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The family of Martin Luther KIng, Jr. and others denounced attempts by the military and Vice President Mike Pence to co-opt the civil rights leader's message. (Photo: Three Lions/Getty Images)

Critics to Mike Pence, US Marine Corps, and the CIA: Sorry, Martin Luther King Jr. Does Not Belong to You

"If MLK Jr. was alive today, Trump would say he wasn't born here and Mike Pence would find a way to justify the criminalization of his work."

Julia Conley

The family of Martin Luther King Jr. was among those who pushed back Monday amid the annual sanitization of the civil rights leader's message, as the nation marked what would have been King's 90th birthday—with Vice President Mike Pence drawing particular rebuke for attempting to co-opt his legacy.

Martin Luther King III, King's son, denounced Pence for invoking King's words in an interview on CBS the previous day. Calling it his favorite line by the civil rights leader, Pence quoted King by saying, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy," and argued that is what Donald Trump is doing by trying to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The original quotation was from King's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, in which he called for racial equality and for the same education and job opportunities to be afforded to black Americans as were given to their white counterparts.

King's son noted that his father had been "a bridge builder, not a wall builder," while others condemned Pence's use of the phrase to push Trump's xenophobic, anti-immigration proposal as "grotesque" and "wicked"—especially since the vice president has gone out of his way to make clear the administration's hostility toward the kinds of non-violent demonstrations for racial justice that King promoted. 

Pence was joined by the U.S. Marine Corps in co-opting King's message, as the military arm tweeted his quote,  "A man who won't die for something is not fit to live"—another use of King's words that incensed critics, who noted King's embrace of non-violence and his harsh criticism of the U.S. government for continuing "year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift." 

In response to the Marines' message, The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill tweeted:

Jon Queally (

Even the CIA got into the act on Monday:

To which social media users mostly responded with images and gifs. For example:

On social media, racial and economic justice advocates issued reminders that King's work went far beyond his memorable speech at the 1963 March on Washington and his work alongside President Lyndon B. Johnson—and was characterized in his final years by his push for workers' rights, his denunciation of the U.S. government's assault on Vietnam, and the Poor People's Campaign, which demanded the "radical redistribution of economic and political power"—which today's progressives continue to face attacks  for pushing.

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