And it means to live well.  But what does that mean in English?  It doesn’t mean anything per se.  But what they try to mean by it is that there would be some kind of human interaction of people, that would try to see what way we could choose something, that would end up being more egalitarian or more democratic, so that it would require a constant kind of discussion, that would not rule out possibilities.

“This is if the spirit of Porto Alegre wins.  So, I see it as an open society, as one, that permits you to think of new possibilities all the time, present them to others, amend them, uh, and release your imagination.  I think that’s very important as an idea, which you find very strongly argued by somebody like Ilya Prigogine [pronounced: eel-yuh preego-zheen], in terms of the structure of the world, that could be made, could be created.”  (c. 43:56)

SASHA LILLEY:  “Well, I realise, then, sort of pushing you to take the very long view with some of these questions.  But you have mentioned, and have written, that capitalism is a system and, hence, has a beginning but also an end.  But, thinking about life beyond capitalism, and thinking about the more egalitarian path beyond capitalism, should we also think about whatever comes next as also having a life cycle?”

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “Well, you know, it’s quite—in a sense, any system has a life cycle, by definition.  Right?  Any system has a life cycle.  But, um, I do know someone, who argues that we are going to move into a roughly egalitarian one.  And that, after about 500 years, we will move—he sees a cycle of moving between these two, back and forth.  I’m not ready to say that.  I’m not ready to say that.  I don’t know that.  That’s—how shall I say?—he has a cyclical process beyond my cyclical process.  Okay?  And, um, he may be right.  He may be right.  Or he may be wrong. [laughs]”  (c. 45:25)

SASHA LILLEY:  “[soft chuckle]

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “I, I’m not trying to be evasive.  I’m trying to give people a realistic idea of what their options are and what their best choices are in a difficult situation.”

SASHA LILLEY:  “Immanuel Wallerstein is my guest.  He is the noted sociologist.  Amongst his many books, he is a contributor to Does Capitalism Have a Future?  I’m Sasha Lilley.  And you’re listening to Against the Grain on Pacifica Radio.

“I was wondering if you think there lies any danger in making grand predictions about the future, including that capitalism will be replaced by something worse or better in 20 to 40 years. [14]  Are there pitfalls in doing so, especially if the prediction doesn’t, you know, end up coming to pass?”

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “There is a danger.  The danger is that people will think it’s hopeless.  And they will retreat into a shell, in a sense; and they will not be active.  And, by not being active and not resisting, either in the short-run or the middle-run, they more or less guarantee, in a sense, that the other side will win.

“So, I do worry that anything, that I say will persuade people that they will reduce their willingness to push in the right direction.  And, um, well, you know, it’s—there’s also the danger, um, that—how shall I say?—my arguments can be used against me by people, who are not on my side.

“Um, and, uh, I’ve been told: They are now quoting you to say, we are right and so forth.

“So, yes, it’s a danger.  And, yes, I worry about it.  And, yes, I do what I can.  In the end, I do what I can.  And I’m urging everybody to do what they can.”  (c. 48:02)

SASHA LILLEY:  “Well, um, in the time, that we have remaining, let’s talk about that struggle to fight, in essence, the good fight to influence things in one direction, rather than another in the midst of crisis.

“To what degree does how we understand the world, to what degree is that the terrain of struggle?

“In thinking about particularly the forces of the left, if you wanna call it that, or radicalism, there has been in many quarters a real rejection of the universalisms of the left of the past and, in many ways, a focus on the particular against such a thing.  And I wonder if that turn leaves us in any way in any kind of quandary and, particularly, in terms of the kind of struggle, that you’re talking about.  To influence the direction that things go in in the future, obviously, is a tremendous struggle.”


SASHA LILLEY:  “And does that need some kind of way of unifying people beyond the particular?”

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “Well, you know, I respond to that kind of question the way I respond to a lot of other questions, which is the impossible is the most possible.

“The impossible is to be simultaneously universalist and particularist, as it’s—the impossible is to be, both, structural and historic.  And we have to learn how to do that, as that is not easy.  Uh, [pause] I can only again say: Of course, you have to be—the simplistic universalisms were part of the dominant intellectual structure of the capitalist world-system, the binary splits, that all sorts of people in the last 20, 30 years have been denouncing.  They’re right.

“To go to the other extreme and say, therefore, always be particularist.  There’s no end to that.  If you’re a particularist, your particularisms are within the particularisms within the particularisms.  And, at the end, you’re left with absolutely nothing.  If you follow particularism to the end of the stream, everything is disintegrated.  And, so, it’s helpless.  And, then, the other side can just walk in.

“So, how can you be, both, universalist—that is to say analytic; okay?; which I’m trying to be—and take into account particularisms, which I’m trying to do, both, in the short-run and in the middle-run?  Right?

“And, uh, again, let me say it’s not easy. [chuckles softly]”  (c. 51:21)

SASHA LILLEY:  “Let me end by asking you about this particular moment, that we happen to be in.

“You’ve been stressing a much longer view and the culmination of forces over a longer span of time.  But we do find ourselves in a moment, where the far-right is in power in this country.  And much has been discredited, yet, in terms of what replaces what’s been discredited, it’s still very up in the air.

“Do you see that there are openings right now, both, in terms of domestic politics in the United States and, then, also the question of U.S. imperial ambitions, which were sort of on display recently with Trump’s attack on Syria, which was sort of a fascinating moment because, over course, some people have held on to the hope of a silver lining with far-right populist, kind of, isolationism against the hawkishness of Clinton.

“And it seems like we now—”

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “I, I wouldn’t give up the silver lining yet.”

SASHA LILLEY:  “—have the worst of all possible worlds.

“You don’t think so?”

DR. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN:  “No.  I think we have a [unintelligible]—look, we have a man in power named Donald G. Trump—or G.  Is it G?  I’ve forgotten.  J. Trump.  Anyway, Donald Trump, who had the astuteness to combine being the head of a social movement and being the candidate of a political party.  Basically, his power has resided in combining the two, which no one ever did before, or never successfully.

“Now, that he is the President of the United States, with all the technical power that that gives him meant control of various things, like armies and so forth.  He still wants to be the head of a social movement because his power in the United States comes not from being President of the United States or the head of the Republican Party.  His power comes from the fact that he has a movement, which is behind him, which follows him, or seems to follow him for the time being no matter what he does.  I mean he, himself, said I could shoot somebody on Broadway—or what was it? I forgot—I could shoot somebody in the middle of the street and they still would follow me.  Right?  And, in a sense, he was absolutely right.

“Now, he hasn’t given that up.  And Syria is a good example.  What has happened?  Well, he’s been under pressure from all sorts of sides to bomb somebody. [chuckles]  Okay?  At a certain moment not too long ago he gave the order: Bomb.  Okay?  And, since he’s the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, they bombed.  Um, and then what?  Well, everybody says: Well, what next?  Okay?

“So, has all sorts of people, who are presumably in his cabinet, in his inner circle, and in this, making statements about what our policy is, not what it should be, what it is.  It turns out they’re making different statements.  And everybody’s making a statement, except one person.  That one person is Donald Trump.

“So, he is making a statement: We don’t know what’s next.  What we do know is he will decide what next.  But on what basis?  And we don’t know.

“And, in fact, this uncertainty is part of his power.  So, I don’t know.  You don’t know, whether he’s going to send more troops in, or not send more troops in.  He loses whatever he does.  That’s the reality of the situation.  But that doesn’t mean he won’t do something terribly stupid or stupid.  So, something, which will have consequences so negative, uh, that the world will bemoan it.  Right?  Because he could do that.  I give him a lot of credit for—how shall I say?—I don’t think he’s stupid.  I don’t think he’s, um, ignorant.  I think he’s very astute.  And I think he’s—how shall I say?—feeling out the world and trying to figure out what he could do, that would be the least harmful to him, in his power and the United States, as its power.

“Well, okay.  Fine.  But I don’t know what that is, by the way.  And I don’t know that he’s going to find out what that is.  So, he may do nothing.  That will not be good for him, either.  He’s got a lose-lose situation.  Um, and, uh, the one thing I’m not sure of is if he recognises that he’s in a lose-lose situation, or he thinks somehow that he can still get on top of it.”  (c. 57:06)

SASHA LILLEY:  “Well, on that cheery note, Immanuel Wallerstein, it’s been a real pleasure.”


SASHA LILLEY:  “I’ve been speaking with the sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein.  He is Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, author of scores of books, including Decline of American Power and Uncertain Worlds.

“You’ve been listening to Against the Grain.  I’m Sasha Lilley.  Thanks so much for listening.  And tune in again next time.”

[Against the Grain theme music] 

Against the Grain is produced by Sasha Lilley and C.S. Soong.  Please visit us online at, where you’ll find on-demand and downloadable audio and a way to sign up for our podcast.  And you can check us out on Facebook at Against the Grain Radio, or follow us on Twitter at RadioAgainst.  (c. 58:09)

[Against the Grain theme music] 

[CART:  Bob Baldock presents Ibram X. Kendi book event, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, First Congregational Church, 2501 Harrison on Third, Oakland, CA, Thursday, 4 MAY 2017, 19:30 PST, see Brown Paper Tickets and other indie outlets.]

[KFPA station identification]  (c. 59:59)

Learn more at AGAINST THE GRAIN.


[1]  The world-systems approach to capitalist imperialism, or centre-periphery model, developed by sociologist Dr. Immanuel Wallerstein in The Modern World System (1974) is also known as the centre-periphery model.  The centre-periphery model is often found in studies of economic underdevelopment and economic dependency.  According to A Dictionary of Sociology (1988, originally published by Oxford University Press):

The centre–periphery (or core–periphery) model is a spatial metaphor which describes and attempts to explain the structural relationship between the advanced or metropolitan ‘centre’ and a less developed ‘periphery’, either within a particular country, or (more commonly) as applied to the relationship between capitalist and developing societies.  The former usage is common in political geography, political sociology, and studies of labour-markets.

