A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination
Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2009
“Events have unmistakably shown that any municipality in the country with a Negro population is susceptible to a racial outbreak.” — From an FBI report dated May 26, 1967
Since becoming a Counter-Currents writer, I’ve come to see that the mainstream historical narrative of the 1960s is unique in how incorrect the conventional understanding of it is. What I mean by backwards is this: The big issue of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, has today shrunk to insignificance. The Vietnam War did have an impact on American culture, but not nearly as much as, say, the US Civil War, or even the Spanish-American War of 1898. But what was small in the 1960s is big today. Then, the 1965 Immigration Act appeared to be an unimportant administrative adjustment; but today, immigration is the Queen of all social issues. Meanwhile, the “civil rights” revolution and the resulting backlash is the unacknowledged King of all social issues.
Officially, “civil rights” triumphed in the 1960s through “civil disobedience,” but that is a misunderstanding. “Civil rights” triumphed in the 1930s and 1940s as a result of a number of desegregation cases and Negro uplift policies. In the 1950s, whites began to resist, to the point that “civil rights” gains could only come at the point of a bayonet. And by the late 1960s, whites built new (but shakier) segregation defenses.
“Civil disobedience” in itself was a problem in that it is not really civil at all. It is a tactic of breaking small laws to achieve a political objective, similar to how terrorism is used, and it can quickly get out of hand. Essentially, blacks had a standing green light to riot throughout the 1960s, probably due to the fact that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations responded very quickly and favorably to any Martin Luther King civil disobedience stunt.
Additionally, the morality of “civil rights” is backwards. The movement had the appearance of morality to the vast majority of whites in its early days, but by 1965 black violence, basic black social pathologies, and black militancy had swept away the moral façade. In other words, the riots which followed Martin Luther King’s assassination were the last stand of the “civil rights” movement, not the painful birth of some sort of post-racial paradise. The story of these riots is told in Clay Risen’s page-turning book, A Nation on Fire.
MLK was not a genius & civil disobedience isn’t civil
A Nation on Fire is the first mainstream book on the “civil rights” movement that I’ve read that even gets close to hinting that the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the saintly genius that the mainstream media made him out to be. Risen describes King approaching his final days in Memphis thusly:
The past few years had not been kind to the civil rights leader. Since his success at Selma and the resulting passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, King had been trying to broaden the scope of his movement, both in its reach – out west, up north – and scope – taking on housing discrimination, poverty, and the war. But the public, the media, and the political establishment increasingly saw him in a negative light, a has-been who achieved great victories earlier in the decade but who had no answers for the new issues of the day. Even Walter Fauntroy, his loyal Washington representative, called King a “spent force.”
King was a spent force with no answers for newer issues because the consequences of his ethos had clearly created out-of-control problems by 1968. At the start of the 1960s, blacks dressed well, appeared to behave well in public, and honest white “civil rights” sympathizers could imagine that they and the blacks were fighting “unjust laws” with “civil disobedience.” By the end of the 1960s, a considerable number of blacks were dressing like revolutionaries and were impossible to appease in any way.
As a result, by the time of King’s assassination, the white public had started to sour on “civil rights.” The turning point was the Watts Riot of 1965. Watts wasn’t the first black riot of the 1960s, but it happened in a place where the economy was good and there was no long-standing history of “racism,” as in the South.
As word trickled out from Memphis that King was dead on April 4, 1968, sub-Saharans began to riot on an enormous scale across the nation. Risen gives a personal account of the situation: His mother had to flee her office in Washington, DC with other whites in a packed bus. Her father, a soldier with eyesight so poor they wouldn’t send him to Vietnam, was pulled away from his desk job, given a rifle, and told to defend his base against rioting blacks.
