Having examined Ray’s version of events—that he was manipulated by a mystery man named Raoul into bringing the murder weapon to the Memphis rooming house that served as the sniper’s perch, but that he himself did not pull the trigger—and finding it sorely lacking in credibility, we now move on to consider the scenario that Ray was the shooter. Some of the points raised against this version include that he was a bumbling and failed crook and could not have possibly planned such a nearly perfect assassination, a perspective that doesn’t take into account his successful capers, like his bank robberies and his prison escape—and in fact, he would go on to escape from prison again for a short time while serving his sentence for murdering King. Others point to the fact that he was not a murderer and therefore seems an unlikely culprit. However, he had made a career of armed robbery, of threatening people with murder if they didn’t give him what he wanted, and once he is said to have stabbed someone in a Kansas City bar for no reason other than that they had spoken to him. Then there is the point that Ray was no sniper and therefore isn’t likely to have been the shooter, but to suggest that he couldn’t possibly have made the shot that killed King from 200 feet away doesn’t take into account the fact that when he joined the Army in 1946, he qualified as a marksman during basic training. Therefore, the real question needs to be one of possible motivation, of what may have driven Ray to commit the crime. He claims that not only was he not aware that Dr. King would be in Memphis at the same time as he would be there, but also that he didn’t really know who Martin Luther King was and that he certainly never talked about him. Moreover, he and his surprisingly numerous supporters, which include many people of color, insist that he is not a racist. Therefore, it would seem that he had no concrete reason to plan Dr. King’s murder and must have been a patsy. But are his supporters only seeing what he wants them to see? And what evidence is there to belie his true motivation?
Expectedly, after his arrest, Ray was grilled about his feelings toward African Americans in an effort to ascertain whether racism was a driving factor in his assassination of Dr. King. Did he hate black people? Was he connected to white supremacist organizations? Ray has always consistently denied any racist views, though his denials often included odd quibbling and admissions of feeling estranged from people of other races, which one might take as the equivocation of a guilty mind or as an attempt at complete honesty. Certainly many African American believers in a conspiracy have embraced the idea that Ray harbored no hatred toward them. Yet a close investigation into James Earl Ray’s past, as Gerald Posner provides in his book, Killing the Dream, which I’ve relied on extensively in this series, turns up some real evidence that Ray’s ideas about race tended toward bigotry all his life. He grew up in a poor little area of Missouri that some called Little Dixie, as it had been settled by Southerners and had a strong Ku Klux Klan presence (Posner 80). Although Ray himself has never been connected to the Klan, beyond the fact that later in life he accepted the representation of a famously Klan-associated attorney, he did evince some social and political ideas that would line up perfectly with that notorious hate group. While working at a tannery in 1944, he befriended a German named Henry Stumm who spoke admiringly of Hitler and the Nazis. It has been reported by people who knew Ray during this period—including one of his brothers, who shared some damning information about Ray with book authors before later denying he had said them—that it was during this time that James Earl Ray developed an intolerance of and hatred toward Jews and African Americans. From his point of view—again according to statements made by his own brother—Ray believed that the U.S. would be a better place if Nazis took control because they would ensure that it would be a racially homogeneous nation: all white. He thought not that they would exterminate all other races, but that they would exile them, deport them to some other country. In fact, so charmed was he with Nazi race politics that when he joined the Army after the war had ended, he requested to be stationed in occupied Germany, where more than one family member assumed he hoped to learn from or even support the Nazis.
