Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
(A bit of non-i/v talk)
INT: In relation to the Black Panthers, people say that the FBI waged a particularly ruthless campaign against them. Do you think... were you aware of that at the time? Were the Black Panthers in Atlanta, for example, a significant feature, and was there a sense that the Black Panthers constituted an entirely different kind of black group from Martin Luther King's activists, for example?
AM: Well, there was a great difference between the activities of Dr King and the activities of the militants such as the Black Panthers and the SNIC organization and some of the others. They were more militant. But the difference in the way that the Bureau viewed them, that Mr. Hoover viewed them didn't exist, if you were to look at the ways in which he treated them. It was a sort of... the military term SOP - you know: Standard Operational Proceeding - if it was a Black Panther group or any other type of radical group, or group that J. Edgar Hoover felt was radical, then they went after them in the same way.
INT: Why did you turn against that outlook? Why did you in a sense break cover and expose what had been happening?
AM: Well, I turned against it only in the sense that I disapproved in [sic] the way that King was being... that the information on King was being used to try to destroy King. Now, in regard to some of the other activists,... I'm going to have to stop and think...
(More non-i/v talk. Cut.)
(A bit of preliminary discussion)
INT: ... If we go back to Martin Luther King and the Nobel Peace Prize, what was the particular point of the FBI's interest in that occasion, when everybody had gathered together to congratulate King...?
AM: Well, the reason that J. Edgar Hoover had an interest in the celebrations for Dr King in connection with the Nobel Peace Prize, was that he hated Hoover... he hated King and he didn't feel that he was entitled to have any recognition. So, in order to try to prevent that, he took a series of steps to dissuade all kinds of people. He sent an agent friend of mine, who worked with me in Atlanta. Now I said he was my friend, and he was in a social sense, but I never liked the guy very well, and he was always kissing up to somebody, you know; and he sent him to peddle information to the leading authorities in Atlanta, as to activities that we were getting off the tapes. And I said... I made the same allegation years ago, and they asked me everything but how do I know that this is what happened. ...
INT: Was there a sense that... what was happening was that Hoover wanted to dissuade people who were the sort of guests of Martin Luther King to attend this gathering? Was that the idea?
AM: Yeah, he wanted to dissuade them, and his means of dissuading them was to send people to see the leaders of the group that were trying to do the thing for Dr King. And I had a friend that was a doctor in Atlanta, and he later went... about that time he went to the Papacy to help take care of a high priest that was in Atlanta, and he was there for quite a long time; and then he was aware of the fact that agents had come to that particular Archbishop and other ranking officials in the Atlanta area, and made the same allegations that Mr. Hoover was drawing from what he thought... from what he wanted people to think was happening to Dr King, you see. And the allegations, of course, were not true, and this doctor friend of mine related the whole story to me when he came back from Rome, that he was made aware of the Bureau's interests in this whole thing, and that other leading officials in Atlanta, the mayor and the head of all three major faiths, you know, they went to see all of those people, agents went to see them. And they'd sit down with them and tell them, "Well, this is the kind of man King is. We know about it because of our wire-tap." And I was sitting there next to the wire-tap talking to the fellows that were handling it for a period - you know, I was not in the office all the time, but when I was there, discussions about what was coming in on the wire-tap - and there wasn't anything at all to indicate that the man was subversive or that he was communist or that he was breaking the law in any way.
INT: What impact did the death of Martin Luther King have on you personally?
AM: The death of Dr King was a profound sadness to me. I knew that it was unjust that Dr King was pictured the way he was in some of the media, and I knew the reason for it, I knew that the Bureau... that the FBI was manipulating the media, that they had ways in which they'd get releases out without saying where they were coming from, alleging certain things, or they'd give them a false... the source of the thing, they'd indicate falsely what was happening. And it isn't very hard to confuse people, to get them to believe, and particularly in the South where people wanted to believe it anyway, a lot of people.
INT: Do you think there was evidence... I mean, subsequently, looking back on it, do you think there's any reason to believe that a government agency, or unofficial government agencies, were involved in Martin Luther King's assassination?
