January 14, 2021
This documentary throws the bureau’s appalling dirty-tricks campaign into sharp focus but is frustratingly reticent on other, more contentious issues
MLK/FBI review – startling study of the war against Martin Luther King
The FBI’s secret campaign of bugging, harassment and defamation against Martin Luther King Jr in the 60s is the subject of this startling but sometimes frustratingly reticent and guarded documentary. This poisonous dirty-tricks campaign continued until King’s assassination in Memphis in 1968, a murder that the bureau was somehow unable to prevent, despite its fanatical round-the-clock surveillance of King as well as its loudly proclaimed dedication to crimefighting.
It is now a matter of record that King was a flawed human being and had extramarital sex, but this is an enduringly mysterious part of his public image. (Even Ava DuVernay’s very fine biopic account of King in her 2014 movie Selma, starring David Oyelowo, tactfully romanticises these indiscretions.) The bureau’s audio tapes of alleged meetings in hotel rooms were finally, in 1977, handed over to the National Archives by order of a federal judge but sealed – they cannot be released until 2027 at the earliest. What exactly will they prove? Anything at all? All we have right now are the typescripts of the agents’ highly subjective summary reports.
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