RFK and the End of an Era

A just published book on the RFK murder re-examines the evidences and asks what the world might be like if the four 1960s assassinations never occurred.

By James DiEugenio Special to Consortium News

Authors Tim Tate and Brad Johnson begin their new book, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy:  Crime, Conspiracy and Cover-Up – A New Investigation (Thistle Publishingwith this quote from RFK the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed: “What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet.”

Just two months later Kennedy would become the last in a series of four assassinations of American leaders from 1963-68: President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. The cumulative political impact of those murders is hard to overstate. Toward the end of their bookthe authors try to estimate what that impact was.

Though it’s impossible to say for sure, they conjecture that, at the very least, the Vietnam War would have ended much sooner and would not have expanded into Laos and Cambodia. We know for certain that President Richard Nixon’s decision to expand the war caused the collapse of the government of Cambodia’s Prince Sihanouk, the eventual takeover by the Khmer Rouge and the death of two million people.

The murder of Bobby Kennedy has always seemed to get less attention in the mainstream media than the other 1960s assassinations, perhaps because it’s been considered an “open and shut case.” There were, after all, seventy witnesses to RFK’s murder. But the Los Angeles Police Department decided very early, and quite literally, that what happened in the wee hours of June 5, 1968 would not be another Dallas, as Tate and Johnson say.

It’s not widely known that Sirhan Sirhan’s attorneys did not mount a defense to the charges against him. Instead they resorted to what’s known as an alternative defense called “stipulation to the evidence.” In legal terms this means the defense accepts the testimony and exhibits presented by prosecutor as valid. Therefore, there was no argument in court over the medical, eyewitness or ballistics evidence.

What the trial was really about was Sirhan’s mental state. Since his legal team thought he was guilty, they tried to avoid capital punishment by arguing he was mentally unbalanced at the time. This failed, and Sirhan only escaped electrocution because California later outlawed the death penalty.

As Tate and Johnson show, this defense strategy doomed Sirhan. For example, when coroner Thomas Noguchi was on the stand, lead defense lawyer Grant Cooper actually tried to curtail his testimony by saying, “Is all this detail necessary? I think he can express an opinion that death was due to a gunshot wound.”

Noguchi should have been Sirhan’s star witness, and Cooper should have had him on the stand all day, the authors argue. Noguchi’s 62-page autopsy report proved that all the bullets that hit the senator entered from behind Kennedy. They also entered at extreme upward angles and at close range, i.e. from 1-3 inches.

Sirhan Not Close Enough

Every witness in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel placed Sirhan in front of Kennedy, and at a distance of 2-5 feet. The fatal headshot struck RFK behind the right ear at point blank range, with the barrel almost touching his skin. As the authors note: How could not one single witness recall such a horrifying image? Witnesses put Sirhan in front of Bobby Kennedy and therefore he could not have been close enough to fire the shot that ended Kennedy’s life.

As Tate and Johnson describe, Noguchi was struck by the deep circular powder burns in Kennedy’s hair. He did experiments with pigs’ ears, firing at them from differing close ranges. The only distance at which he could duplicate that imprint was 1.5 inches. This is considered a point blank or contact shot. If Cooper had walked Noguchi through those experiments, the prosecution would have had the steep challenge of countering that evidence. But it never happened.

We know today that the police understood the problem they had. As the authors show, using the LAPD’s own secret exhibits, the authorities had performed three different reconstructions of the shooting. Each one of these reenactments featured certain key witnesses from the Ambassador Hotel pantry. In each of them, at the direction of the witnesses, Sirhan was placed several feet in front of Kennedy. Since the two earliest reconstructions were done in 1968, before the trial, they could have been used as strong evidence for the defense.

Because Noguchi’s testimony was curtailed, his autopsy report was not entered into the trial record. But perhaps worse, because the defense stipulated to the evidence, the work of prosecution witness, DeWayne Wolfer, head of the LAPD crime lab, never underwent cross-examination. One of the most serious problems for the official case is that Sirhan’s handgun held a maximum of eight shots. Yet in addition to the four shots that struck Kennedy there were five other victims. Three bullets hit Kennedy and one passed through his jacket shoulder pad. That’s nine shots and Sirhan could only have fired eight. Here is where Wolfer borrowed a device from the John Kennedy case: a Magic Bullet.