After the Nuremberg trials, however, he became disillusioned with the Nazis and with the Army, going AWOL and getting himself discharged from duty and sent back to the states. On the ship back, he was enraged, according one of his brothers, because black soldiers who had married German girls were put in first class while single white soldiers like himself were left in second class. Once home, Ray turned to a life of crime, and some who knew him said he developed an unreasonable hatred for African Americans, making occasional statements about how they should all be kicked out of the country, or even that they ought to be killed (Posner 111). This bigotry apparently continued or even worsened during his time in prison. Beyond the statements of his brothers and others close to him, some of which have since been recanted, some two dozen men who served time with Ray testified to his hostility toward black people. In fact, his animosity kept him from taking advantage of the opportunity to get out of his cell at Leavenworth and enjoy more freedom. In 1957, he had the chance to live on the prison’s honor farm, but he refused because it was integrated and apparently he much preferred the segregated living arrangements of the prison. Then while serving a sentence at Missouri State Penitentiary, he refused to attend any sporting events because the teams were comprised mostly of black players, and he once said of a black guard that worked his cell block, “that’s one nigger that should be dead.” And upon hearing of JFK’s assassination, he remarked, “That is one nigger-loving SOB that got shot. After his escape from the penitentiary, during his time courting Claire Keating in Montreal, Keating remembered their conversations turning to race and to black people specifically, saying that Ray told her, “You got to live near niggers to know ’em,” adding that everyone who knows them hates them (Posner 165). And after that, Ray again showed his true colors to the next woman he spent any significant time with, a prostitute in Mexico. One night, while drinking at a cantina, Ray seemed bothered by the fact that four black men had come in to drink at the same establishment. He began insulting and provoking the men before leaving the bar and coming back in to abuse them more. Returning to his seat, he had his companion feel inside his pocket, where she found that he was now carrying a pistol. One of the black patrons approached him and tried to make peace, but Ray snubbed him. Eventually, Ray drove all four men from the cantina with his disrespect, and he would have gone after them if his companion hadn’t stayed him by convincing him that police would be making their rounds.
Among the racist sentiments that Ray revealed in prison were comments about other countries to which he’d like to immigrate because they were less diverse or had ideas about relations between races that he found more sensible. For example, he told other inmates that he was considering moving to Australia because, as he understood it, there were no black people there. And he spoke a lot about the country of Rhodesia, a southern African nation built on harsh segregationist laws that was frequently in the news at the time because of its social and political turmoil. There, some 200,000 whites had maintained their extravagant lifestyles and their hegemony over the more than three million black native inhabitants by refusing to concede to black rule like the rest of the British colonies in Africa. Under Prime Minister Ian Smith, the colony declared a Unilateral Declaration of Independence and broke away from Britain. According to his brother John, James Earl Ray had not only expressed interest in travelling to Rhodesia but admiration for their stand against black majority rule, telling his brother during a prison visitation that he believed Ian Smith was doing a fine job. Things quickly fell apart, however, as The ensuing economic sanctions did little to bring the Rhodesians to heel, and as the white Rhodesians faced economic sanctions and a guerilla war at home, with multiple black nationalist groups, some armed and trained by Russia and others by China, engaged in a bush war with the relatively small Rhodesian army. This war was framed as a stand against Communism and heathenism, but to be certain, at its heart, it was a struggle to preserve a way of life made possible by white minority rule. And rather than Rhodesia’s troubles discouraging Ray’s interest in immigrating there, he seemed even more drawn to go and contribute in some way to their cause. While in Mexico, he wrote to an address he found in U.S. News and World Report advertising for immigrants to Rhodesia. Later, from Los Angeles, he wrote to the American-Southern African Council, expressing his interest in immigrating to Rhodesia and asking how he might obtain a passport since the U.S. wasn’t issuing them for travel to Rhodesia at the time, and then to the Friends of Rhodesia, Orange County chapter, purchasing a subscription to a pro-Rhodesian publication called the Rhodesian Commentary and asking further questions about immigrating there. Indeed, his flight to Europe after the assassination seems to have been an effort to make his way to Africa and offer his services as a mercenary. After his London bank robbery, he flew to Lisbon, which was a hotspot at the time for recruiting white mercenaries to fight in Angola’s civil war. In Lisbon, he visited the South African Embassy and asked them about mercenary recruitment, but finding that they were no longer recruiting, he went to the Rhodesian mission and the legation for Biafra, making clear his desire to join a white mercenary group at each location. Thereafter, when he was caught with his pistol back in London Heathrow Airport, he said he was carrying it because he intended to make his way to Rhodesia, where it was quite dangerous. Judging from these actions, it would appear that his plan to go to Africa centered either on some ideological desire to support a country fighting for white supremacy or on some deep yearning to shoot at black Africans.