In sociology, however, centre–periphery models are most likely to be encountered in studies of economic underdevelopment and dependency and tend to draw on the Marxist tradition of analysis.  The use of the centre–periphery model in this context assumes that the world system of production and distribution is the unit of analysis.  It also assumes that underdevelopment is not a simple descriptive term that refers to a backward, traditional economy, but rather a concept rooted in a general theory of imperialism.

According to the centre–periphery model, underdevelopment is not the result of tradition, but is produced as part of the process necessary for the development of capitalism in the central capitalist countries—and its continued reproduction on a world scale.  The theory assumes a central core of capitalist countries, in which the economy is determined by market forces, there is a high organic composition of capital, and wage-levels are relatively high.  In the peripheral countries, on the other hand, there is a low organic composition of capital and wage-levels do not meet the cost of reproduction of labour.  Indeed, the cost of reproduction of the labour-force may be subsidized by non-capitalist economies, particularly rural subsistence production.  Likewise, in peripheral economies, production and distribution may be determined largely by non-market forces such as kinship or patron-client relations.

The centre–periphery model thus suggests that the global economy is characterized by a structured relationship between economic centres which, by using military, political, and trade power, extract an economic surplus from the subordinate peripheral countries.  One major factor in this is the inequality between wage-levels between core and periphery, which make it profitable for capitalist enterprises to locate part or all of their production in underdeveloped regions.  The extraction of profit depends on that part of the cost of the reproduction of the labour-force that is not met by wages being met in the non-capitalist sector.  Thus, according to proponents of the core–periphery model, the appearance that capitalism is developing traditional and backward societies by locating enterprises in underdeveloped regions masks the structural relationship by which capital develops and prospers at the expense (or progressive underdevelopment) of non-capitalist economies.

The centre–periphery model has led to two main debates.  The first concerns the elaboration of a theory of modes of production, which attempts to conceptualize different economic forms in terms of the relationship between production and distribution in each mode.  The other tries to tease out the exact links between particular areas of the centre and periphery through examining the articulation of different modes of production.  Both debates may often appear to be excessively theoretical—or at least of little practical significance.  The centre-periphery model is also implicated in various types of world-system theories (see, for example, A. G. Frank, Dependent Accumulation, 1978, and S. Amin, Unequal Development, 1976).

[2]  Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Against the Grain, this one-hour broadcast hosted by co-host Sasha Lilley, Wednesday, 12 APR 2017, 12:00 PST.

Programme summary posted by Against the Grain on KPFA’s archive page:

Our capitalist world seems mired in crisis, beset by low growth and instability.  Immanuel Wallerstein, the father of world-systems theory, argues that the current malaise goes beyond the periodic fluctuations of the business cycle.  According to him, capitalism’s days are numbered: in 20 to 40 years it will be gone.  What replaces it may be something better or something worse.  Wallerstein discusses the end of capitalism, as well as resistance to Donald Trump and the recent attack on Syria.

[3]  This point, which Dr. Wallerstein makes, about liberals, progressives, and radicals operating under an illusion of social change or socioeconomic progress is articulated brilliantly by Dr. Jane F. McAlevey on Against the Grain when she discussed class politics, how to organise working class power, and other themes relevant to working class emancipation, which she wrote about in her recent book, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age (2016).  Dr. McAlevey is also author of Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement (2012), which The Nation called “the most valuable book of the year [for 2012]”.

Dr. McAlevey offered critical and empowering advice to left organisers (actual and potential) in the working class spheres of the workplace, the union, and the political party form, beyond the constraints of temporal mobilisations and defanged advocacy.  A key case study addressed was that of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which largely operated under the apparent illusion of change, whilst no concrete goals were set nor was any enduring political grouping formed, such as a grassroots opposition party, which could galvanise political power.  Much of the political energy of the 99% against the 1% was vented through the ruling class’ political safety valve of the Democratic Party (USA), which persuades many liberals and progressives (and even some left-wing radicals), that their political needs can be met through their political modus operandi.

Thus, mass mobilisations without any mechanism for embodying and sustaining enduring political power and the corporate Democratic Party (USA), both, function as safety valves by which political frustration with the status quo is vented but never galvanised into meaningful political power or political change.

[4]  Dr. Wallerstein brought up the concept of horizontalism (not to be confused with the monetary concept), which is also known as horizontalidad.  This concept was central to the Occupy Wall Street, as your author discussed with Alexa O’Brien in an interview originally published at Media Roots.  Alexa O’Brien was one of the founders of US Day of Rage, which was one of the four or five groups, alongside We Are the 99%, Take Back the Square, and others as well as the Adbusters magazine, which initially organised and launched the Occupy Wall Street movement.

It’s interesting that, in a post-Occupy Movement world, the left is now discussing the limitations of horizontalism.

[5]  Dr. Wallerstein noted one critique of horizontalism (or horizontalidad), which is interesting because the concern verticalists offer, in Dr. Wallerstein’s analysis, is precisely what happened to the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  It was not so much that the lack of clearly defined goals or leadership of the Occupy Movement caused them to fail in their aspirations against income inequality and socioeconomic injustice.  But it’s much more to the point that the Occupy Movement, literally, got hit in the head, to use Dr. Wallerstein’s words, as a coordinated nationwide crackdown against the Occupy Movement left many, such as military veteran Scott Olsen and others who were left bloodied across the nation.  Many of the nation’s mayors even coordinated with the Obama administration via teleconference to ensure that police forces across the nation acted swiftly, uniformly, and effectively in their efforts to break up the Occupy Movement encampments.  So, it wasn’t the case that the Occupy Movement failed in terms of sustaining itself.  But it failed to endure the police state repression brought down by the Obama administration, which being a Democratic Party administration, highlights how the Democratic Party only offers an illusion of change.  But, what’s most perplexing, is how most of those people, who contributed their energies to the Occupy Movement in 2011 and 2012, then went back to their default position and threw their electoral support behind a second term for President Obama in the 2012 Presidential Election.  It’s as if they’d already forgotten about the brutal beatings, raids, and anti-democratic police state destruction of the Occupy Movement encampments.

[6]  Again, the pitfalls for the left, which Dr. Wallerstein here alludes to are similar concerns addressed by Dr. Jane F. McAlevey, which concern shallow and temporal mobilising versus deeper, enduring, and more meaningful organising.

[7]  Listeners of free speech radio, or readers of economics, generally, will note that dating the origins of our most recent cyclical economic downturn to about the early 1970s, as Dr. Wallerstein does here is consistent with other economists and observers of the economy.  For example, we recall Dr. Richard Wolff, Dr. Dean Baker, Dr. Sylvia Allegretto, and others, as well as many other observers in the general economic literature.

Dr. Richard Wolff has described this crisis from a labour perspective.  As he notes, wages have stagnated since the early 1970s, as prices and the cost of living has risen, which means depressed purchasing power, or, effectively, a wage cut.  Meanwhile, during that same time, worker productivity has increased, which means further profits to capitalist owners of the means of production, or increased wage theft (depending on one’s perspective).

Dr. Richard Wolff has attributed the source of the wage stagnation as a function of supply and demand.  Since the early 1970s, he has argued, our labour shortage in the United States has ended, which means there are no longer enough jobs for everyone.  As Americans have lost many manufacturing jobs, the bulk of the economy has become a service sector economy.  This shrinking and emaciation of the pool of American jobs has been further compounded by the capitalist’s wage labour race to the bottom, as companies and corporations outsource and off-shore more and more of their production and operations on foreign soil in pursuit of the lowest and most exploitative wages to boost their profits.

[8]  The cyclical nature of two to three decades between economic booms and busts, or peaks and lows, has been analysed with great accuracy and insight by Dr. Hyman Minsky.  Recall Minsky’s financial instabilty hypothesis.

[9]  In addressing why economic growth peaks and falls in a society, Dr. Wallerstein seems to revert to standard neoclassical microeconomic analysis, or the theory of the firm.  In neoclassical economic theory, when a firm is making economic profits in a given industry, this signals to other capitalists to put their capital, their financial power, their productive capacity into that particular industry.  Then, as more participants enter a particular market, the profits are diffused amongst more participants, diluting or reducing the profitability of each participant, or firm, in that industry.  This continues until economic profits are eliminated and there is no longer any incentive for capitalist actors to enter that industry and/or capitalists begin to leave that industry altogether.

For an example of such a neoclassical microeconomic analysis, on monopolistic competition, perfect competition, non-price competition and product differentiation, see here.

[10]  Dr. Wallerstein notes the importance of “relative stability in the geopolitics of the world system in order that people can create those monopolies”, which generate economic profits.  As economics, or political economy, is an interdisciplinary social science, we draw our attention to the field of Law & Economics.  At the Law School at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the course has been taught by Dr. William K. Black, who emphasises in his course the importance of the rule of law—in a historical sense in terms of the development of capitalism and in a contemporary sense—in creating the conditions by which economic actors can enter into contracts with one another in the pursuit of profits.  If we think of times and places where societies were relatively lawless, the uncertainty was too great for anyone to consider investing, or risking, large amounts of resources into capitalist profit ventures or projects, which could generate jobs or stimulate economic activity or develop technologies, which could improve the general standard of living in the society.  This point about the rule of law may seem to be a trivial one, or one, which we take for granted.  But the rule of law is crucial to healthy economic activity in any society, or among societies.

[11]  In Jonathan Kozol‘s 1991 book, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools, he decried as amelioration those half-measures of the sort, which Dr. Wallerstein refers to as a means of minimising the pain.

Typically, as a society, when confronted with inequality and poverty, we view the right-wing of the political spectrum as less sympathetic claiming everyone is getting equal opportunities to education and prosperity.  As explained by Dr. George Laikoff, there’s a different moral system at play, which ascribes socioeconomic misery as the result of one’s own moral terpitude.  The right-wing strict father model, or moral system, conversely views wealth as a sign of moral virtue.  Relevantly, Stephen Kruse has described how capitalists have co-opted, cherry-picked, and distorted biblical scriptures to rationalise individuality and self-interested capitalist logic.