In addition to these nine shots, there was also evidence that there were bullets in door frames, ceiling tiles, and the swinging gate into the pantry. But Sirhan’s lawyer agreed that the prosecution would not have to prove which bullet came from where.

Wolfer said that the bullet that went through Kennedy’s jacket shoulder also hit labor leader Paul Schrade in the middle of his forehead. Yet that bullet was fired from behind the senator and Schrade was walking behind Kennedy. As Schrade told the authors, when he heard that, it was the end of innocence for him on the RFK case.

Schrade said he would have had to be nine feet tall and bending over at his waist for that bullet to hit him in the head. 

Wolfer had an interesting explanation for the bullet that hit bystander Elizabeth Evans. Because the police needed to account for holes in the ceiling tiles, Wolfer said that this projectile went through the tiles, and struck the ceiling behind them. It then ricocheted off that surface, making another hole on the way down, and then struck Evans. Yet, the hospital report on Evans said a bullet hit her in the front hairline traveling upward. In other words, like in a master pool game, this must have been a double bank shot.

Too Many Holes

But even Wolfer’s fertile imagination could not account for the evidence of the multitude of shots fired. This created serous problems because, as the authors describe, these extra bullet holes were witnessed by law enforcement professionals. 

William Bailey was an FBI agent in Los Angeles who had been watching the California primary results on television in which Kennedy had just defeated Eugene McCarthy. After Kennedy proclaimed victory and said, “On to Chicago, and let’s win there,” Bailey fell asleep. He was awakened when a fellow agent knocked on his door and said they were assigned to the Ambassador to interview witnesses.

Bailey and his partner were there for a good part of the next two days. During that time, Bailey said he saw at least two bullet holes in the center divider of the swinging gate leading into the pantry. He also added that there appeared to be the base of two bullets in the holes. He was certain they were not nail holes.

Martin Patrusky, a waiter and crime scene witness, later said police told him there were two bullets that were taken out of the divider. In addition to this, there were two policemen who saw a bullet hole in the doorframe leading into the pantry. When the late Vincent Bugliosi, a lawyer who worked in the LA district attorney’s office at the time, called police officer Robert Rozzi to ask him about this, Rozzi said he saw what appeared to him to be a bullet about a foot and a half from the bottom of the floor embedded in the door frame. Bugliosi then called Sgt. Charles Wright who confirmed that there was a bullet hole in the frame and that it was later removed. This evidence, if true and which was kept out of the trial, appears to indicate that there were more shots in the pantry than Sirhan could have fired.

Co-author Johnson managed to locate an audio recording made by a Canadian journalist as he followed Kennedy from his victory speech in the Embassy Room to the pantry. That audiotape was in the archives of the RFK case in Sacramento. Johnson had it analyzed by Philip Van Praag, a master audio technician. After a long, detailed technical study, Van Praag concluded that there were at least 13 shots on the tape. Further, two pairs of shot sounds are too close to each other to be fired by one man.

As the authors note, the vast majority of the RFK evidence was supposed to be available for viewing after the trial of Sirhan. This did not happen. The fact it did not allowed certain officials involved to misrepresent the facts of the case to the public. Senator Kamala Harris, now the darling of the Democratic liberal establishment, then continued to deny Sirhan’s lawyers an evidentiary hearing while she was California attorney general.

RFK Jr. Visits Sirhan

Robert Kennedy Jr. has now become the first Kennedy family member to openly question the verdict in the murder of his father. A few months ago, he did what what Martin Luther King’s son, Dexter King, did in 1997 when he visited James Earl Ray in prison, leading Dexter to believe in Ray’s innocence in the murder of his father.

A few months ago, Kennedy Jr. quietly visited Sirhan in prison. After months of sifting through the evidence at the behest of Schrade, he came to the conclusion that Sirhan had not killed his father. This startling news was reported by the The Washington Post. Kennedy Jr. supports Schrade’s plea for a new investigation. Kennedy’s son is an experienced attorney who is partly responsible for getting his cousin Michael Skakel out of prison. Kennedy’s book on that case was a powerful exposé of how the justice system failed when it was improperly influenced by outside factors.