Another point supporting the notion that, despite whatever weak denials he made or tolerant facades he adopted after his arrest for King’s murder, James Earl Ray did indeed harbor racist ideology is his vociferous support of Alabama governor George Wallace, whose conflict with Dr. King and stringent stand against civil rights I discussed in the most recent installment of this series. By the time Ray escaped from Missouri State Penitentiary, Wallace was concentrating on a bid for the presidency of the United States. His populist campaign has been aptly compared to the campaign of Donald Trump numerous times by many historians, like Wallace biographer Dan Carter and presidential historian Ronald Feinman, as well as by respected news organizations, including the New York Times, and National Public Radio. Like Trump, Wallace fanned the fires of resentment and fear of progressive social change, in his case specifically over the Civil Rights Movement and its recent legislation, calling the Voting Rights Act “one of the most tragic, most discriminatory pieces of legislation ever enacted” and bemoaning the civil rights legislation for setting “race against race and class against class.” With this reactionary message, he drew massive crowds to disorderly rallies, just like his 2016 counterpart, and like Trump, he appealed to the poor white demographic, suggesting that politicians in Washington were out of touch with the people and that they had a rude awakening coming. As were Trump’s rallies, Wallace’s were troubled by protesters who called him a racist and whom Wallace mocked from his lectern. While Trump called his followers to Make America Great Again, Wallace urged his supporters to Stand Up for America. It’s almost as if Trump was working from a George Wallace playbook when he decided to declare the press his opposition and spend more time discrediting them than his opponents. And much like Trump, he surprised many pollsters and analysts with his unexpected success, winning some 10 million popular votes and carrying 5 states.
We know that James Earl Ray was a strong George Wallace supporter because his brother John Ray, another Wallace supporter, has stated that James approved of his politics and even suggested that, after leaving Montreal following his failure to obtain a passport, he probably chose to go to Birmingham not because a shadowy mystery man directed him there but rather because he wanted to go somewhere people shared his views on race. After his sojourn in Mexico, Ray ended up in Los Angeles at the same time that Wallace was holding his raucous rallies up and down the state of California, and it would be no stretch to think he attended one of them. But even if he didn’t, we know that he read the Los Angeles Times, which devoted much column space in those months to Wallace’s effort to get his third party on the California ballot, and we know that in establishing his Eric S. Galt alias in L.A., he told people he was in town working for the Wallace campaign. In fact, he even appears to have done some stumping for them, of a sort. It turns out that his first trip to New Orleans from Los Angeles had not been made in order to rendezvous with Raoul—a character that he never mentioned to anyone until after his capture—but rather he made it as a favor to a woman he’d met, driving her, her brother and another friend there to retrieve her two daughters, but before he would take them, he demanded that all three sign a petition to get Wallace on the ballot. Finally, there is the indication that Ray may have been planning Dr. King’s assassination long in advance, and that George Wallace was an integral part of the plan. Ray’s brother Jerry told George McMillan, one of the writers researching the assassination, that there had been such a plan, and that Ray chose to establish his Eric S. Galt identity in Birmingham after returning from Canada because, much like Donald Trump can be counted on to use his pardon power as a sort of political patronage, James Earl Ray assumed that if he murdered Dr. King in Alabama, Wallace would make sure he went free. Of course, Jerry Ray would later deny that he said any such things, even though the statements are present in McMillan’s interview notes (Posner 169). And this would not be the only such statement indicating that James Earl Ray had entertained the idea of killing Dr. King for years.