Burning down cities they cannot build & how a riot works
Risen focuses most of his narrative on the riots in Washington, DC, but he also examines what happened in other places, such as Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore. The roots of the riot were in black migration from the rural South. Washington, DC, along with all the great cities of the North, had experienced a large growth in their black populations since the First World War. The trend accelerated through the 1940s. In all cases, in those places where blacks showed up in massive numbers, jobs fled – especially after the Second World War. Risen shows the statistics regarding jobs, black migrants, and so on. From this, he draws a Tragic Dirt conclusion: That is to say, blacks were arriving in a geographical location where jobs were leaving through some sort of natural process beyond anyone’s control. It is probably more accurate to conclude rather that blacks in large numbers create an environment where an advanced economy cannot function.
But even as problems with blacks increased in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, only the radical whites seemed to notice. George Lincoln Rockwell, for example, frequently talked about what blacks were doing to DC. Nobody listened. And in the meantime, blacks began to gain control over DC’s city government. At the time of King’s assassination, DC’s mayor was a black named Walter Washington. He pioneered DC’s Africanized political ecosystem which only ended when the Bush I administration got rid of Marion Barry in an FBI sting operation in 1990.
Black management of any institution has the same effect as untreated high blood pressure on a person’s body: At first there are no symptoms, and then one’s heart explodes. In 1968, Washington, DC was beginning its slide into becoming a slum, which persisted until the end of the Clinton administration. The key thing is that black leaders – unless they are being supported by whites, and even then it’s iffy – make a series of small, bad decisions that compound over time. Mayor Washington was only part of the problem, though. The main issue was that the large black community made many small, bad decisions every day. And when word came that King was dead, blacks in general made a terrible decision regarding how to respond, and DC’s black mayor was quickly overwhelmed.
When the riot broke out, DC was unprepared. Civil servants did not know what to do, gave and received conflicting orders, and panicked. Whites simply fled. The roads became parking lots. Some drivers abandoned their vehicles and walked to the suburbs. The DC National Guard was called up, and federal troops from the “Old Guard” were deployed to protect the Federal District. The “Old Guard”’s regular duties were normally purely ceremonial, but their mission quickly shifted in the face of the scale of the violence. The Pentagon called up support troops from the other bases around DC to serve as infantry. The Marines were called in. The Maryland National Guard deployed to DC’s edge to keep blacks from burning the suburbs.
The deployment expanded from DC to other cities, especially Baltimore, involving massive troop movements. Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne were rushed to cities around the nation, and the III Corps Artillery was deployed, along with brigades from the 5th Mechanized Infantry Division. Baltimore is unique in that the whites organized on their own during the riots: Armed groups of whites drove into the city and fired at rioting blacks, while white shopkeepers armed themselves.
Over the next few decades, sociologists would study the riots and offer explanations of how these riots begin and get out of hand. According to them, a social disturbance becomes a riot due to a “Schelling incident” – one in which people in a crowd realize they will be rewarded by that crowd for violence rather than punished for it. In DC, the Schelling incident occurred when the crowd saw looters break the windows of the People’s Drug Store. Soon, DC was in flames. Most of the deaths in the riot were the result of arson.
The enemy within
One realization I had from this book was that the military’s existing infrastructure to manage America’s mainland defenses are never used for what they are designed for. In the 1950s, the military created the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) to defend against Soviet bomber attacks. At the same time, the Army Operations Center was added to the Pentagon to direct troop movements against a Soviet ground invasion. However, these have only been deployed against Third World people who are already in the United States. In 1968, the Army Operations Center directed the Army’s response to the riots. NORAD directed the belated response to 9/11, an incident caused by Third Word immigrants. And the United States Northern Command’s (USNORTHCOM) only major engagement since its creation in 2002 was to deploy troops to rescue helpless and rioting blacks after Hurricane Katrina. If white people had a nation of our own, none of this would have been necessary.
The end of liberalism
Lyndon Johnson continued to push for “civil rights” even as windows were being shattered and buildings were being torched. He passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, or the Fair Housing Act. The law was toothless, a shadow of the more significant 1954 and 1964 Civil Rights acts, but it did lead to the passing of local laws which caused damage. Today, real estate and city planning is a hypocritical shell game of either fleeing from blacks, or passing blacks around like a hot potato. Although LBJ continued to push for more “civil rights” goodies during the riot, his own staff started to suspect that the rioting was caused, at least in part, by the federal response to black demands; essentially, “civil rights” had become a protection racket. New Deal-style liberalism broke down during the 1968 riots after white liberals became demoralized.