Kennedy Jr.’s pronouncement may finally give his father’s case the attention and the serious analysis it deserves. Reading Tate and Johnson’s book shows how poor of a job the mainstream media has done. As late Congressman Allard Lowenstein said:

Robert Kennedy’s death, like the President’s was mourned as an extension of the evils of senseless violence….What is odd is not that some people thought it was all random, but that so many intelligent people refused to believe that it might be anything else. Nothing can measure more graphically how limited was the general understanding of what is possible in America.”

Fifty years later our understanding of what is possible in America may not be so limited after all.

James DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. He is the author of The JFK Assassination : The Evidence Today. His most recent book is Reclaiming Parkland.

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My Night with Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was a complex and imperfect hero who reflected the turbulence of his time, a reality lost in some eulogies after his death but that playwright Stephen Orlov recalls from a night with Ali 46 years ago.

By Stephen Orlov

There will never be another like him. And, in 1970, I had the good fortune of sharing a memorable night with the Champ, the greatest sports figure in modern history, at the height of his boxing prowess and controversial career.

Muhammad Ali was then out on bail for dodging the draft. He had been stripped of his heavyweight title, banishing him from the ring, and he needed money for his legal fees. The Champ was touring college campuses across America, lecturing mostly white students about his Muslim faith and the sins of racism at home and war abroad.

I was president of the Junior Class at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and Ali was my top choice for our annual class speaker that March of 1970.  From the moment I had first watched the young cocky boxer on the Ed Sullivan Show, skipping rope and brashly spouting in rhyme poetic victory predictions about his upcoming match, he became my sports idol.

His charisma on and off the ring was captivating.  Ali’s stand against racism and the Vietnam War later inspired my activism as a leader of the anti-war strike at Colby, provoked six weeks after his visit to our campus by the National Guard shootings of students at Kent State.

Ali first claimed the heavyweight title with his shocking technical knockout of Sonny Liston in 1964, the same year Dylan released his protest anthem, The Times They Are a-Changin’, and 15 months after, he beat Liston again in nearby Lewiston. By the time Ali came to Colby five years later, a tidal wave of counter-cultural rebellion had engulfed the country, empowering the great social movements of the day — civil rights and black power, anti-war and feminism; Native and Gay rights; the United Farm Workers’ boycott and Earth-Day environmentalism.

The college gym was packed that night, and a crowd of students, professors and town folks who couldn’t get a seat stood outside weathering the cold to hear his talk on outdoor loudspeakers set up for the event. The only problem was I couldn’t find Ali.

The Champ didn’t like flying, so I had been informed by his booking agent, who charged a thousand dollars for the speaking engagement, that Ali would arrive by car at the local Holiday Inn three hours before the evening speech. I went to the hotel, which had lit on its huge neon sign “Welcome Muhammad Ali!”

Thirty minutes ticked off my watch, then 45; finally an hour later, I called the only other hotel in town and sure enough the Champ had just arrived with his entourage of fellow Black Muslim men and women packed into two limousines. I rushed over and met Ali, just as he and his companions were sitting down for a meal at two large round tables.

Star-Struck

I must admit I was star-struck sitting across from my larger-than-life hero, barely muttering a few words to “Mr. Ali,” as we dined over a huge meal he ordered for all. When we finished eating, Ali stood up as the hotel manager came over with the bill and said proudly, “I can’t thank you enough for dining at our hotel. It’s been a great honor to serve you.”

The Champ replied with a gracious smile, “It’s been my pleasure,” and promptly walked out without paying the bill. As we departed, I glanced back at the dumbfounded manager, bill in hand, frozen on his spot.

When we arrived at the gym, the crowd was buzzing with anticipation. I knew exactly how I would introduce Ali. I began with a few rarely-quoted lines from Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 Senatorial debate speech in Charleston, Illinois, expressing emphatically that he never believed in equality between the white and black races, and then I simply added, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Muhammad Ali.”

The Champ rose to a rousing ovation and pulled out a speech from his suit pocket, which he never looked at during his hour-long oration, peppered with improvised commentary decrying white racism and preaching the Black Muslim cause.

When I stood up to chair the Q&A, I felt tiny next to the towering 6’3” Champ. After a half hour, with great trepidation I took the liberty of posing the last question. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, based on Alex Haley’s interviews with the dynamic Nation of Islam minister who allegedly had been assassinated on orders of its founder Elijah Muhammad, had a formative impact on my life, and I was determined to ask Ali what he thought of those murder allegations against his leader.

