John Ehrlichman, the key advisor to former President Richard Nixon who served 18 months in prison for his connection to the Watergate scandal, admitted to the Nixon administration largely manufacturing the threat of drugs in America in order to target Leftist activists and black people, a new interview has found.
The interview, conducted in 1994 by journalist Dan Baum and published in the forthcoming cover story for Harper’s Magazine, found Ehrlichman openly admitting that the War on Drugs was waged largely to combat those by whom the Nixon administration felt threatened. As Baum writes:
You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect.
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?
We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the wary 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.
Why release the quote now?
Baum was writing a book at the time, Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure. When asked by the Huffington Post why he did not include the Ehrlichman quote in his book, Baum said that the quote was incongruent with his reporting and the direction the book was taking.
There are no authorial interviews in [Smoke and Mirrors] at all; it’s written to put the reader in the room as events transpire. Therefore, the quote didn’t fit.
It did change all the reporting I did for the book, though, and changed the way I worked thereafter.
Ehrlichman died in 1999 in Atlanta from complications related to diabetes.
Effects of the drug war
The Drug War has had an immeasurable effect on American society and culture. Many of those effects, stemming from policies instituted by Nixon, have been resoundingly negative, particularly among minorities.
For example, according to the NAACP website, blacks in America are imprisoned for drug offenses at a rate of 10 times that of whites and serve approximately as much prison time on drug offense charges (58.7 months) as whites serve for violent offenses (61.7 months.)