So, on the right, we see the weaponisation of Christianity in the employ of capital; and we see a strict father figure model of morality.  On the left, especially liberal or centrist politics, represented by the Democratic Party in the United States, we tend to see the politics of amelioration, as Jonathan Kozol put it back in 1991, or minimising the pain, as Dr. Wallerstein puts it today.  The result is the same, liberals tend to pursue half-measures, which preserve the capitalist mode of production and, thereby, the origins of the social ills, which they ostensibly seek to remedy.

[12]  Socialism or Barbarism is a concept frequently used in Marxist theory and literature.  Attributed to Friedrich Engels, it became widely known through Rosa Luxemburg‘s “Junius Pamphlet” of 1916, where she wrote, “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.”

In Rosa Luxemburg’s original use of the term, socialism or barbarism,

In her “Junius Pamphlet” of 1916, strongly denouncing the then raging First World War, Rosa Luxemburg wrote: Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.

Luxemburg attributed it to Friedrich Engels, though—as shown by Dr. Michael Löwy—Engels had not used the term “Barbarism” but a less resounding formulation: If the whole of modern society is not to perish, a revolution in the mode of production and distribution must take place.

Luxemburg went on to explain what she meant by “Regression into Barbarism”: “A look around us at this moment [i.e., 1916 Europe] shows what the regression of bourgeois society into Barbarism means.  This World War is a regression into Barbarism.  The triumph of Imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization.  At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses toward its inevitable consequences.  Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of Imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration—a great cemetery.  Or the victory of Socialism, that means the conscious active struggle of the International Proletariat against Imperialism and its method of war.”

“Socialism or Barbarism” became, and remains, an often quoted and influential concept in Marxist literature.  “Barbarism” is variously interpreted as meaning either a technologically advanced but extremely exploitative and oppressive society (e.g. a victory and world domination by Nazi Germany and its Fascist allies); a collapse of technological civilization due to Capitalism causing a Nuclear War or ecological disaster; or the one form of barbarism bringing on the other.

The Internationalist Communist Tendency considers “Socialism or Barbarism” to be a variant of the earlier “Liberty or Death“, used by revolutionaries of different stripes since the late 18th century.

[13]  Dr. Wallerstein says that the endless accumulation of capital is his defining feature of capitalism.  Indeed, capitalism is a mode of production, which is predicated upon capitalist wage labour, or capitalist labour relations.  Capital is a social relation.  So, capitalism, or the capitalist mode of production, is a set of social relations, which favour the capitalist owners of the means of production over the workers, which produce the value of the commodity (or goods or services) produced.  As Dr. Karl Marx has laid out, and Marxian economics elaborates, capital is the constant extraction of surplus value from living labour.

[14]  Interviewer Sasha Lilley asked Dr. Wallerstein if he thought there was “any danger in making grand predictions about the future”.  Indeed, as we listen to (or read the transcript of) this interview, we may be wondering what might possibly be the benefit or purpose of all of these apparently predictive pursuits.  Indeed, we recall that Dr. Karl Marx, for his part, eschewed utopian predictions in favour of a comprehensive description of the nature, origins, and dynamics of capital.

Admittedly, Dr. Wallerstein admits: “There is a danger.”


[Image of sociologist Dr. Immanuel Wallerstein giving a talk at a seminar at the European University at St Petersburg on May 24, 2008 by Alexei Kouprianov (own work), used via Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0]

[12 APR 2017]

[Last modified at 13:27 PST on 19 APR 2017]


















































The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (2016) by Dr. William F. Pepper, Esq.


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LUMPENPROLETARIAT—Audiences of corporate (for-profit) media, even NPR or PBS, will likely not have heard of national bestselling author and attorney Dr. William Pepper, nor of his 40-year long effort to discover and expose the hitherto occulted facts surrounding the assassination of his personal friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Conversely, audiences of free speech media will likely have heard about the indefatigable work of Dr. William Pepper, who published in 2016 a capstone volume on the 1968 assassination of Dr. King, entitled The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Some of us may have heard about the fact that the FBI and other U.S. government intelligence agencies were surveilling Dr. King, especially towards the end of his life.  Dr. King was targeted by COINTELPRO and was also under surveillance by military intelligence agencies during the period leading up to his assassination under the code name Operation Lantern Spike.  In 2002, Congress member Dr. Cynthia McKinney first introduced the Martin Luther King Jr. Records Collection Act in the House of Representatives in order to establish some transparency.  But our popular American culture has been loath to confront the sinister implications of these facts.  In the years after Dr. King was assassinated, reports emerged that the U.S. government was destroying sensitive documents related to the murder case.  The FBI was even criticised for appearing unusually reluctant to release records pertaining to Dr. King.  Yet, in 1977, Judge John Lewis Smith ruled against Bernard Lee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in a lawsuit, and ordered that the King files be sealed for 50 years.

Others may be aware that Dr. King‘s philosophical expansion in his later years—which came to reflect not only civil rights advocacy for blacks, but also broader pro-working class, pro-labour, and anti-imperialist, anti-war sentiments—caused most of his political allies to turn their backs on him in the late 1960s.  But, again, the actual history, revealing the darker side of our American society, is obfuscated in favour of an annual celebration of a caricatured, one-dimensional version of Dr. King, the dreamer, which is symbolised by his 1963I Have a Dream” speech, rather than Dr. King, the organiser, which is powerfully symbolised by his 1968Mountaintop” address.

James Earl Ray (1928-1998)

Some of us may have heard of Dr. Pepper’s efforts, as attorney for the King Family, to defend James Earl Ray (the man wrongly imprisoned for the assassination of Dr. King) as part of an effort to bring the actual killers to justice.  It’s quite amazing that every year we have a national holiday celebrating and honoring the memory of Dr. King, as a great moral voice of America.  Yet, as Americans, we rarely bother to uphold a sense of justice for his assassination because we fail to question the official lone gunman narrative.  If we ever hope that others will follow in the footsteps of Dr. King, in terms of working selflessly as a great moral voice of courageous leadership, it is vitally important to show the world that we, as a society, will work to bring killers to justice when our civic and moral leaders are assassinated.

In 1999, a civil trial jury found that James Earl Ray could not have been the killer.  But the corporate media essentially buried that fact.  Even Court TV, which dedicated itself to broadcasting court trials was, essentially, discouraged and preempted from covering that historic 1999 trialIt is to our national disgrace that these truths have been obfuscated for so long.  In fact, Dr. King did not die from the gunshot wound, which struck him in the face.  Court deposition transcripts from Dr. Pepper’s legal proceedings reveal that Dr. King was suffocated with a pillow at a hospital.  Dr. King, it was reported, was still alive at the hospital emergency room; but a doctor, flanked by men in suits, commandeered the emergency room, removed Dr. King’s breathing catheter, and murdered Dr. King with a pillow.  Somehow, this shocking revelation has gained no traction in the corporate media nor inspired much followup investigation; and, consequently, it hasn’t prompted any sort of public outcry.  Annual Dr. King holidays continue to roll by with a degree of banality, perpetuating problematic myths, and missing opportunities for informing the public, whilst concealing the truth of this pivotal American history as well as its meaning and significance.  Hopefully, Dr. William Pepper’s book, The Plot to Kill King will inspire and motivate interest and principled action in this case, which is so important to our American heritage and character.

Audiences of free speech radio’s Guns and Butter will recall past interviews over the years with Dr. William Pepper, for example, discussing his earlier books, such as An Act of State.  In Dr. Pepper’s latest book, The Plot to Kill King, he builds the most detailed and powerful case and even names names, such as that of one Mr. Frank Strausser, who was the actual sharp shooter, who shot Dr. King in the face.  Dr. Pepper even interviewed Mr. Strausser, who is still living today.  Continuing this line of inquiry, on this week’s edition of free speech radio’s Project Censored, educators and co-hosts Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College) and Ken Burrows (San Francisco State University) enlightened us with an eye-opening interview with Dr. William Pepper discussing The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  Listen (and/or download) here. [1]



[Working draft transcript by Messina for Project Censored and Lumpenproletariat.]

PROJECT CENSORED—[7 APR 2017]  [KPFA community announcement:  Copwatch event at the Grassroots House in Berkeley, CA]  [KPFA station identification by Erica Bridgeman(sp?)]

[Project Censored theme music: “We Want” by Junkyard Empire]

“Welcome to the Project Censored show on Pacifica Radio.  I’m Mickey Huff.  Today, I’m with guest host Ken Burrows from San Francisco State University.

“On today’s programme, we look at The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., which is also the title of the latest book from national bestselling author Dr. William Pepper.  William Pepper joins us for the programme today to talk about his most recent book on the plot to kill King just after the 49th anniversary of that historic event.  Please stay with us.”

[theme music continues]  (c. 1:43)

“Welcome to the Project Censored show on Pacifica Radio.  I’m Mickey Huff with special guest co-host Kenn Burrows from San Francisco State University.  On today’s programme, we have the distinct pleasure of joining in conversation with the national best-selling author Dr. William F. Pepper.

“William Pepper is a human rights lawyer most known for his defense of James Earl Ray in the trial for the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. and of Sirhan Sirhan in the trial for the murder of Senator Robert Kennedy.  Pepper is the author of An Act of State and Orders To Kill.  He’s been active in government cases, including the 9/11 Truth Movement, and in attempts to charge George W. Bush with war crimes.  He was appointed a barrister of the United Kingdom, but now primarily resides in New York.  His latest book on Skyhorse is called The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

“And William Pepper, you join here today by phone.  Welcome back to the Project Censored show.”  (c. 2:49)

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Thank you.  It’s good to be with you, Mickey and Kenn.”

“So, Kenn Burrows, get the conversation going for us.”

KENN BURROWS:  “Hello, Bill.  Welcome.”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Thank you, Kenn.”

KENN BURROWS:  “You bet.  So, just to get us rolling here, let’s start with your connection with Dr. King.  How and when did you first come to meet Dr. King?  And, really, what sort of man did you find him to be?”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Well, I only knew Martin King that last year of his life.  And I met him in early 1967, as a result of him having read—and, apparently, he was deeply moved by—my piece in Ramparts magazine in January of ’67 called ‘The Children of Vietnam‘.