He turned toward me with a scowl and denounced white honky “this and that,” scolding me and the racist media for making such spurious charges. He said, “I loved Malcolm like a brother but he was wrong to turn against our esteemed spiritual leader.” I wasn’t exactly shaking in my boots, but I kept my eye on his clenched right fist.

The 20 or so Black students enrolled at Colby had requested front-row seats. Two weeks earlier, they had occupied the college’s chapel in protest, demanding more affirmative-action policies and the hiring of a Black professor to teach African-American History.

When Ali finished his speech, he agreed to meet with them in a private room. I accompanied the group and sat down among them, until I realized their prolonged silence signaled I didn’t belong. I left without saying a word and waited outside to say goodbye to the Champ.

Hero But No Saint

When they came out a few of the Black male students were visibly upset watching Ali embrace with warm hugs a few of their Black female classmates enamored with the Champ. Ali hopped into his limo and off he went without spending the night.

I never learned any details about their private chat with Ali, but when I later asked one of the more militant of those students how it went, he merely shrugged his shoulder, leaving the impression that it wasn’t quite what he had expected.

Ali went on to claim the heavyweight title a record three times and became a legend in and out of the ring. The man risked years of imprisonment for his beliefs and his principles, sacrificing his championship crown, the most glamorous in all of sports back then, and millions of dollars that came with it; a far cry from so many sports “heroes” today, who’d rather peddle their trademark shoes than comment on the pressing social issues of our day.

The young boxer who threw his Olympic Gold Medal into the river as a personal sign of protest against racism in his country became the greatest sports ambassador in American history. He was the most recognizable person on the planet, a champion of peace, justice and respect for the disabled, inspiring millions across the globe. Like all iconic activists, he provoked society to change toward his call.

Ali was not a saint; he was a complex hero, a product of turbulent times who dared put his career and his freedom on the line to challenge the powerbrokers of his day. Over the years, as his body and his voice deteriorated from Parkinson’s, his social activism continued, marked by a generosity of spirit that spoke eloquently to our humanity. And now in death, his legacy will live on, spanning generations to come.

I’ll never forget my night with Ali, my brief encounter with the greatest of our time.

Stephen Orlov is an award-winning playwright. His allegorical-comedy play, “Freeze,” has just been published by Guernica Press.  And his comedy-drama, “Sperm Count,” will be published this September by Playwright Canada Press in a ground-breaking anthology, Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas, which he has co-edited with Palestinian playwright, Samah Sabawi.




Making Nelson Mandela ‘Safe’

The great tragedy of Nelson Mandela’s life was that his revolution only passed political power to South Africa’s black majority, not economic power, which remained in the hands of the old white ruling classes, both domestic and global. That is a reality now lost, writes Gary G. Kohls.

By Gary G. Kohls

“Now That He Is Safely Dead” is a poignant poem that was written by black poet/musician Carl Wendell Hines soon after Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. The poem has since been appropriately associated with the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy of nonviolent struggle for black liberation, freedom, equality, economic justice and the pursuit of happiness for all.

The poem reads: “Now that he is safely dead let us praise him, build monuments to his glory, sing hosannas to his name. Dead men make such convenient heroes. They cannot rise to challenge the images we would fashion from their lives. And besides, it is easier to build monuments than to make a better world.”

And now the same thing is happening to Nelson Mandela, the latest black liberation activist-hero whose name has been exalted (but by lip service only) by the very international ruling elites who once tried to obstruct everything that Mandela stood for.

Ever since the frail Mandela became mortally ill a year ago, those same powers-that-be have been “exalting” the man who, we are told by media elites and their paymasters, courageously and almost single-handedly overcame the fascist Apartheid system in South Africa. Those powers have made Mandela into another safely dead prophet who will never be able to contradict the hype that hides much of the real story of Mandela.

Mandela as Barbie Doll

Greg Palast wrote a recent article titled ”The Mandela Barbie,” stating: “I can’t take it anymore. All week, I’ve watched Nelson Mandela reduced to a Barbie doll. From Fox News to the Bush family, the politicians and media mavens who body-blocked the anti-Apartheid Movement and were happy to keep Mandela behind bars, now get to dress his image up in any silly outfit they choose.

