The War on Drugs has undoubtably caused a large racial divide in the U.S., with black Americans being disproportionately incarcerated. Yet, new allegations that the war on drugs was originally created as a war on blacks seems like an mischaracterization at best and at worst, an outright lie.
Author Dan Baum alleges op-ed featured in Harper’s, that former Nixon counsel John Ehrlichman confessed in 1994 that the 37th president started the war on drugs to suppress his political enemies, namely blacks and anti-war activists before the 1972 election.
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying?” Ehrlichman said to Baum. “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. 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.”
These claims were totally refuted by former Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, who told Red Alert Politics that he never heard the quote before and the former president launched the war on drugs to fight the plague of drug abuse.
“(I) have never heard or seen that quote before, and it surely was not policy in the Nixon White House, where concern about what drugs were doing to our country, especially to young people, was universal,” said Buchanan to Red Alert.
The release of these statements also seem to add additional doubts to their validity. Ehrlichman allegedly told the author about the racial aspect to the war on drugs in 1994 while he was being interviewed for Baum’s book, Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure, released in 1996.
Baum claimed he didn’t include the quote in book 20 years ago, because it didn’t fit the book’s narrative — but why didn’t he write a follow up in an op-ed and have Ehrlichman respond to the quotes?
It seems highly questionable that Baum had the confession that Nixon launched a secret race war, and the author felt the need to hide it for 22-years, long after his single source was dead and buried.
The facts also don’t back up Ehrlichman’s statements, Nixon declared drugs “public enemy number one” in June of 1971 and implemented the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, but those laws weren’t radically different from the drug prohibition policies started in 1914.
The Nixon Administration also repealed the 2-to-10 year mandatory minimum sentencing for marijuana possession. The former president also spent a majority of the funding in the war on drugs towards treatment, not law enforcement.
In fact incarceration rates barely changed during Nixon’s entire tenure as president and for 9 years after he began the “war on drugs.” If the goal was to arrest blacks and anti-war protestors in mass to prevent them from voting in 1972, the administration wasn’t trying very hard.
Even more than two decades after his death, people in the media are still looking for ways to kick Nixon around.