“So, he had asked me to meet with him and discuss the horrors and the war crimes, that I encountered in Vietnam when I was there as a journalist.  And I did that.  Then, he asked me to stay with him as long as possible, work with him as much as possible on the formation of what we came to call the National Conference for New Politics.  It was an umbrella organisation designed to bring together peace and freedom entities from all over the country under one roof for the purpose of opposing the [Vietnam] War, but also for beginning to deal with the issues of economic injustice.

“He was increasingly concerned about the impoverishment of large numbers of Americans and wanted to go into that area as well.  Neither of these topics—the war or the economy—endeared him to the ruling forces of American society.  And, indeed, not only did it not endear him, but they came to have contempt and disdain for him.

“When he delivered his [‘Beyond Vietnam’] antiwar speech at Riverside Church on the Fourth of April, 1967—one year to the day of his death—the next day, he was condemned by virtually every newspaper and even members of his own Civil Rights Movement. [2]  And various groups, there, criticised him, condemned him.  In some instances, he was called a traitor.

“So, I came in to meet him at that period of time, as a result of his evolutionary development with respect to seeing the links between war and poverty, as it affected, not only Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Appalachians, whites, and southern blacks, but as it affected all of the poor people of the world.  So, he was growing.  And I came upon him at that point in time.

“Now, what kind of man was he?  A man of enormous courage.  No matter how much money it cost him, his organisation, 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.”  (c. 6:12)

KEN BURROWS:  “And, so, part of what you may have been talking about is organising the Poor People’s Campaign.  Is that right?  And, also, how did you influence his antiwar position?  And what was your relationship with King during that time?”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Well, the Poor People’s Campaign was very much developed during that point in time.  But it had been an idea, that was generated somewhat before during 1966.  But it related to the economic issues, that I just mentioned.  With respect to the [Vietnam] War, I was traumatised, personally, by the amount of devastation and brutality and slaughter, that I saw over there, and tried to convey that in the Ramparts piece.

“And, when I showed him, opened to him, the rest of my files I had developed, he openly wept.  We were on the way to open Vietnam Summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, following a sermon of his at the Brown University Chapel.  And that’s where I met him for the first time.  I waited until he came out.  And, then, we rode together.  And he wept when he saw what his government was doing to this ancient, beautiful people.

“So, he was deeply moved and determined, at great risk, not just monetary risk, but great physical risk to stand against that war.”  (c. 7:40)

KEN BURROWS:  “Could you summarise his conclusions that he reached—or your conclusions, that you reached regarding his assassination?  What led up to that?”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “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 Downey(sp?), who was head of the military intelligence group, the 902nd Military Intelligence Group, used to brief [Lyndon] Johnson, 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—I guess he’d had too much or whatever—he pounded the table; and he said: John, I can’t get out of Vietnam. My friends are making too much money.

“So, that, to me, says it all, in terms of the reason for waging war was corporate interests.  Okay?  That was very important.  So, the [Vietnam] War was a very important reason for wanting to get rid of him.  But the Poor People’s Campaign was probably the major reason because he was going to bring half a million people to the capitol.  And they were going to camp there.  They were gonna go visit their elected representatives.  And they were gonna try to get an agreement to turn the funds back again to programmes of social welfare and social justice.  And the military and the powers that be believed that was not going to work, of course.  They were not gonna effect that type of budgetary change.  And, because of that, they believed that half a million people, that Martin was going to bring, would get more angry, and that their resistance would lead to open rebellion.  And they didn’t believe that they had the forces to put down the rebellion on the streets of Washington.  (c. 9:48)

“So, he was never going to be, ultimately, allowed to bring that mass of Americans to Washington, D.C.  And that was why they were going to have to get rid of him.  And Memphis, of course, was the place, that was selected.  The sanitation workers’ strike was used for the purpose of getting him into Memphis.  And he was, there, assassinated.”

MICKEY HUFF:  “I’d like to remind listeners this is the Project Censored show on Pacifica Radio.  I’m Mickey Huff.  And I’m in studio with Ken Burrows, who is co-hosting today.

“We’re in conversation with Dr. William F. Pepper.  And his most recent book is The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  And here we are, just past the 49th anniversary of the assassination of King.

“And, William Pepper, you were just talking specifically about, not only the issues of foreign policy and imperialism—and certainly the reason that a lot of people seem to generically go back to King in terms of race and racial injustice—but also his tying in of class and sort of the intersectionality of what he began to seriously represent through 1967 and, then, 1968.  This is what you’re saying is, ultimately, what’s luring him to Memphis for the sanitation strike.

“And you keep saying ‘they’ are luring him and this was a decision, that was made to kill him.  So, I know you’ve talked about this, certainly, in your other book, An Act of State and in your new book, The Plot to Kill King, which contains many, many of the primary documents and historical documents.  And I urge people to see your recent book, The Plot to Kill King, on Skyhorse Publishing.

“Can you talk a little bit more about who are they?  And what are these forces, that are luring him there?  Can you be a little bit more specific about that?  And I, certainly, know your book does that.”  (c. 11:33)

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Yes.  Sure.  In a broad, overall sense, when refer to they, I’m talking about, really, basically, the ruling forces of the corporate structure in America.  And I’m speaking specifically about the finance houses and banks, major energy and oil corporations, all of whom have enormous power and try to exercise that in terms of public policy.

“Now, in terms of specifics as to who was involved, they are foot soldiers.  When I identify these forces as ruling forces, their foot soldiers are agencies of government of the United States.  And, in the case of the assassination of Martin King, the primary agency, that led the way was the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover.  Hoover would send Clyde Tolson, his number two, into Memphis on a very regular basis.  Tolson would come in.  He would meet with the local southern mafia groups, mainly headed by the Atkins(sp?) family.  And they would begin to set up the detail for the actual assassination.  Tolson would also bring money in from Hoover.  And that money would be put in paper bags with names on it of people, who had jobs to do with respect to the assassination.  So, it was paying as well as giving instructions.  They were organising things on the ground with what we have come to call the the Dixie Mafia(c. 13:06)

“Now, when it came to James Earl Ray, he had been profiled earlier as a convict of Jefferson City Prison, who would be likely to be a very good candidate for being a candidate in a case of this sort.  So, they organised James’ escape.  $25,000 dollars was brought in by Tolson.  It was carried to the warden of the prison by old man Atkins and his son, Ron.  And it was Ron, who became one of our witnesses, who revealed to us everything, that was going on.  He rode to the prison with the money and his father.  They paid off the warden.  The warden organised James’ escape.  James was allowed to escape in April of 1967.  And, then, he was kept on a string.  They had a handler.  They kept him on a string and moved him around the country.  (c. 14:07)

“Initially, Martin King was to have been killed in Los Angeles.  They had two army snipers and their spotters in Los Angeles.  They were there for quite a period of time.  And they kept James there for quite a period of time.  Eventually, quickly, a decision was made to move them out and into the South.  And that was when they designated Memphis as the scene of the assassination.

“And I wondered for a long time why they didn’t go through with it in Los Angeles.  And, then, I came to realise that there was another assassination, that was being planned for Los Angeles, following the California [presidential] primary [elections].  And that, of course, took place a couple of months later.  Bob Kennedy was hit in Los Angeles.  It would not do to have two major assassinations in the same city.  So, Martin’s death was to be taken in Memphis.”

“So, that’s the organising up to the point of when he was actually shot.  He [Dr. King] was there to help the striking sanitation workers.  And that was the part about his concern about economic injustice.  And, so, he was there to help them be vicotorious, in terms of their strike.  And, then, he was going to leave Memphis and begin the trek for the Poor People’s March and encampment in Washington.”  (c. 15:30)

MICKEY HUFF:  “William Pepper—and I know this is an aside; and I don’t wanna get too off the trail, here, though I do think this is entirely relevant.  When you brought up the Robert Kennedy assassination, of course, you have been very active and involved in the Sirhan Sirhan case.  And we talked about that the last time you were on the Project Censored show.

“But can you talk about: What is the nexus here, if any, between RFK and MLK and there assassinations in this historic year of 1968?”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Well, the nexus is they were really on the same page in terms of opposing the war in Vietnam.  And Bob Kennedy had become aware of the economic plight of millions and millions of Americans and was determined to do something about that.

“He also, of course, was determined to reopen the investigation into the assassination of his brother.  So, that was another issue, that was aside to the nexus between him and Martin King.

“Martin and Bobby were very close in terms of concern for the impoverished Americans and also in terms of the [Vietnam] War.  And they were building a joint following across the country, that was bound to have an impact.  And they, really, were not going to be allowed to do that.

“There even was some discussion that Bobby, when running for President of the United States, might have reached out—and there were some discussions about this—reached out and tried to take Martin King on as a running mate.  So, they could even have broadened the relationship that much closer together.  But that, of course, never got to fruition.”

MICKEY HUFF:  “We’re speaking with Dr. William Pepper, author most recently of The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  We’ll continue our conversation with William Pepper after this musical break.  Please stay with us.”  (c. 17:30)

[Music break:  “An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King” by Vic Sadot]

An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King” by Vic Sadot [3]

MICKEY HUFF:  “And that was the music of Vic Sadot, the truth troubadour, who is here in Berkeley, California, where we broadcast the Project Censored show every week.  Vic Sadot, and that was his song called ‘An Act of State’ based on the same title of William Pepper’s book about Martin Luther King’s assassination.

“And, of course, this is the Project Censored show.  I’m Mickey Huff with special guest co-host Kenn Burrows from San Francisco State University.  And we’re talking with the author William Pepper about his most recent book on the King assassination, The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  We continue our conversation with William Pepper now.

“Kenn, you have the next question for William Pepper.”  (c. 22:47)

KENN BURROWS:  “Bill, I’m wondering: How was it that the King family came to work with you in a decade-long effort to find the real killers of Dr. King?  And what led up to the trial, that happened in 1999?  Could you give us a bit of a storied background?”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Sure.  The King family was familiar with my work, going back before the first book, Orders To KillOrders To Kill was published in 1995.  They knew I was quietly gathering evidence and working on the case.  I did not involve them, did not brief them, did not try to bring them in.