The 1968 riots destroyed many of America’s cities, and even with subsequent gentrification, many have yet to recover. Prior to the riots, whites living in the suburbs still went into the cities for entertainment or to shop; afterwards, the suburbs became new cities in their own right, surrounding a ruined and dangerous urban core. Prior to the riots, whites actually sought to engage with the black ghettos; after, whites quietly and effectively disconnected from them. Poor black political leadership in these ruined cities made the situation worse. Detroit and places like it are really no different from Haiti or Zaire.
Before 1968, the Right, ranging from centrists like Richard M. Nixon to the old-time Southern segregationists, was locked out of power. Their ideas had seemed moribund and old-fashioned in the early 1960s. But after the riots, the Right returned. The segregationists had proved to be prophetic.
One outcome that nobody could have predicted was the rise of Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew. Agnew invited black leaders to a special address and said:
. . . [Y]ou ran. You met in secret with that demagogue [probably Bob Moore, a black bomb-thrower from Maryland] and others like him – and you agreed, according to published reports that have not been denied, that you would not openly criticize any black spokesman, regardless of the content of his remarks. You were beguiled by the rationalizations of unity; you were intimidated by veiled threats; you were stung by insinuations that you were Mr. Charlie’s boy, by epithets like “Uncle Tom.” God knows I cannot fault you who spoke out for breaking and running in the face of what appeared to be overwhelming opinion in the Negro community. But actually it was only the opinion of those who depend upon chaos and turmoil for leadership – those who deliberately were not invited today. It was the opinion of a few, distorted and magnified by the silence of most of you here today.
Now, parts of many of our cities lie in ruins. You need not leave these city limits to verify the destruction and the resulting hardship to our citizens. And you know whom the fires burned out just as you know who lit the fires. They were not lit in honor of your great fallen leader. Nor were they lit from an overwhelming sense of frustration and despair. Those fires were kindled at the suggestion and with the instruction of the advocates of violence.
Many of the more than a hundred black leaders present walked out during the harangue. Only twenty stayed to the end.
Governor Agnew had been a liberal Republican and had supported “civil rights” measures up to the point of the riots in 1968, but afterwards he moved close to the racialist Right, although he disavowed “the American Nazi Party, the John Birchers, and their fellow travelers.” Pretentious white liberals – those who think that they can think, and are thus truly dangerous – usually attribute Agnew’s political shift to him sensing the change in the political winds and adjusting accordingly. But this is not the case. Agnew assumed his political career was finished. He’d spoken from his heart with anger. He looked at the data and changed his views. And as a result, Agnew became an overnight national sensation. Richard Nixon picked him as his running mate. He would go on to be Vice President until he was forced to resign after what we would today call a Deep State coup.
We are living in the world that was created in the wake of the 1968 riots which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King. There’s no arguing with Risen’s own conclusion about it:
A race war did in fact come to America [the day King was killed] – but it turned out to be a cold war, not a hot one. When the smoke cleared and the sirens ran down, an invisible wall went up between urban and suburban America, every bit as real as the one in Berlin. Many would argue that it’s still standing today.
 King’s close observers often gave him unflattering descriptions. Jackie Kennedy called him “tricky,” and MLK advisor Stan Levinson called him a “slow thinker.”
 Risen, A Nation on Fire, p. 12.
 A case can be made that the Watts Riot demonstrated that blacks can’t fit into white civilization at all, and that this was the reason for Jim Crow in the first place.
 Ibid., p. 4.
I’m Not a Racist, But. . .
If I Were Black, I’d Vote Democrat
The Halifax Grooming Gang Survivor
Politicians Didn’t Invent Racial Divisions
Republicans Should Stop Pandering to Blacks
Quotations From Chairman Rabble Kenneth Roberts: A Patriotic Curmudgeon
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World & Me
The Worst Week Yet: March 28-April 3, 2021