Ray claimed that he had only the vaguest knowledge of Dr. Martin Luther King’s existence, a dubious notion considering how much we know he read and kept up with the news, and that he certainly never spoke about him to anyone, but statements collected from people who knew him prior to the assassination contradict this. Back in prison, more than one inmate remembered how Ray would become agitated while reading weekly newsmagazines over the actions of civil rights leaders and King specifically, and one inmate, Cecil Lillibridge, recalled him scornfully calling Dr. King “Martin Luther Coon” (Posner 135). Likewise, statements made by Ray’s brothers, Jerry and John, who had visited him in prison and appear to have rendezvoused with him more than once after his escape, indicate that James Earl Ray was more than aware of Dr. King, that he was actually entertaining ideas about killing him. Several weeks after his escape, according to Jerry Ray, all three brothers met in an old, rundown Chicago hotel and plotted some ways they might make money. Ideas bandied about ranged from as dangerous as kidnapping someone of importance for a ransom to as seedy as making and selling pornography, the latter being a scheme James Earl Ray found quite enticing. During this meeting, though, James told his brothers, “I’m going to kill that nigger King. That’s something that’s been on my mind. That’s something I’ve been working on.” According to their story, told to author George McMillan, both brothers refused to have anything to do with this plot. And later, both brothers claimed such a meeting had never taken place and denied they’d ever told McMillan it had. But the brothers were known to lie about their meetings with Ray. For example, John had visited James in prison the day before James’s escape, and there is reason to believe he aided his brother’s escape since James afterward used an alias and a social security number that John had previously been known to use. And despite prison records that prove the visitation happened, John claimed he had not visited James the night before the escape. And years later, when the House Select Committee on Assassinations questioned Jerry Ray about this meeting in Chicago at which James reportedly expressed intentions to murder Dr. King, Jerry tellingly did not deny it happened but rather refused to talk about it, hiding behind the Fifth Amendment on the grounds that discussing this meeting might incriminate him. Considering the fact that the bank robbery the brothers are suspected of committing together took place shortly after the meeting, it is possible that their discussion of kidnapping and robbery plans was what Jerry worried would be incriminating, but there is the further possibility that the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the plots hatched by the brothers in that Chicago hotel room, and that rather than it being James’s plan alone, the brothers raised it and planned to pursue it together. The question, then, is why? After the assassination, Jerry said that if Ray had done it, “there had to be a lot of money involved” (Posner 41). But he told McMillan that he had refused to go along with Ray’s plan of killing King because “There ain’t no money in killin’ a nigger” (Posner 152). Yet shortly after the manhunt for his brother had begun, he reportedly told a friend who asked him if Ray had done it that “This is his business… If I was in his position and had eighteen years to serve and someone offered me a lot of money to kill someone I didn’t like anyhow, and get me out of the country, I’d do it.” So was there, after all, money in it for the man who killed Dr. King? And did the brothers discuss this, among other moneymaking schemes, during their brainstorming session in that Chicago hotel room?
Of course, it is part of Ray’s legend of Raoul that he was drawn unwittingly into a plot to kill King on a promise of money, but if Ray had taken it upon himself to plan King’s murder as a moneymaking scheme before he claims he ever even met Raoul, then where would he have gotten the impression there was money in it? His prison acquaintance Cecil Lillibridge, who had listened to him rail against civil rights leaders, says that Ray also used to wonder aloud whether or not there might be some group out there that would reward the killer of a civil rights activist like King (Posner 135). Other inmates told interviewers that Ray spoke about murdering Dr. King for money, speculating that he might get as much as $10,000 for it. One inmate, Harry Sero, remembers suggesting to Ray that, what with King advocating boycotts, some wealthy businessmen might pay a lot to have King put out of the way. Ray’s comments appear to have graduated after that from speculative to seemingly assured, telling other inmates that some “businessman’s association” was offering a hundred grand for King’s murder, though he couldn’t name the group, simply saying he would find out who they were (Posner 136). Were there such bounties on Dr. King? The short answer is yes, of course there were, bounties ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 offered by a variety of far right hate groups like the KKK, the National Socialist White People’s Party, the Minutemen, and the American Nazi Party. Which of these groups Ray might have come into contact