The inclusion of salacious gossip about Martin Luther King in the latest release of John F. Kennedy assassination documents serves as a headscratcher before it catalyzes an ah-ha moment.
The files allege wild orgies, prostitutes, fathering a love-child, drinking benders, and other activities unbecoming of a minister. Conspiracy theorists hopeful for any tidbit validating their belief in an establishment out to destroy King and Kennedy likely see the material as one would expect them to see it. But given that the collection of much of the dirt came about because Robert F. Kennedy, the attorney general, approved it surely puts a wrinkle in that narrative. The fact that his brother served as president during some of this unintelligent intelligence gathering complicates it further.
The pertinent question here, however, pertains not to the Kennedys empowering the FBI to perform as the National Enquirer of law enforcement. Here’s the real puzzle: Why did the federal government include these documents in the John F. Kennedy assassination materials?
The King information, as well as other documents relating to the New Left, the Black Panthers, and the antiwar movement, hits as a non sequitur, and quite literally so. That all followed John F. Kennedy’s assassination, not the reverse. The controversial memorandum on King that compiled information gathered earlier shows a March 12, 1968, date. So, what connection do memos, and events, in the late 1960s have with an event in the early part of the decade?
Really, nothing. But by including all this in the John F. Kennedy assassination files the agencies involved in gathering the salacious information protected themselves against public outrage. As time passed, King’s secrets — real and imagined — proved less embarrassing than the fact that people in the government obsessed over his secrets. The most effective way to hide the government’s secrets was to pretend that it all related to the events in Dallas. This guaranteed the prying eyes of the public would not see the prying eyes of public servants — at least until a fifty years after the fact. Sure, the stories contained in that raw memo gained attention in spite of the actual document collecting dust. But the government went to great lengths to make sure that the document stayed hidden.
Friday’s document dump also included materials at least tangentially connected to the assassination, such as on the Bay of Pigs invasion. An argument could be made that those documents belong with the other information on the Kennedy assassination hidden under lock-and-key and redacting markers. But that argument does not strike as a strong one. If one wanted to protect sensitive, albeit dated, material from Freedom of Information Act requests and such, linking it to the John F. Kennedy assassination seems as the most effective way to do that.
The documents do not really belong with the other documents — transcripts of Lee Harvey Oswald phoning Russians in Mexico City, correspondence between Oswald and American Communist Party leaders, details of the investigation of various extremist leaders in the days following the assassination, etc. — that directly pertain to the assassination. To make sense of their inclusion one must understand why it made sense to do so to the people including them.