“Martin’s nephew, Isaac Farris read Orders To Kill.  And he reached out to me and asked me to meet with the family.  And I did that, I guess, in 1996.

“They were moved by what we learned at that point in time, which, remember, is many years ago.  But what we learned at that point in time moved them.  And, so, they wanted to pursue it.  And they supported a trial for James Earl Ray, which, of course, was not going to happen.  And they tried to get [President] Bill Clinton to agree to conduct an investigation.  He appointed Janet Reno, his Attorney General, to be in charge of that investigation.  And it really just, of course, turned out to be a complete whitewash.

“With this kind of frustration, I suggested that maybe what we should do is, actually, file a civil action against one of the people, whom we knew, and who had admitted being involved, Loyd Jowers.  They agreed.  We filed a civil action in Memphis.  And the trial went on for 30 days.”  (c. 24:35)

MICKEY HUFF:  “And this is the civil trial.  This is the King v. Jowers in 1999.”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Yes.  That’s right, the King v. Jowers civil trial.  It went on for 30 days with some 70 witnesses.  It was not covered by the media.  the media just stayed away.  Court TV, at first, was: Oh, yes. This is something we have to cover.  Well, they were told [chuckles] not to think about it.  So, 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.  And agents of the government of the United States, the state of Tennessee, the City of Memphis did.  And, so, that was the result of the civil trial.

“And the King family believed, when that happened, that we had closure; and they had closure.  And I was very pleased about that.

“But, of course, between 1999 and 2016, when the final book, The Plot to Kill King was released, we acquired an enormous amount of additional evidence and information about the assassination, how it took place, how King was actually killed, which is very important.  And that, as far as I’m concerned, is closure.  Coretta [King] has died.  But three of the children are alive.  Yolanda [King] also died.  But three of the children are alive.

“So—”  (c. 26:08)

KENN BURROWS:  “Bill, can you speak to more of how King actually died?  His actual death versus how we’ve been told he died in the media.”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “He 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.’”  (c. 27:06)

MICKEY HUFF:  “And that’s a quote, that you got during deposition?”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “That’s an actual quote, yeah.”

MICKEY HUFF:  “And that’s in the book.  That’s, actually, in one of the appendices in The Plot to Kill King.  You have a transcript of that.”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Yeah.  What I have insisted on doing is I insisted on putting in a complete text of all the relevant transcripts, the depositions, all of them, so that I can’t be accused of taking things out of context or making them up.  The actual deposition statements, sworn under oath, are there.

“So, Bland said to this emergency room group, that we’re working on King, to get out of there; stop working on him.  With quotes, ‘Stop working on that nigger. Just let him die. And get out.’  And he threw them all out of the room.

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.  [imitates sucking sound]  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(c. 28:22)

“Now, he might have died anyway from his wounds.  It was a severe wound.  But, nevertheless, he was still alive.  And they were not gonna take any chances that he might survive.


MICKEY HUFF:  “And, William Pepper, just to be clear, this was information presented in the trial to the jury.”


MICKEY HUFF:  “Right.”


MICKEY HUFF:  “So, that’s what I’m trying to get at here.”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “God, no.”

MICKEY HUFF:  “This is what I’m getting at because a lot of people, like you mentioned earlier—I just wanted to clarify that, that was not the case.”


MICKEY HUFF:  “Because, (a) most people are not aware of this 1999 trial. [chuckles]

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “I know [woefully].”

MICKEY HUFF:  “And the media did a splendid job of ignoring it and covering it up.”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “[chuckles softly]  Yeah.  They did.”

KENN BURROWS:  “And why is that the case, Bill?  Why do you think the progressive media, including progressive media, just failed to cover this?  Can you speak to that issue?”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Well, of course, the corporate media refuses because the corporate media is controlled, basically, by the ruling moneyed forces of the society, who wanna keep the people calm, who don’t want them to be anxious, who don’t want them to lose confidence in their government, don’t want them to in any way question the credibility of the agencies of government, who are paid so much money in their budgets every year.  (c. 30:11)

“So, that’s true with respect to the corporate media in one way or another.  They’ve really pretty much now buttoned down control of corporate media on cases of this sort.

“When it comes to progressive media, they also have had ways of compromising progressive media.  And, so, it’s a great disappointment that a lot of our progressive media people simply will not deal with this kind of case and this kind of issue.

“Now, why is that?  Well, progressive media entities often are recipients of grants and awards from entities like the Ford Foundation.  And that’s CIA money, for the most part.

“So, they’re not gonna risk losing that.  They don’t wanna cover this.  And they don’t cover it.  Let’s face it.  It’s only chaps like you at KPFA.”

MICKEY HUFF:  “Certainly, at Project Censored, we have a deep interest in this.  My co-host and associate, Dr. Peter Phillips actually teaches a course, that uses your Act of State book in a Sociology of Conspiracy class, that looks at historical conspiracy fact and looks at how it challenges dominant narratives.  So, you’re certainly on the right programme as far as that issue goes.  (c. 30:45)

“But, William Pepper, given that this didn’t come out in the trial, could you explain to the listeners how you got this deposition and why you even included it in the book?”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “After the trial, there became, just as after an HBO-Thames mock trial back in ’92, people started to become more aware of what was going on.  And some people, who had vital information were approaching their graves and wanted to share it.  So, people came forward.

“One of the people, who came forward was the son of the surgical nurse.  His name was Johnton Shelby.  And Johnton went into deposition with us and laid out everything the mother told them the next morning when she came home.  She gathered them in the parlour and she said: I still don’t understand why they had to kill him.  And, then, she explained what she saw and what she heard in the emergency room.  So, Johnton talked about that in detail.

“Then, the son of the Dixie Mafia leader, Adkins, who had sat in on so many meetings with his father, and who knew Tolson very well, and talked about Tolson’s coming in continually, he came forward and agreed to go under oath.  And over many hours—I think upwards of eleven hours—I deposed Ron Tyler(sp?) Adkins and gave him all the opportunity, that he needed to tell everything that he knew.

“So, we started to get this information.  We started to get it well after 1999.  We got it into 2010, ’11, ’12, ’13.”  (c. 32:37)

MICKEY HUFF:  “And, so, this is the reason for this other book, then.  This is—”


MICKEY HUFF:  “—after Act of State ‘cos you uncovered some of this.  You had revealed some of these things in the Act of State book.  Then, you discovered so much more since.”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Yes.  That’s right.  This is the final book.  And, for me, it’s the end of the story.  There’s really nothing more, that I can do or say or expect to learn.  You know; I’ve been on this for about 40 years.  And that’s what it’s taken to slowly get to the bottom of what happened to Dr. King.”

MICKEY HUFF:  “And, in your mind, what’s the difference between the ’99 jury verdict and your conclusions in The Plot to Kill King?”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “They’re the same, in the sense that the jury found that agents of the government—three governments: federal, state, and local—were responsible for the killing of Martin King.  And, as we worked on this, we got more definitive information, more specific information.  So, we were able to name the people.  We were able to name the people, who were involved in the actual killing.”  (c. 33:43)

MICKEY HUFF:  “Can you name them here?”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Sure.  I had lunch with the shooter.  His name is Frank Strausser.  He’s still alive.  He was the one, who pulled the trigger that hit Martin and knocked him down.  So, Strausser was the shooter.  His spotter was another Memphis police officer called Earl Clark.

“Frank Holloman(sp?), who was the head of police and fire in Memphis, and who had worked for a number of years in Hoover’s office in Washington, basically, it emerged that he was the real on-the-ground coordinator.  After Russel Adkins died, it was Holloman(sp?), who organised things on the ground.  Frank Liberto, a mafioso, who worked with the Memphis Police Department organised the shooting.  (c. 34:37)

“I couldn’t name Strausser for a number of years because the man, who gave me his information was a janitor at the police firing range in Memphis.  And he observed Strausser preparing the entire day, firing a specially-delivered rifle, and, then, leaving at three o’clock in the afternoon.

“He gave us a lot of detailed information.  But I couldn’t reveal it because I was afraid they would kill him.  So, I had to hold on to that segment of information for a number of years.  Lenny Curtis was his name, a brave man.  We just waited.  And, finally, Lenny died and we were able to use his deposition.  We had a filmed and a transcribed deposition.

“So, that was very important in terms of nailing the shooter, although the shooter didn’t kill him.  And the killing was by this Dr. Bland.  And Ron Tyler, the Adkins boy, was present when Bland said to his father: If he’s not killed with the shot, be sure he gets to my hospital so we can make sure that he doesn’t leave there alive.”  (c. 35:49)

“That’s how we built up this information in later years.”

KENN BURROWS:  “Thank you.  It’s very clear, Bill.  And thank you for your good work all these years—just to acknowledge that.”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “[inaudible]

KENN BURROWS:  “We thought of closing our interview—we’re getting close to this now—just a thought about Dr. King being a moral voice of our time.  And, if he were alive today, what advice do you think he would give us?”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “I think he would say: Keep your powder dry and your values steadfast and your heart always going in the right direction.  He’d say; I think he would say: Patience is required. This system is headed toward or an enormous change. And the light will soon become brighter and brighter. But you must, as a part of your resistance, you must stay firm in terms of values and also in terms of determination.  I believe that’s what he would say.”

MICKEY HUFF:  “William Pepper, you write in the preface of your book.  You say that your work, which began nine years after the assassination and continued to the present, has resulted in two books—1995 and 2004 and, of course, this one, The Plot to Kill King in 2016.  This is what you call your culminating work, the final work on this topic for you.  The book folds all of the previous work together, leading up to a revelation of the most devastatingly depressive final act in the life of this much-loved man.  And you go on to say: Due to the absence of any courage by the mainstream corporate media, the disinformers have largely been successful in keeping the truth buried. Even today, they persist.

“And, yet, you have the courage to lay all of this out in The Plot to Kill King for all to see.”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “Well, we try to do the best we can.  But whatever I can do, in terms of manifestation of courage is just a mere shadow of Martin King’s presence and life work.  And the debt, that I feel we all owe it to him.”