with, however, is a more important question to demonstrating that Ray may have undertaken the assassination in the hopes of collecting a bounty. There are reports that some prisoners in the Missouri State Penitentiary at Jefferson City were aware of a $100,000 bounty on King from the White Knights of the Mississippi KKK as well as of another bounty by a local criminal enterprise calling itself the Cooley’s Organization (Posner 137). But one such supposed bounty stands out. In the late ‘70s, the House Select Committee granted immunity to a St. Louis man in exchange for his testimony about being offered money to assassinate Dr. King. Russel Byers testified that in late ’66 or early ’67, a real estate developer with ties to the criminal underworld named John Kauffmann approached him about an opportunity and took him to see a wealthy segregationist named John Sutherland. Byers’s tale has him entering a well-appointed study adorned with memorabilia from the Confederacy to discuss a proposition. Sutherland, with a Confederate hat on his head, offered Byers fifty grand to kill King or to arrange his death, a bounty he said would be provided by a wealthy organization out of the South. Byers said he declined to take part in their plot. The House Select Committee was able to corroborate Byers’s story, and it seemed quite feasible that Ray might have found out about this offer before he escaped the penitentiary, as Byers’s brother-in-law was incarcerated in the same cell block with him, and Ray has admitted to knowing him. Then there is the fact that Kauffmann, the guy who brought Byers in on the plot, was a convicted amphetamine dealer, and during his trial, it came out that he was having the drugs smuggled into Missouri State Penitentiary, where James Earl Ray was using and selling them. A strong indication that Ray had heard of the Sutherland bounty on King comes from another inmate’s testimony, given long before Byers ever spoke about the bounty, that Ray had tried to bring him in on a plot to kill King for money, no longer claiming the bounty was ten grand or a hundred, but now naming the $50,000 amount we know was offered by John Sutherland and assuring the fellow prisoner that, if they killed King in the South, it wouldn’t even matter if they were caught because “who in the South like niggers?” (Posner 139).
So there is good reason to believe James Earl Ray had it in his head that he and his brothers might make a considerable amount of money by planning and carrying out King’s assassination. After their meeting in Chicago, Ray made his way to Birmingham in order to establish his alias Eric S. Galt as an Alabaman because, as Jerry Ray explained to George McMillan, James Earl Ray thought getting rid of King would help the George Wallace campaign, and he believed that, if he were caught, Wallace would surely pardon him for the murder, maybe not right away, but eventually, when the outrage had subsided (Posner 169). And in fact, John Sutherland, the wealthy lawyer who had put up the fifty grand bounty on king, was a major player in the George Wallace campaign, a fact that lends credence to the conspiracy theory that the Wallace campaign may have actually been linked to the King assassination. Months later, after Ray’s vacation in Mexico, when he made his visit to New Orleans while living as Galt in Los Angeles, rather than meeting with Raoul as he claimed, there is a chance that he actually met with one of his brothers there and that they further discussed the idea of killing King and collecting the Sutherland bounty. Since Ray’s departure, his brother John had opened a tavern in St. Louis in an area where numerous Wallace rallies were held, and it had quickly become a haunt for ex-cons and underworld types looking for jobs, just the kind of place where the bounty would have been whispered about. Then, after Ray’s visit to New Orleans, John converted the tavern into a Wallace campaign center, distributing literature and helping to register voters. And in another connection to the Sutherland bounty, John employed a woman whose husband was friends with Russel Byers, the man Sutherland had propositioned about killing King. After Ray’s visit to New Orleans, there are clear signs that he wasn’t just looking forward to skipping the country or engaging in some more light smuggling but rather planning something big. He underwent plastic surgery to change his appearance. He would later explain that he did this because he expected soon to show up on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, a rather telling excuse, since surely he didn’t think a small-time escaped armed robber would be placed on the Most Wanted list so long after his escape unless he had it in his head that he would soon be committing a far more heinous and high-profile crime. He even went so far as to manually adjust his bandaged nose after his rhinoplasty so that even his plastic surgeon wouldn’t know exactly what he looked like. As James Earl Ray prepared to leave L.A., Dr. Martin Luther King visited the city and spoke at numerous events over the course of a couple days. Less than a month later, King would lie shot on the balcony at the Lorraine, and James Earl Ray had also begun the final leg of his journey to be in that same city block at the same time. As he headed east, staying