“Poor Mandela. When he’s not a doll, he’s a statue. He joins Martin Luther King as another bronzed monument whose use is to tell us that apartheid is now ‘defeated’ – to quote the ridiculous headline in the Times. It’s more nauseating than hypocrisy and ignorance. The Mandela Barbie is dressed to serve a new version of racism, Apartheid 2.0, worsening both in South Africa – and in the USA.

“The ruling class creates commemorative dolls and statues of revolutionary leaders as a way to tell us their cause is won, so go home. For example, just months ago, the US Supreme Court overturned the Voting Rights Act, Dr. King’s greatest accomplishment, on the specious claim that, ‘Blatantly discriminatory evasions are rare,’ and Jim Crow voting practices are now ‘eradicated.’

“‘Eradicated?’ On what planet? The latest move by Florida Republicans to purge 181,000 voters of color – like the stench from the shantytowns of Cape Town – makes clear that neither Jim Crow nor Apartheid has been defeated. They’re just in temporary retreat. Nevertheless, our betters in the USA and Europe have declared that King slew segregation, Mandela defeated apartheid; and therefore, the new victims of racial injustice should just shut up and stop whining.”

‘Pained Legacy’

Palast then discusses the unspoken reality of Mandela’s “pained legacy,” which is “a corroded South Africa still ruled by a brutal economic apartheid. Today, the average white family has five times the income of a black family. Welcome to ‘freedom.’

“The US and European press have focused on Mandela’s saintly ability to abjure bitterness and all desire for revenge, and for his Christ-like forgiving of his captors. This is to reassure us all that ‘good’ revolutionaries are ones who don’t hold anyone to account for murder, plunder and blood-drenched horror – or demand compensation. That’s Mandela in his Mahatma Gandhi doll outfit – turning the other cheek, kissing his prison wardens.

“Mandela’s circle knew this: You can’t forgive those you defeat until you defeat them. And, despite the hoo-hah, Mandela didn’t defeat apartheid with ‘nice’ alone. In the 1980sSouth African whites faced this reality: The Cubans who defeated South African troops in neighboring Angola were ready to move into South Africa. The Vietnamese who had defeated the mighty USA were advising Mandela’s military force.

“And so, while Mandela held out a hand in forgiveness – in his other hand he held Umkhonto we Sizwe, a spear to apartheid’s heart. And Mandela’s comrades tied a noose: an international embargo, leaky though it was, that lay siege to South Africa’s economy.

“Seeing the writing on the wall (and envisioning their blood on the floor), the white-owned gold and diamond cartels, Anglo-American and DeBeers, backed by the World Bank, came to Mandela with a bargain: black Africans could have voting power . . . but not economic power.

“Mandela chose to shake hands with this devil and accept the continuation of economic apartheid. In return for safeguarding the diamond and gold interests and protecting white ownership of land, mines and businesses, he was allowed the presidency, or at least the office and title.

“It is a bargain that ate at Mandela’s heart. He was faced with the direct threat of an embargo of capital, and taking note of the beating endured by his Cuban allies over resource nationalization, Mandela swallowed the poison with a forced grin. Yes, a new South African black middle class has been handed a slice of the mineral pie, but that just changes the color of the hand holding the whip.

“In the end, all revolutions are about one thing: the 99% versus the 1%. Time and history can change the hue of the aristocrat, but not their greed, against which Mandela appeared nearly powerless.”

Racist Inequality

So I expect that the core of Mandela’s legacy (his decision to reject the violent overthrow of the state, the healing potential of the Truth and Reconciliation commissions and the obtaining of the vote for blacks) will continue to be minimized while the fascist economic system of racist inequality continues to thrive.

With powerful resistance from white conservatives, America did posthumously award Dr King a number of monuments and a national holiday that never seems to go beyond King’s admittedly powerful, anti-racist “I Have A Dream” speech. But it seems to me that the annual commemorations usually ignore King’s powerful antiwar, anti-fascist, economic justice themes of the later movement.

Those post-1963 messages have been watered-down, subverted and ignored by governments, the media and the churches (with some exceptions). Even the King Center in Atlanta seems to minimize the Jesus-inspired core principles of Christian nonviolence that were so central to King’s black liberation movement.

Officialdom tolerates the re-enactments of King’s Dream speech (and the fact that Mandela became South Africa’s first black puppet-president), with the assurance that the memorial events will remember (falsely) a “less militant” and more benign King rather than the aggressive Christ-like prophet who had to be “disappeared” in both word and deed.