KENN BURROWS:  “Thank you, Bill.”

DR. WILLIAM F. PEPPER, ESQ.:  “You’re welcome, guys.  Thanks so much for your continued interest and your help wherever you can give it.”

MICKEY HUFF:  “Dr. William Pepper, thank you so much for coming back on the Project Censored show.  Your latest book: The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., out on Skyhorse Publishing.

“Thank you so much, Bill Pepper, for all of your work and for coming on the programme today.”  (c. 38:28)

MICKEY HUFF:  “After this brief musical break, we’ll return to the Project Censored show, where I’ll be talking to our guest co-host Kenn Burrows, who has for many years run a programme at San Francisco State University, Gandhi-King: Seasons of Nonviolence.  So, please stay with us.”

[Music break: “Hello Birmingham” by Ani DiFranco]

Hello Birmingham” (1999) by Ani DiFranco


[Second segment of the broadcast consisted of a discussion with Kenn Burrows about a speaker series at San Francisco State University called Gandhi-King Season for Nonviolence.]

[snip]  (c. 59:59)



WILLIAM PEPPER—[accessed 8 APR 2017]

The Plot to Kill King (2016)

William Pepper was James Earl Ray’s lawyer in the trial for the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., and even after Ray’s conviction and death, Pepper continues to adamantly argue Ray’s innocence.  This myth-shattering exposé is a revised, updated, and heavily expanded volume of Pepper’s original bestselling and critically acclaimed book Orders to Kill (1995), with twenty-six years of additional research included.  The result reveals dramatic new details of the night of the murder, the trial, and why Ray was chosen to take the fall for an evil conspiracy—a government-sanctioned assassination of our nation’s greatest leader.  The plan, according to Pepper, was for a team of United States Army Special Forces snipers to kill King, but just as they were taking aim, a backup civilian assassin pulled the trigger.  In The Plot to Kill King, Pepper shares the evidence and testimonies that prove that Ray was a fall guy chosen by those who viewed King as a dangerous revolutionary.  His findings make the book one of the most important of our time—the uncensored story of the murder of an American hero that contains disturbing revelations about the obscure inner-workings of our government and how it continues, even today, to obscure the truth.  Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade imprint, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in history—books about World War II, the Third Reich, Hitler and his henchmen, the JFK assassination, conspiracies, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, gladiators, Vikings, ancient Rome, medieval times, the old West, and much more.  While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

Orders To Kill (1995)

Here is the myth-shattering expose which reveals the truth behind the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  “Dramatic new evidence confirming the innocence of James Earl Ray and identifying the actual killers of Martin Luther King, Jr”. —Executive Intelligence Review Shocking and controversial revelations from James Earl Ray’s attorney  On April 4th, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stepped out onto the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, and into his killer’s line of fire.  One shot ended Dr. King’s life and forever changed the course of American history—setting into motion a massive cover-up that has withstood a quarter-century of scrutiny.  Now, after 18 years of intensive investigation, William F. Pepper tears away the veil of subterfuge that has hidden the truth of King’s death—proving the innocence of convicted assassin James Earl Ray and revealing the evil conspiracy behind the murder of our nation’s greatest civil rights leader.

An Act of State (2003)

In 1978, Pepper began investigating the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  In this absorbing and detailed book, Pepper maintains that James Earl Ray was not the assassin.  Instead, Pepper’s investigation points to a conspiracy by the U.S. government and its military and intelligence organizations to silence King’s growing criticism of the Vietnam War and his anti-poverty campaign.  In part one, Pepper focuses on his early investigative efforts, []interviews with several witnesses to King’s murder.  Pepper also details his efforts to get a new trial for convicted assassin James Ray, and the cooperation by the King family in that effort.  Part two details the 1999 trial, several years after Ray’s death, and new testimony and forensic evidence pointing to government involvement in the assassination and cover-up.  Pepper roundly criticizes the U.S. media for its lack of coverage of the trial; he also takes to task the 1998 report by the U.S. Attorney General, an investigation undertaken by the Clinton administration in lieu of the independent investigation requested by Pepper and the King family.  Pepper also explores the promise for social change represented by King’s aborted anti-war and anti-poverty campaigns.  Readers—particularly conspiracy buffs—interested in the details surrounding the King assassination will enjoy this passionate, disturbing, and well-researched book.  Vanessa Bush

Learn more at WILLIAM PEPPER.


GLOBAL RESEARCH—[16 JAN 2017]  Our thoughts are with MLK Jr. Martin Luther King Day, January 15, 2016. This article was first published by GR on September 5, 2016

For one bright moment back in the late 1960s, we actually believed that we could change our country. We had identified the enemy. We saw it up close, we had its measure, and we were very hopeful that we would prevail. The enemy was hollow where we had substance. All of that substance was destroyed by an assassin’s bullet. – William Pepper (page 15, The Plot to Kill King)

The revelations are stunning. The media indifference is predictable.

Thanks to the nearly four-decade investigation by human rights lawyer William Pepper, it is now clear once and for all that Martin Luther King was murdered in a conspiracy that was instigated by then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and that also involved the U.S. military, the Memphis Police Department, and “Dixie Mafia” crime figures in Memphis, Tennessee. These and many more incredible details of the King assassination are contained in a trilogy of volumes by Pepper culminating with his latest and final book on the subject, The Plot to Kill King. He previously wrote Orders to Kill (1995) and An Act of State (2003).


With virtually no help from the mainstream media and very little from the justice system, Pepper was able to piece together what really happened on April 4, 1968 in Memphis right down to who gave the order and supplied the money, how the patsy was chosen, and who actually pulled the trigger.

Without this information, the truth about King’s assassination would have been buried and lost to history. Witnesses would have died off, taking their secrets with them, and the official lie that King was the victim of a racist lone gunman named James Earl Ray would have remained “fact.”

Instead, we know that Ray took the fall for a murder he did not commit. We know that a member of the Memphis Police Department fired the fatal shot and that two military sniper teams that were part of the 902ndMilitary Intelligence Group were sent to Memphis as back-ups should the primary shooter fail. We have access to the fascinating account of how Pepper came to meet Colonel John Downie, the man in charge of the military part of the plot and Lyndon Johnson’s former Vietnam briefer. We also learn that as part of the operation, photographs were actually taken of the shooting and that Pepper came very close to getting his hands on those photographs.

plot to kill king

Unfortunately, the mainstream media has ignored all of these revelations and continues to label Ray as King’s lone assassin. In fact, Pepper chronicles in detail how a disinformation campaign has featured the collaboration of many mainstream journalists over almost half a century. He says he suspects that those orchestrating the cover-up, which continues to this day, are no longer concerned with what he writes about the subject.

“I’m really basically harmless, I think, to the power structure,” Pepper said in an interview.

“I don’t think I threaten them, really. The control of the media is so consolidated now they can keep someone like me under wraps, under cover, forever. This book will probably never be reviewed seriously by mainstream, the story will not be aired in mainstream – they control the media. It was bad in the ’60s but nowhere near as bad as now.”

And the most stunning revelation in The Plot to Kill King – which some may question because the account is second hand – is that King was still alive when he arrived at St. Joseph’s Hospital and that he was killed by a doctor who was supposed to be trying to save his life.

“That is probably the most shocking aspect of the book, that final revelation of how this great man was taken from us,” Pepper says. (By the way, when I quote Pepper as having “said” something I mean in our interview. If I’m quoting from the book, I’ll indicate that.)

The hospital story was told to Pepper by a man named Johnton Shelby, whose mother, Lula Mae Shelby, had been a surgical aide at St. Joseph’s that night. Shelby told Pepper the story of how his mother came home the morning after the shooting (she hadn’t been allowed to go home the night before) and gathered the family together. He remembers her saying to them, “I can’t believe they took his life.”

She described chief of surgery Dr. Breen Bland entering the emergency room with two men in suits. Seeing doctors working on King, Bland commanded, “Stop working on the nigger and let him die! Now, all of you get out of here, right now. Everybody get out.”

Johnton Shelby says his mother described hearing the sound of the three men sucking up saliva into their mouths and then spitting. Lula Mae described to her family that she looked over her shoulder as she was leaving the room and saw that the breathing tube had been removed from King and that Bland was holding a pillow over his head. (The book contains the entire deposition given by Johnton Shelby to Pepper, so readers can judge for themselves whether they think Shelby is credible – as Pepper believes he is.)

Pepper and King.

William Pepper with his friend Martin Luther King.

In fact, a second invaluable source was Ron Adkins, whose father, Russell Adkins Sr., was a local Dixie Mafia gangster and conspirator in the planning of the assassination even though he died a year before it took place. Ron told Pepper he had overheard Bland, who was his family’s doctor, tell his father that if King did survive the shooting he had to be taken to St. Joseph’s and nowhere else. As Pepper describes it:

He remembers Breen Bland saying to his father, ‘If he’s not killed by the shot, just make sure he gets to St. Joseph Hospital, and we’ll make sure that he doesn’t leave.’

Ron, who was just 16 when the shooting took place, was apparently taken everywhere by his father in those days, and he was able to recount many details of what happened as the assassination was planned and carried out.

“I definitely found him credible,” Pepper says. “I found him troubled, I found him disturbed in a lot of ways by things that went on earlier in his life.”

His deposition is also contained in the book, which Pepper explains was important so that readers could judge the statements for themselves.

“What I wanted to do was to make sure that the entire deposition of these critical moments and this critical information was there, so that one could go and read the depositions and see that I was being accurate,” Pepper says.

Besides describing what he heard Bland tell his father, Ron Adkins described the many visits made to Russell Sr. by Clyde Tolson, J. Edgar Hoover’s right hand man. Known to Ron as “Uncle Clyde,” the high-level FBI official often delivered cash to the elder Adkins for jobs he and his associates would carry out on behalf of Hoover. Among those the younger Adkins said were paid to supply information about the activities of Martin Luther King were the reverends Samuel “Billy”  Kyles and Jesse Jackson.