AM: Let's stop for a minute.
INT: Do you feel that there was some official involvement in the assassination of Martin Luther King?
AM: Do I feel that there was? I feel that there's a high probability that there could have been. That's not to say that I feel that there actually was.
INT: What makes you feel that?
AM: A whole long experience in observing the relationship between King and Mr. Hoover, as known to me by the way that the FBI handled its relationship with King during that period.
INT: This is actually quite a long story. Would you be able to sort of take us down the thought processes that lead you to thinking that? (Pause) I mean, for example, the whole business of James Earl Ray, who was...
INT: I'm thinking of James Earl Ray, who was picked up and subsequently tried and imprisoned, on being charged with being the assassin of Martin Luther King. I mean, what makes you feel that there's perhaps more to this story than we know?
AM: I wish I could put it together for and not go on rambling and giving you something that you don't want. (Pause) While all of this was going on in Atlanta during the Sixties, I didn't start off with the conviction that the FBI was trying to destroy King. But there were a lot of things that happened between 1961 and the time of King's death that caused me to believe that high possibility existed. Now, one of them was the fact that the night that I heard about King's death, I was standing next to another agent friend of mine,... we were both getting ready to go home, and we went to the same parking lot, and it came on the radio that... while we were still in the office, that King was dead, or King had been shot and that he was dead, or something like that. And this guy said, "We finally got the son of a bitch!" Now I know that doesn't prove anything at all, but it proves the mental attitude that the agents that were handling those matters were brought to by the types of assignments that they were given and the information they were given about what was going on. I don't know how many of them may have drawn a conclusion, same conclusion that I did, that there is the possibility that in the King murder and in the Kennedy... both Kennedy murders, that there could have been someone there. I'm not about to conclude that I know. I certainly think that some time, when all the records are out and all of them have been examined, that there's a good possibility that they'll find something. And they may never find it.
INT: What do you think are the responsibilities of an organization like the FBI in dealing with people who have decided, for one reason or another, to oppose the status quo, to make protests, to in a sense exercise their constitutional rights?
AM: (Laughs) As far as people's exercising of their constitutional rights (Snuffles), I'm willing to follow precisely the views that are laid down, and the mass of numbers of cases that have been tried in courts and found, one way, one another way, depending on the evidence. Now I don't know whether that answers your question.
INT: Do you think it's a difficult thing for any society so constituted in the way that American society is, in its belief that it represents freedom and justice for all people, for it to be confronted by people in its own society who, for whatever reason, actually say: "This is not good enough - we will protest, we will actually push our protest to the limits of legality, and sometimes beyond, in order to redress our complaints" - do you think that places an organization like the FBI, whoever is at the head of it, in some difficulty, because it is there to keep an eye on possible political subversion?
AM: I think there's... some people might say there was a problem, but I don't think upholding the Constitution and the laws and the decisions that have come in that area, of the right of citizens to express themselves - I think it comes pretty close to being absolute, and the old cliché about "You can't yell fire in a church", there are specific circumstances where it's all right to invade the privacy of the individual and to find out what is necessary. But if you find out that there's nothing there, and you continue the thing indefinitely, until finally at the end of the end of the inquiry, the man is lying in a pool of blood, I think there's reason for some suspicion that some over-zealous people in connection with carrying out Hoover's responsibilities, may have developed a situation that brought this ... the death of Dr King.
INT: Do you think Hoover believed in the American Constitution and the freedom that it gave to individuals?
AM: I think Hoover believes it... Hoover believed it as far as he understood it. But Hoover... I think he went to law school but he was no student of the American Constitution. Now I have done some work in the area of the Constitution, and as a result of it, partly [as a] result of my being in the circumstance I was in the Bureau, where I was seeing things that I knew were wrong, when I got out I looked for a job teaching, and I wanted to teach in the area of constitutional law, and I ended up teaching at (unclear) College near here, for 10 years, and heading up a program for... education of law student... I mean, people who were going into police work and that sort of thing.
INT: Arthur Murtagh, thank you very much indeed. Thank you very much for the interview.