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Tuesday, September 04, 2007
(1:22 PM) | Stephen:
Conspiracies And Accountability

The estimable and always-fascinating litbrit put me on to an article recently that was written by Robert Shetterly about the issue of conspiracy.

Shetterly starts off talking about Martin Luther King, Jr., about how his message and agenda are hardly contained in the famous "I have a dream" speech, as uplifting and important as that was. In particular Shetterly says that he likes
to focus on his last year — the period when, defying the advice of many of his advisors in the civil rights movement, he spoke against the Vietnam War, equating racism with imperialism. King felt bound to make the point that the forces of capitalism, materialism, and militarism that were driving segregation were also driving the war, and until we confronted the source of the problem, the abuses would continue. It was April 4, 1967, in Riverside Church in New York, that he made that declaration. A year to the day before his assassination.
Shetterly then makes the case that it was those forces of "capitalism, materialism and militarism" which combined to get rid of the troublemaker once and for all, and that James Earl Ray was innocent of King's murder.

Before reading this article, I did not know that there was a wrongful death suit filed by King's family against Loyd Jowers and "other unknown conspirators," that they retained James Earl Ray's lawyer for that lawsuit, and that William F. Pepper, the lawyer that defended MLK's alleged killer and represented the King family was a friend of Martin Luther King himself.

Crazy conspiracy theories, aren't they? Reasonable people can't be expected to believe that tripe, can they? The American government would do no such thing, obviously. Next you're going to tell me that the American government is operating secret - and blatantly illegal - prisons in Eastern Europe where CIA agents torture suspected "terrorists" who were rounded up in random sweeps on the streets of Baghdad.

Oh, wait.

There is an invisible line in the American psyche which cannot ever be crossed. The problem is that it's hard to know where it is ahead of time. But there are certain events about which a narrative is quickly created that is believed with a religious fervor by almost every American citizen no matter their ideological framework. So to suggest that perhaps the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK didn't happen the way we've been told automatically puts one on the outer fringe of the fringe of American society. To suggest that the events of 9/11 didn't happen quite the way everyone thinks they remember is to invite upon one's self mockery, ridicule, scorn and derision.

Americans tend to distrust government - any powerful institution, really. This is true of left and right. It's peculiar, though, how this ingrained distrust becomes less apparent the more important the issue. No one trusts the county assessor to be fair about their home's value, and certainly no one thinks that Congress is full of saints. But complete trust, to the point of resembling fundamentalist religious belief, is given to official government accounts of things like 9/11. This is wrong, completely backwards from the way it should be.

No institution should be trusted, whether government, corporation, church or anything else. In fact, there is a word and process which describes a lack of trust for these things: accountability. It's that simple, that mundane. Accountability is required not only in those situations where there is evidence of suspicious activity. Accountability is required at all times for all institutions and all people who occupy positions of authority and influence within them.

Whatever you might feel about his theology and methods, Billy Graham is an excellent example of this principle. He founded the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability in 1979 to provide an objective, 3rd-party repository for a given minister's or ministry's financial records. Those records have always been open to whomever wishes to view them. The ECFA exists because Billy Graham and some others like him understand that they have no expectation of the public's absolute trust and never will.

Continuing with ministers as examples, I know several male clergy who have made it a rule to never be in any place where they would be alone with a woman (I know what you're thinking, but Ted Haggard's case doesn't always come into consideration). This position is a bit extreme, but the principle is sound. Even if they know that there is no chance of something inappropriate happening, they also know that trust is something always to be earned, never to be spent.

So do I think that the US government had a hand in the 9/11 attacks, or in the assassinations of 3 very prominent, popular, influential and liberal voices of the 20th century? I don't know. But I know it's possible. And I refuse to reject out of hand the idea that perhaps there really have been some conspiracies, some collusion between private and public interests, even ones that seem to have divergent aims. Because as soon as I grant them that level of trust, that lack of accountability, then I allow them the space to do exactly that which I believe they won't do.

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