The basics of the official story

If you seek out any information from a mainstream source about James Earl Ray, you’ll find him described as the killer of Martin Luther King, just as Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan are labelled “assassins” in the murders of John and Robert Kennedy.

But once you read any or all of Pepper’s three books on the King slaying, you see very clearly that Ray is not a killer at all. Instead, he was a petty criminal who was a perfect “follower.” Like Oswald and Sirhan, Ray was set up to take the fall for an assassination that originated within the American deep state. In fact, Pepper says he’s convinced that knowledge of the plot went all the way to the top.

“The whole thing would have been part of Lyndon Johnson’s playbook,” Pepper says. “I think Johnson knew about this.”

As the official story of the shooting goes, at 5:50 p.m. on April 4, Kyles knocked on the door of room 306 of the Lorraine Motel to let King and the rest of his party know that they were running late for a planned dinner at Kyles’s home. Kyles then walked about 60 feet down the balcony where he remained even after King came out of the room at about 6 p.m. (Although Kyles has maintained ever since that he spent the last half hour in the room, Pepper has proven otherwise.)

Andrew Young and others on balcony of Lorraine motel pointing to where the shot originated while King lies at their feet. (Joseph Louw photo)

Andrew Young (left) and others on balcony of the Lorraine pointing to where the shot originated while King lies at their feet. (Joseph Louw photo)

Members of a militant black organizing group the Invaders, who were also staying in the motel because of King’s visit, were told shortly before the shooting by a member of the motel staff that their rooms would no longer being paid for by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and that they had to leave immediately. When they asked who had given this order, they were told it was Jesse Jackson. At the time of the shooting, Jackson was waiting down by the swimming pool. Ron Adkins also identified Jackson as the person who called the owners of the Lorraine Motel and demanded that King be moved from a more secure inner courtyard room to an exposed room on the second floor facing the street.

The Memphis Police Department usually formed a detail of black officers to protect King when he was in town, but did not this time. Emergency TACT support units were pulled back from the Lorraine to the fire station, which overlooked the motel. Pepper also learned that the only two black members of the Memphis Fire Department had been told the day before the shooting not to report for work the next day at the fire station. And black detective Ed Redditt was told an hour before the shooting to stay home because a threat had been made on his life.

Just about a minute after King exited his room, a single shot was fired and the bullet ripped through King’s jaw and spinal cord, dropping him immediately. The shot appeared to come from across Mulberry Street. King was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead just after 7 p.m.

According to the official story, the shot was fired by Ray from the bathroom of a rooming house above a bar called Jim’s Grill, which backed on to Mulberry and faced onto South Main Street. But, as Pepper’s investigation proves, the shot actually came from the bushes located in between the rooming house and the street.  In fact, the only “witness” who placed Ray at the scene was a falling-down-drunk named Charles Stephens, who later did not recognize Ray in a photograph and who cab driver James McCraw had refused to transport a short time before because he was too intoxicated.

The bushes that concealed the shooter were conveniently trimmed the day after the shooting, giving a false impression that a shooter could not have been concealed there. Several witnesses, including journalist Earl Caldwell and King’s Memphis driver, Solomon Jones, described seeing the shot come from the bushes and not from the bathroom of the rooming house as the official story states.

Another casualty of the King murder was cab driver Buddy Butler who reported that he saw a man running from the scene right after the shot, going south on Mulberry St., and jumping into a police car (this would turn out to be MPD Lieutenant Earl Clark). Butler reported this to his dispatcher and later to fellow cab driver Louie Ward. Butler was interviewed at the Yellow Cab Company later that evening by police. Ward was told the next day that Butler had either fallen, or was pushed, to his death from a speeding car on the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge.

The owner of Jim’ Grill, Loyd Jowers, would later admit to being part of the conspiracy to kill King, and he would be found responsible – along with various government agencies – for the killing in a 1999 civil lawsuit by the King family, which was represented by Pepper.

“The King family got enormous comfort out of the results of that trial and the evidence that came forward from that,” Pepper says.

Betty Spates, a waitress at Jim’s Grill and girlfriend of Jowers, says she saw him rush into the back of the Grill through the back door seconds after the shot, white as a ghost and holding a rifle, which he then wrapped in a tablecloth and hid on a shelf under the counter. He turned to her and said, “Betty, you wouldn’t do anything to hurt me, would you?” She responded, “Of course not, Loyd.” Spates, who didn’t come forward until the 1990s, also recounted that Jowers had been delivered a large sum of money right before the assassination.

James McCraw stated that Jowers had shown him a rifle the day after the shooting and told him it was the one used to kill King.

“We confronted Loyd,” Peppers explains. “We told him he was likely to be indicted if he didn’t help us, if he didn’t give more information. Jowers didn’t know there was no way the grand jury was going to indict him. All he knew was what he did, what he participated in, how much money he got for it – he got quite a large sum of money, built a taxi cab company with it, had his gambling debt with [local Mafia figure Frank] Liberto forgiven.”

Liberto, an associate of Louisiana crime boss Carlos Marcello, turned out to be involved in the assassination also. He owned a produce warehouse and one of his regular customers, John McFerren, was making his weekly shopping trip there when he overheard Liberto shout into the phone an hour before the shooting: “Shoot the son of a bitch on the balcony.” Nathan Whitlock and his mother, LaVada Addison Whitlock, who owned a restaurant frequented by Liberto, stated that Liberto had told them he was responsible for the King murder.

Setting up the patsy

One thing that many don’t know is that Ray was in prison in 1967, the year before the assassination, serving a 20-year sentence for a grocery store robbery in 1959. After a couple of unsuccessful escape attempts, Ray succeeded in breaking out of prison on April 23, 1967. Unknown to Ray was the fact that the escape had been orchestrated, because he had already been chosen as the patsy in the planned assassination of King, which was still a year away.

The warden of Missouri State Penitentiary was paid $25,000 by Russell Adkins Sr. to allow the escape (as confirmed by Ron Adkins). The money was delivered to Adkins by Tolson, and it was this same connection that would later be used to finance the assassination of King.

After his escape from prison, Ray went to Chicago for a few weeks where he got a job. But, worried about getting caught, he went to Canada, specifically Montreal, and took the name Eric S. Galt. His intention was to get a passport under a false name and to travel to a country from which he could not be extradited.

james earl ray

James Earl Ray spent the last 30 years of his life in prison for a murder he did not commit.

At the Neptune Bar in the Montreal dock area in August 1967, Ray met a mysterious figure who identified himself as “Raul.” Raul asked Ray to help him with a smuggling scheme, and Ray agreed. In the months ahead, Ray would do a number of jobs, including gun running, for Raul for which he was paid and given a car. Always, Ray had to wait to be contacted by Raul, who Ray said co-ordinated his activities right up until the day of the assassination.

At one point Ray was instructed to purchase a deer rifle with a scope (although Raul was not satisfied with the one he bought and made him exchange it for another). Ray was instructed to go to Memphis (he arrived April 3, 1968) and upon meeting with Raul in his motel was given the name of Jim’s Grill, where the two were to meet at 3 p.m. the next day.  He also handed the rifle over to Raul and always maintained that he never saw it again.

Ray rented a room at the rooming house above Jim’s Grill (the two met the day of the assassination as planned). About an hour before the shooting, he was given money to go to the movies, but first he tried to have a tire repaired because Raul had said he wanted to use the car. But when Ray heard the sirens that followed the shooting, he got scared and left the area.

Fearing he had been set up, Ray left the country and ended up in England where he was captured on June 8, 1968 at London’s Heathrow Airport as he was trying to leave the UK. Once charged with the crime, Ray was pressured by his second lawyer, Percy Foreman, to plead guilty on the grounds that the evidence was too strong against him and Foreman was not in good health and couldn’t offer a strong defence.

“Foreman was sent in with the purpose of replacing the original lawyers,” Pepper says.

Foreman offered Ray $500 to get another lawyer if he pleaded guilty and even put this in writing. Ray would regret accepting this offer for the rest of his life. He tried unsuccessfully to rescind the guilty plea and get a trial for the next 30 years, finally dying in prison of cancer in 1998.

Pepper becomes convinced of Ray’s innocence

It was 10 years after the assassination before Pepper would even consider meeting with Ray. He had taken for granted at first that Ray was the assassin, but he was encouraged to meet him by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, who had succeeded King as President of the SCLC. Abernathy had remained unsatisfied with the official account of the shooting.

In the book, Pepper describes his first meeting with Ray in 1978 and how he quickly came to believe that Ray had not been the shooter and that the case was essentially still unsolved. It wasn’t until 1988 before Pepper became certain that Ray had not played any knowing part in the conspiracy, and at that point he agreed to represent him, which he did until his death.

Purveyors of the official story of the assassination have always claimed that Raul was an invention of Ray’s, and mainstream media accounts refer to this question as still unanswered even though Pepper not only found witnesses who described their connections to Raul, he actually found Raul himself with the help of witness Glenda Grabow (Pepper learned that his last name was Coelho). She identified Raul as someone she had known in Houston in 1963 and who around 1974, in a fit of rage, had implicated himself in the King assassination right before raping her. Grabow also identified Jack Ruby as someone who she had seen with Raul in 1963. This fascinating story is recounted both in An Act of State and The Plot to Kill King.

One of the most intriguing things to come out of both of these books is the account of a young FBI agent named Don Wilson who after the assassination was sent to check out a white Mustang with Alabama plates (Ray drove a white Mustang) that had been abandoned and that was thought to be connected to the assassination. Wilson opened the car door and some papers fell out. He examined them later and found a torn-out piece of a 1963 Dallas, Texas telephone directory. Written on the page was the name “Raul” and the initial “J” and a phone number, which turned out to be that of a Las Vegas night club run by Jack Ruby, the man who had shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas police station. A second piece of paper had a list of names with amounts of money beside each. Wilson decided to hold on to this evidence, fearing it would disappear forever if he turned it in. He held on to it for 29 years before making it available to Pepper and the King family.

