the nation celebrated what would have been Martin Luther King’s 87th
birthday on January 15, we must ask some questions: What role did
the FBI play in King’s assassination? What did they know, and
what role did the agency play in covering up the truth about his murder?
is no surprise that J. Edgar Hoover, the founder and head of the FBI
until his timely departure in 1972, waged a war against Black America,
civil rights leadership and Black nationalist organizations with his
COINTELPRO program. As a result of the program — its role to
“prevent the rise of a Black messiah”— Black leadership ended up
murdered and imprisoned, and its institutions compromised and
decimated. At one point Hoover called Dr. King “the most
notorious liar in the country,” as the FBI monitored the civil rights
leader, bugged his hotel rooms, and even sent him a letter encouraging
him to commit suicide. But two authors believe the agency did
even more, having a direct role in his assassination through FBI
In their book, Killing King: The Multi-Year Effort to Murder MLK, Stuart
Wexler and co-author Larry Hancock delve into the notion of a cover-up
into the King assassination. Specifically, they allege that the
FBI under Clarence Kelly, Hoover’s successor, misled Congress by
destroying files related to the murder of King. Wexler says the bureau
disobeyed a direct order to preserve all materials, destroying files in
two field offices on Tommy Tarrants, a high-ranking Ku Klux Klan member
from Mississippi, in 1977. This came as a new Congressional
committee was established to investigate the assassination of King and
President Kennedy. The author claims there was something about
Tarrants that made the FBI upgrade him from an obscure racist to a
major player in the assassination.
have no doubt this was done deliberately. They are not destroying
everybody’s files, they are selectively destroying files,” Wexler told
the Daily Mail. “They wanted Tarrants to give evidence to the committee; they didn’t want him to be a suspect.”
according to Wexler, a man named Laude Matthews was in line to take
over the leadership of the Mississippi Klan. Wexler refers to
Matthews as “a big time deep cover agent for the FBI.”
can imagine a situation where the FBI does not want the Congressional
investigation to lead back to Laude Matthews,” Wexler speculated,
offering that the Mississippi Klan was among the most violent,
anti-Black chapters of the organization. “They did not want to
expose him to suspicion. Imagine what it would have looked like if an
FBI informant had a connection to the King assassination?”
The author added that if true, it would prove to be one of the worst scandals in the history of the agency.
the FBI had covered its tracks over King’s assassination, it would fit
into the pattern of duplicity and double dealing that marked the
bureau’s handling of King,” he said.
Tarrants, Wexler noted, eventually steered away from his radical Christian racism and is now a preacher.
then he had been in prison for a bombing and he’d made a full
conversion. The FBI arranged for him to get out of prison, which was
unheard of,” Wexler said.
In their previous book, The Awful Grace of God, Wexler
and Hancock chronicled a multi-year effort by a national network of
white supremacists to kill Dr. King, and their systematic attempts to
do so. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 on the balcony of
the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. James Earl Ray confessed to
the murder but later recanted.
now, as America finds itself in the midst of a new movement for the
rights of Black folks, white domestic terrorism is on the rise. And as
the Ku Klux Klan just celebrated its 150th anniversary, the nation
still does not regard it as a terrorist organization — and the
questions into Dr. King assassination remain unanswered.