at cheap motels, newspapers reported that Dr. King would be in Selma, Alabama, on the 22nd, and Ray drove straight there, indicating that, after all, he was stalking the reverend. When King left Selma, Ray took his leave as well, driving then to King’s hometown, Atlanta, Georgia, and it is worthwhile now to remember the map the FBI would eventually discover in one of his rooms, with King’s home and the church where he preached both circled in pencil. It was during this stay at a rooming house in Atlanta that Ray made the two hour drive west to Birmingham several times to visit multiple gun stores, and of course, if he really had no idea that the gun he would be buying was going to be used to murder someone and instead just thought it was going to be a showpiece to impress their Mexican connection, there would have been no reason not to buy the gun right there in Atlanta. Driving so far to buy it betrays Ray’s concern that the gun might later be traced back to him. Astonishingly, Jerry Ray, in the 1975 interview with George McMillan that he would later claim never happened but which is corroborated in McMillan’s notes according to Gerald Posner, the author of my principal source, Killing the Dream, Jerry said he actually met up with James in Birmingham, cagily implying they had test-fired the first rifle Ray bought together and that he had concerns about whether the gun could “do it in one shot” (Posner 223). Recall that when Ray returned the first rifle he’d bought, he said that he’d changed his mind after speaking with his brother. After exchanging the rifle, Ray brought it to Memphis. There is some debate over when Ray left for Memphis with the rifle, whether it was before or after the announcement that King was returning to that city for another march, but we know that he only arrived at the New Rebel the night before the assassination.
The details coalesce to form a clear picture, it seems to me, that there may have been numerous conspiracies to have King killed in the form of bounties being put on his head, whether implicitly or explicitly, by hate groups as well as, perhaps, by some Southern boosters of the George Wallace campaign, but that Ray was not necessarily part of those conspiracies in the sense that he may only have heard of the bounties second or third hand and undertook to murder King with the hope of collecting on them after the fact. The clearest evidence of any conspiracy is between James Earl Ray and his brothers John and Jerry, who if McMillan’s interviews can be believed, might more accurately be called accomplices than co-conspirators. And there is little reason to trust known dissemblers and convicted felons over George McMillan, whose journalistic work appeared in the most distinguished of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Saturday Evening Post. Nevertheless, while close scrutiny of the available research paints a surprisingly clear picture of a virulent racist and lifelong outlaw driven to murder out of greed who after his capture and conviction devoted the remainder of his life to spinning a web of lies and conspiracy innuendo, there are still a couple details that give one pause and prove a bit harder to explain away. For example, most of the aliases that James Earl Ray used, among them Eric S. Galt, John Willard, and Ramon Sneyd, were the names of real people, all of whom lived near each other in the same suburb of Toronto. The fact that a few of these Canadian men could’ve passed for Ray has led some to believe that the mysterious Raoul, Ray’s supposed handler, had provided him with these cover identities, although Ray himself never claimed this. Instead, he said he probably got the names out of a phone book, a believable enough explanation until one discovers the fact that the real Eric Galt’s middle name was not “Starvo,” as Ray had given it, but rather St. Vincent. Curiously, though, the real Galt customarily wrote out his middle name abbreviated, as St. V., with the periods looking like little o’s, so that it appeared to read as StoVo. So the only reasonable explanation seems to be that, rather than getting this name from a phone book, Ray must have seen some paper on which Galt had handwritten his name and simply guessed at pronouncing the middle name, corrupting it from Stovo to Starvo. But there is evidence that Ray stalked some of the men whose names he would later use, as among his possessions was another map with marks on it, this one of Toronto with marks near the homes of these men. And we know that after the assassination, he contacted the real life counterparts of several of his known aliases, pretending to be a government official in order to ascertain whether they already had passports, since he would be trying to get a passport in one of their names. So considering this, it is perhaps not impossible to imagine that he had previously gone to Toronto, stalked some men who looked like him, and took some papers from Galt at least, perhaps from his trash in order to find out what his signature looked like. It certainly is a complicated routine to go through when other fugitives might just make up a name, but perhaps it just reflects the fact that he had given a lot of thought to how he might establish an ironclad identity and obtain a Canadian passport, which eventually he did.