The shooter revealed

Another incredible revelation in The Plot to Kill King is the identity of the man who appears to have fired the fatal shot. Pepper learned his identity from Lenny B. Curtis, who was a custodian at the Memphis Police Department rifle range. Curtis told Pepper this in 2003, and Pepper recorded a deposition with him but kept it confidential out of fear for Curtis’s life. Only after his death in 2013 did Pepper reveal what Curtis had said – that the shooter was Memphis police officer Frank Strausser.

“We had to be very careful about [Curtis’s safety],” Pepper says.

Curtis said to Pepper in his deposition that he heard Strausser say about King four or five months before the assassination that somebody was going to “. . . blow his motherfucking brains out.” He also described that Strausser had practised in the rifle range with a particular rifle that had been brought in four or five days earlier by a member of the fire department. That fireman had shown the rifle to Curtis and asked, “How would you like that scoundrel, that baby there?” When Curtis said it look like any other rifle, he replied, “No, this is a special one; that baby is special.” Lenny remembered that on the day of the assassination, Strausser spent the whole day practicing with it. (Strausser has given several conflicting accounts of where he was and what he was doing that day.)

After the assassination, Curtis says he was followed and intimidated by Strausser. Pepper writes:

Lenny said that he subsequently became aware that strange things were happening around him. His gas was strangely turned on once when he was about to enter his house. He had lit a cigarette, but as he opened the door he smelled gas and quickly put out the cigarette. A strange Lincoln was occasionally parked across the street from his apartment house. He was frightened. One morning when the car was there, he got into his own car and quickly drove off, and the strange car pulled out and followed him. He managed to see the driver. It was Strausser.

In the book, Pepper describes how he came to meet with Strausser, who he describes as a committed and devoted racist.

“He had no respect for black people at all,” Pepper says. “He wasn’t explicit about his racism. But he was not at all sympathetic to what Martin King was all about.”

In the hope of prompting an admission, Pepper lied and told him that he had been implicated in the killing by Loyd Jowers – but Strausser didn’t take the bait. Pepper also told Strausser that the footprints found in the bushes after the shooting were from size 13 shoes (which they were). Then he asked him about the size of his feet:

“He had a bit of a grin on his face, and he said ‘13 large,’” Pepper says.

Pepper also arranged to have cab driver Nathan Whitlock, who Strausser knew, tell him that there was a good possibility that he (Strausser) would be indicted for the shooting. He responded: “What are they going to indict me for, something I did 30 years ago?” Then he caught himself and added, “Or something I knew about 30 years ago?”

A threat to the powers that be

As Pepper explains, King was not only hated by the establishment as he rose to prominence in the 1960s, he was feared. Not only did he have the ability to move large numbers of people with his message of peace and tolerance, but he had designs on a political career. According to Pepper, King was planning to run for president on a third-party ticket with fellow anti-war activist Dr. Benjamin Spock. He was also causing panic in powerful circles because he intended to bring hundreds of thousands of poor people to an encampment in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1968 to bring attention to the plight of the poor.

“They were terrified that the anger level when [the demonstrators] were not going to get what they wanted was going to rise to such a point where Martin was going to lose control of that group and the more radical among them would take it over and they’d have a revolution,” Pepper explains. “And they didn’t have the troops to put it down. That was a real fear that the Army had. And I think it was a justifiable fear.”

King would also have posed an increasing threat to the political establishment because he intended to become much more vocal in his opposition to the Vietnam War. He had been influenced by an article and photos by Pepper called, “The Children of Vietnam,” which was published in Ramparts Magazine in January 1967 and later reprinted in Look magazine. (The man who published the piece in Look, Bill Atwood, actually told Pepper he received a visit from former New York governor and ambassador to the Soviet Union Averill Harriman who passed on a message from President Johnson that he would appreciate it if Atwood never published anything by Pepper.)

Beyond King’s importance as a powerful force for justice, peace, and equality, he was also Pepper’s friend. And the lawyer/journalist had to deal with that loss as he sought the truth about who really killed King and fought for justice for the man falsely accused of his murder. He writes:

For me, this is a story rife with sadness, replete with massive accounts of personal and public deception and betrayal. Its revelations and experiences have produced in the writer a depression stemming from an unavoidable confrontation with the depths to which human beings, even those subject to professional codes of ethics, have fallen. In addition, there is an element of personal despair that has resulted from this long effort, which has made me even question the wisdom of undertaking this task. (page xiv, The Plot to Kill King)

But he did undertake it, and we should all be grateful that he did.



PBS NEWSHOUR—[20 FEB 1997]   Martin Luther King Jr. Case Revisited

[Video has been removed from public access, but a transcript is still online.]

JIM LEHRER: We do go first tonight to the James Earl Ray story. In a Memphis court today the family of Martin Luther King called for the trial that did not happen 29 years ago. Tom Bearden reports.

TOM BEARDEN: On April 4, 1968, a gunman shot and killed the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis Tennessee.

ANNOUNCER: Dr. King was standing here on this motel balcony yesterday afternoon when he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet.

TOM BEARDEN: Within two months an out-of-work drifter with a criminal record, James Earl Ray, was captured in England and arrested for the murder. Facing a possible death sentence Ray pleaded “guilty” in exchange for life imprisonment. But just days later he recanted his confession, saying it had been coerced. The court, however, refused to grant him a trial. Since then in interviews and parole hearings Ray has repeatedly asked for the trial he never got.

JAMES EARL RAY: Well, first, I didn’t kill Dr. King.

TOM BEARDEN: Now dying of liver disease James Earl Ray is asking for a liver transplant and for one last chance to tell his story before a judge. In 1979 a House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that Ray was the triggerman but indicated there may have been co-conspirators. In the 29 years since King’s death his followers have speculated that those co-conspirators could be anyone from government agents to organized crime figures, to white supremacists. But the King family remained silent on the issues until last week. Dexter King, who was just seven years old when his father was killed, said a trial could shed light on some lingering questions the family has.

DEXTER KING: (February 13) The lack of a satisfactory resolution to questions surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., has been a source of continuing pain and hardship to our family. Every effort must be made to determine truth. We feel strongly that this can only be accomplished in a court of law.

TOM BEARDEN: At today’s court hearing in Memphis, Ray’s attorney asked for permission to conduct ballistic tests on the rifle Ray allegedly used. His attorney believes those tests will prove it was not the murder weapon.

WILLIAM PEPPER, Attorney for James Earl Ray: As to this petition, Your Honor, and this effort, Your Honor will recall that as long ago as June 6, 1994, Your Honor ordered that the petition be allowed to inspect and test fire the rifle in evidence. In this case petitioner has always alleged that the rifle in evidence is not the murder weapon but a throw-down gun. And in the 28-year history of this case the petitioner forced the defendant and now the petitioner has never had the right to test this right. The defense has never had the right to have access to FBI test fire worksheet reports, nor House Select Committee test fire worksheet reports. So what we are seeking here for the first time once again, Your Honor, is an opportunity to test this rifle in an effort to exclude it for all time as the murder weapon.

TOM BEARDEN: Coretta Scott King, Rev. Martin Luther King’s widow, took the stand to testify in favor of a trial.


Learn more at PBS NEWSHOUR.


[1]  Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Project Censored, this one-hour broadcast hosted by Mickey Huff and Kenn Burrows, Friday, 7 APR 2017, 13:00 PST.

[2]  Dr. William Pepper‘s photo essay, “The Children of Vietnam” (January 1967), for Ramparts magazine had a tremendous impact on Dr. King, with its graphic exposure of the suffering of Vietnamese women and children during the American military aggression against Vietnam during the 1960s.  Dr. King came to befriend Dr. William Pepper in January of 1967.  Also, Dr. King came to befriend the influential Buddhist monk Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh.  All of these factors, as well as a sense of responsibility as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, doubtless influenced Dr. King’s famous “Beyond Vietnam” speech from April of 1967, which reflected a heightened awareness of U.S. imperialism and the horrors it inflicted upon the people of Vietnam.  As Dr. William Pepper noted on Project Censored, the next day after he gave his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, Dr. King “was condemned by virtually every newspaper and even members of his own Civil Rights Movement.”  (Exactly one year later, Dr. King would be assassinated.)  During the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, Dr. King cited at least one letter from a “Buddhist leader” of Vietnam.  Later in 1967, Dr. King nominated Thích Nhất Hạnh for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize.  In his nomination Dr. King said,

I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.

In an institutional rebuke to Dr. King’s sentiments and views, the Nobel Committee, in turn, decided not to award anybody a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.  This was, yet, another sign that Dr. King’s political and socioeconomic idealism and morality exceeded that of the establishment institutions of the world.

“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” address delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on 4 APR 1967 at the Riverside Church, New York City

[3]  The song “An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King” by Vic Sadot was posted to YouTube by Vic Sadot on 6 MAR 2010.  The song is taken from Sadot’s album entitled Truth Troubador, published on the independent Truth Troubador record label.  As of 8 APR 2017, the video had 3,047 views.  Singer-songwriter Vic Sadot, who has been featured previously on Project Censored, included the following text on the YouTube video page:

The song is based upon the book of the same title by King family lawyer, William Pepper.  The book tells the story of the trial that Pepper won on behalf of the King family in 1999 in a Memphis court where a jury of 6 black and 6 white jurors unanimously found Loyd Jowers and unnamed government conspirators guilty of murdering Martin Luther King.  The King family had long determined that James Earl Ray was not the lone gunman in an act of hate, but rather a patsy in a conspiracy to decapitate the unifying justice movement that Dr King represented.  Loyd Jowers was the owner of the restaurant across the street from the Lorraine Motel where MLK was gunned down in broad daylight while in support of the union struggle of the sanitation workers for decent wages.  Rather than an act of hate, Kings murder was an act of state.  The soundtrack was recorded in Berkeley, California by Blair Reese with songwriter Vic Sadot on vocals and acoustic guitar, Maria Claus-Rangel on back-up vocals and Evie McKnight on harmonica.


[Image of The Plot to Kill King book cover by source, used via fair use, creative commons.]

[7 APR 2017]

[Last modified at 14:40 PST on 11 APR 2017]