Disgraced president's aide sheds light on discriminatory policy
Former President Richard Nixon's anti-drug laws were used as a political weapon against African Americans and the anti-war left, according to a recently published 22-year-old interview with one of his top advisers.
Former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman's interview with writer Dan Baum was published by Harper's Magazine. In it, Ehrlichman says the criminalization of drugs such as marijuana and heroin was used to help Nixon stay in office.
"We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities," he said. "We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
Ehrilichman's revelations show a sharp contradiction to what the disgraced president told Congress in 1969 when he introduced the first legislation in the war on drugs. Nixon told lawmakers the aim of the campaign was to combat rising addiction rates in the United States.
It's a stark departure from Nixon's public explanation for his first piece of legislation in the war on drugs, delivered in message to Congress in July 1969, which framed it as a response to an increase in heroin addiction and the rising use of marijuana and hallucinogens by students.
The War on Drugs was a Nixon invention but, as Baum explains, it's been useful for every president thereafter, and its function as a suppressive tool didn't exactly wane—recall the way it defined Reagan's crack era, which was funneled into black neighborhoods by the CIA and then used to decimate an entire generation.
From the time Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971, he received widespread support from the Democratic Congress. Erlichman's comments may be greeted with further skepticism considering Nixon's administration adopted affirmative action as official government policy.
Given Nixon's paranoia, his grudges and enemies list, his administration's assault on the democratic process, his well-documented racism, his willingness to lie and cheat and break laws and destroy people, and the administration's speed to implement subsequent cover-up, taking the statement on face value seems much more sensible.
Former president Nixon's paranoia and racist tactics have been well-documented, which also included keeping a list of political enemies. The Drug Policy Alliance, a reform group pushing for the end to the discriminatory war on drugs, issued a statement in response to the revelations, saying Nixon's sentiments towards hippies and black people are not surprising.
"This explosive admission, while provocative, is sadly nothing new," the statement read. "Our (DPA) allies in the movement to end the drug war have long known that U.S. drug policies and have been inherently racist and discriminatory. Despite comparable rates of drug use and sales, communities of color and other marginalized groups have been the principal targets of drug law enforcement and make up the vast majority of people who have been incarcerated or otherwise had their lives torn apart by the drug war."