Then there are the hypnosis sessions he underwent in Los Angeles before setting out to assassinate Dr. King. Assassination conspiracy theorists are no stranger to the notion that unwitting patsies can be programmed to commit murder through hypnosis. This is a major element of the conspiracy theory that Sirhan Sirhan was not alone responsible for the shooting of Bobby Kennedy. Sirhan Sirhan was an enthusiast of self-hypnosis and actually practiced it on himself by following the instructions provided by a group of supposed Rosicrucians. Now, who the Rosicrucians are, or were, is a topic better left for its own likely sprawling edition of Historical Blindness, but it’s understandable that this tidbit has fueled many conspiracy theories. Well, it turns out that James Earl Ray was interested in self-hypnosis as well. He had read about hypnosis in prison, bought more books on it in Canada, and attended several sessions with a psychologist in L.A. who specialized in hypnosis and found Ray to be an excellent subject of it—much like it was found that Sirhan Sirhan was easily hypnotized. This, of course, all sounds very suspicious and sinister, until you read what his hypnotists had to say about him. When interviewed, Dr. Freeman, his L.A. psychologist, said Ray revealed no secret plan to kill King while under hypnosis, but that he did betray his immense dislike for African Americans. Ray also visited the International Society of Hypnosis and spoke with its head, Rev. Xavier von Koss, who disagreed about Ray being easy to hypnotize, saying he showed a “strong subconscious resistance” (Posner 209). And for what it’s worth, during his encounter with Ray, Koss also claims to have surmised that Ray wanted recognition above all else. And the simple truth about these assassins’ interest in self-hypnosis might be far more mundane that one would anticipate. The fact is, self-hypnosis was something of a self-help fad at the time. It was becoming popular as a self-improvement technique that could improve memory and sleep and help one overcome personality problems like shyness and social disorders like anxiety. Some more common uses of self-hypnosis that many may be more familiar with are its use in helping people quit smoking or lose weight. So rather than it being a nefarious brainwashing technique that some mysterious conspirators used to program both Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray, isn’t it a simpler and therefore more logical explanation that they just used it to overcome the shyness with which they were both known to struggle? In fact, as an escaped convict who may have also been planning a high-profile assassination, Ray’s shyness, his tendency to not look people in the eye and seem squirrely and nervous, was something he would have certainly wanted to correct, as it could very well get him caught. In fact, in the end, it did, as the immigration officer at the passport desk in Heathrow on June 8th, 1968, looked a little closer at him and his papers, double-checking his name against those on his “Watch For and Detain” list, because he seemed “slightly nervous” (Posner 45).
Time, it is said, marches on, and like the marchers at whose head Dr. Martin Luther King strode, it has gone on to remember him well. Just days after his murder, with his killer still on the loose and the fires of rioters still burning, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and several months later, before an election that LBJ had backed out of, he spoke again on the passage of a landmark Gun Control Bill that was directly inspired by the horrendous murders of both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy by men that never should have been allowed to get their hands on a firearm. But, of course, even after these tragedies which roused our nation to action, much like today, the influential gun lobby prevented the passage of comprehensive gun control legislation. Within weeks of the Gun Control Bill’s passage, we elected president Richard Nixon. After the failure of his presidential campaign, George Wallace returned to Alabama and licked his wounds, winning the governorship back in 1971 and once again campaigning for president in 1972, when he became the victim of his own assassination attempt. Unlike King, surviving the attempt, he lived to the age of 79. Despite publicly moderating his views on race, Wallace is not remembered well, unlike Dr. King, who is popularly viewed today as a visionary, a hero, a saint, and a martyr. As for James Earl Ray, he died in 1998 at 70, failing to ever win a new trial despite decades of sowing doubt about his guilt. Nevertheless, speculation about Ray’s innocence and the possibility of a conspiracy will not die.
Posner, Gerald. Killing the Dream: James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Random House, 1998