The American historian David J. Garrow is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of impeccable left-wing credentials. Politically he sees himself as inhabiting the Bernie Sanders spectrum, floating between the very left of the Democrats and those even further to the left outside the party’s big tent. Garrow approached the Guardian with a long article relating how newly-released evidence showed that the great US civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, the subject of his Pulitzer-winning biography and one of the iconic figures of 20th-century history—was a sexual predator who stood by and laughed when his friend raped a woman in front of him. Garrow expected the Guardian to leap at the story; it did so, at first, worked extensively on his copy, paid him—but then pulled out.
Garrow had similar experiences with the Atlantic magazine and the Washington Post—both of which he had written for before. Conservative magazines in the US also felt the story was too risky to run. The same response came from a web magazine whose raison d’etre is to fight for free speech. When Standpoint decided to publish it, the longest essay we have ever run, I approached a prominent British conservative historian to write an article putting the revelations into context. The response: “No way! I’ll try to think of someone else who has the guts to drink from that particular poisoned chalice.”
When the sexual mores of cardinals, presidents, writers, film directors and producers have all been exposed, why is it that questioning the behaviour of a civil rights icon is still beyond the pale? Is not the whole point of the #MeToo movement that no one, regardless of their stature or position, should be above examination of their personal behaviour? Dr King is the closest the US has to a saint in this secular age, a figure of universal—at least publicly-professed—reverence. Is that not all the more reason for subjecting him to scrutiny, however great his contribution to the creation of a more tolerant society? Standpoint makes no apology for publishing Garrow’s revelations this month.
The John F. Kennedy Records Act, passed in the aftermath of Oliver Stone’s conspiracy drama JFK, mandated the release of all government documents—however loosely involved—dealing with the assassination of the president in 1963. In 2017 Donald Trump ordered that documents still withheld had to be released. In 2018, more than 19,000 documents were released, including FBI and CIA reports. These documents include summaries of extensive FBI wiretaps of Martin Luther King.
The wiretaps reveal him to be the Harvey Weinstein of the civil rights movement. They show that he was sexually voracious, frequented orgies and was present when his friend, pastor Dr Logan Kearse, raped a woman in a hotel room. The FBI wiretaps reveal that “King looked on, laughed and offered advice”.
It is not only King who comes out badly from these wiretaps. The FBI agents who were listening in at the time did nothing to interrupt proceedings and protect the woman from sexual violence. The surveillance also confirms the long-held suspicion that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with King and believed that the civil rights leader was being directed by communists.
The newly-released documents also reveal just how infiltrated by FBI agents the far Left in America was. The Communist Party of the USA had 4,453 members in 1963. Two years later, 336 of them were FBI informants. In 1971, 11 members of the Communist Party’s national committee were FBI informants. Other groups were even more heavily infiltrated: in 1971, of the Black Panther Party’s 710 members, 156—nearly 22 per cent—were FBI informants. There are echoes of G.K. Chesterton’s novel The Man Who Was Thursday, in which a secret society of anarchists is entirely made up of state agents.
If public figures are now all—rightly—subject to scrutiny, there should be no exception for Martin Luther King, however worthy his other activities were. Standpoint is not frightened to stand up to the shibboleths of polite opinion. In this issue Dominic Green asks to what extent the Swedish schoolgirl and climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg is a confected phenomenon, Nick Cohen argues that the disability rights movement has in reality made things worse for the disabled, Jamie Blackett stands up for politically incorrect teachers, and Ashley Frawley rails against the mindlessness of mindfulness. But we are also willing to question the actions of conservative heroes. John Meadowcroft shows that Friedrich Hayek had a rather too sympathetic attitude towards Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, in fact rather more dubious than that of Milton Friedman, whose own slight relations with Pinochet are often used to disparage pro-market opinion.
Standpoint will never proselytise or push a party line—but at the same time there should be no no-go areas for a magazine such as ours. Too many other titles seem unwilling to stray out of their comfort zone.