It's a Sad Day if America Conspires Against Americans

Coretta Scott King and her son Dexter want the Justice Department to investigate whether the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was the result of a government conspiracy. Let alone that the Kings may have a financial stake in this hypothesis, having entered into a movie deal with Oliver Stone. It is a sad day in America when so many find it plausible to believe their government could be engaged in murdering American leaders.

How many believe it possible that, as suggested in Stone's film, "JFK," Vice President Johnson, and/or Richard Nixon played a role in the assassination of President Kennedy? How many believe that President Kennedy had a hand in the murder of South Vietnam's Ngo Dien Diem? (President Nixon tried to nudge that idea along by getting "plumber" E. Howard Hunt to forge incriminating documents.) How many believe that, as right-wing Daddy Warbucks Richard Mellon Scaife has theorized, Clinton counsel Vincent Foster did not commit suicide, but was murdered?

Relatively new in American life is a willingness to suspend rational judgment and credit improbable assassination conspiracies. Perhaps the idea of a high-level plot may lend meaning to otherwise meaningless, random events.

In Eastern Europe, where I worked years ago, assassination theories were believed because, more often than not, they were true.

A paranoid Stalin had many of his lieutenants killed, and often scapegoats were executed as the assassins. Few believed that Stalin himself died a natural death in 1953, with various theories making Nikita Khrushchev and/or Security Chief Lavrenti Beria the author of the dictator's death. Nine months after Stalin's death, Beria was shot by an army general in the presence of other generals. It was announced that he had been executed for - what else? - conspiring against the state.

In 1963, it was widely believed in Eastern Europe that the assassination of President Kennedy had to be a government conspiracy.

The simple fact is that in Eastern Europe, with pervasive security for its masters, it would almost have had to be a conspiracy. Lyndon Johnson came into office, gravely worried, as his telephone tapes indicate, about the possibility of a Khrushchev or a Castro plot to kill Kennedy.

In fact, the CIA once was involved in assassination conspiracies against Castro of Cuba, Sukarno of Indonesia, Lumumba of the Congo, Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. None of these plots succeeded. Never, as far as is known, was the CIA involved in an assassination plot against an American.

But, such is distrust with government, that many are willing to believe it will murder inconvenient Americans. An exhaustive account of the King assassination by Gerald Posner in his book, "Killing the Dream," leaves little doubt that the killer was James Earl Ray.

That the Kings and Andrew Young, King's most trusted aide, are promoting the idea of a government conspiracy makes America begin to look like some East European dictatorship.

* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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