So we can expect that the upcoming 2014 MLK Anniversary Day will safely pass into memory with very little attention being paid to the radical gospel source of King’s inspiration, the nonviolent social justice movement invented, taught and faithfully practiced by Jesus of Nazareth.

The Dark-Skinned Palestinian Jew

I believe that it is useful at this point to acknowledge that Jesus was just as dark brown/”black”-skinned as was the Asian Indian Mohandas Gandhi, although he was not as deeply brown/black as King or Mandela.

Jesus was a First Century Palestinian Jew who, anthropologists tell us, probably looked more like a short Yasser Arafat than a tall Barry Gibbs (of BeeGee “fame”). For more on the skin color issue, see: http://jesuswasblack.wordpress.com/was-jesus-a-black-african-israeli-palestinian/.

Jesus, Gandhi, King and Mandela were all, at one time or another, feared and then demonized by white-ruling elites who ordered them hunted down and neutralized by white racist soldiers and white civilians who were beholden to their white paymasters.

There are hundreds of monuments and statues dedicated to Gandhi as there are to King all over the world. Most of the national governing bodies – even India’s Hindu temples – pay only lip service to the messages and mission of Gandhi.

Similarly, America’s governing bodies and churches, with few exceptions, ignore the radical antiwar messages of King and Jesus (who also has no lack of monuments, buildings, crucifixes and other objects of adoration that immortalize his name but evade his central teachings).

Peace and justice-seekers who have read the Hines’ poem feel that it applies also to all the other martyred, left-wing champions of the down-trodden. And that includes the whistle-blower Jesus, who taught and practiced the sacred obligation to relieve human suffering.

Jesus’s teachings of the unconditional, nonviolent love of friends and enemies was largely responsible for the dramatic growth of the early church that occurred despite the terrible persecutions that it suffered for the two or three centuries after his political assassination. Sadly, today, the implementation of the Sermon on the Mount ethics can only be found in a few remnants of the original form of Christianity.

Dr. King was in the stream of one of those remnants that echoed the original voice of Jesus and had the courage to both preach and practice those dangerous revolutionary truths that ruling elites seem to fear so deeply. Dr. King had a deep faith in the power and practicality of the radical good news about love that was so clearly articulated in the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule.

Purging the Prophets

But the voices of the prophets always seem to get silenced in racist, militarized, corporatized societies – and it isn’t by accident. Both ancient and modern powers-that-be recognize dangerous whistle-blowers when they see them, and they usually don’t waste much time ordering contingency plans to be set up for their disappearances or “silencing.”

Initially, the tellers of inconvenient truths are just ridiculed (or ignored) until the messenger gains a following; then they and their followers are violently opposed; and then (rarely, it seems to me), the prophetic truths are ultimately accepted as self-evident (as per the 19th century German philosopher Schopenhaurer who famously wrote: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”)

In our more complex era, Schopenhauer’s dictum still holds, but now there are more sophisticated ways to discredit prophetic voices (by rumors; by infiltration of the prophet’s movement by agents provocateur; by death threats to the victim or family; by subversion by cunning right-wing think tanks that spread disinformation to the media; by harassment; by arranging murders that look like accidents or suicides; or by extra-judicial assassination by some “deranged” patsy).

And so it goes. Being a prophet is hazardous duty. King characterized it as “a vocation of agony.” Whistle-blowers such as Jesus, Mandela, Gandhi and King, while they were still alive, knew very well that they were going to pay a heavy price for their refusal to bow down to authority. They knew that they would have to endure the death threats, the character assassinations and the murder attempts if they didn’t shut up.

Modern whistle-blowers like Wellstone, Ellsberg, Assange, Manning and Snowden probably recognized that they, like King, might not “reach the promised land” (where justice was always served and peace was always sought). These patriots, willing to have lover’s quarrel with their nation, were simply, because of their intact consciences, trying to expose the fascism, racism, militarism, sexism, xenophobia and economic oppression that was slowly destroying the souls of their homelands.

Getting to the promised land is not up to the prophets; it is up to the followers and the true believers in the grand vision.

Dr. Kohls is a retired physician who writes about peace, justice, militarism, religion and mental health issues.