A decades-old comment by a Richard Nixon adviser has surfaced, again, with the long-dead aide being quoted as saying that the war on drugs was designed to fight blacks and hippies.
On its April cover, Harper’s Magazine
published journalist Dan Baum’s story “Legalize It All” about the war on drugs, in which Baum recalls a 1994 interview with John Ehrlichman, the former Nixon domestic affairs adviser who spent time in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal.
Baum, who was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition at the time of the 1994 interview, quoted Ehrlichman as saying:
“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 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.”
The quote has spread widely. CNN
characterized it as “the first time the war on drugs has been plainly characterized as a political assault designed to help Nixon win, and keep, the White House.”
Family members of Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, are contesting the story.
"We never saw or heard anything from our dad, John Ehrlichman, that was derogatory about any person of color," the children, Peter Ehrlichman, Tom Ehrlichman, Jan Ehrlichman, Michael Ehrlichman and Jody E. Pineda told CNN. "The 1994 alleged 'quote' we saw repeated in social media for the first time today does not square with what we know of our father. And collectively, that spans over 185 years of time with him. We do not subscribe to the alleged racist point of view that this writer now implies 22 years following the so-called interview of John and 16 years following our father's death, when dad can no longer respond. None of us have raised our kids that way, and that's because we were not raised that way."
Baum said he left the quote out of his book "Smoke and Mirrors" because it didn’t fit with the narrative style, according to CNN.
The Huffington Post
called the comment eye opening, saying “Ehrlichman provided some shockingly honest insight into the motives behind the drug war.”
The quote first appeared in the 2012 book “The Moment,” a collection of stories about moments that changed writers’ lives, The Huffington Post noted. Baum said the comment changed the way he reported.
The Rev. Al Sharpton weighed in on the discussion.
“This is a frightening confirmation of what many of us have been saying for years. That this was a real attempt by government to demonize and criminalize a race of people,” Sharpton told the New York Daily News
. “And when we would raise the questions over that targeting, we were accused of all kind of things, from harboring criminality to being un-American and trying to politicize a legitimate concern.”
But the veracity of the quote remains in question. The Independent
reported that Ehrlichman, who spent 18 months in jail, reportedly was bitter that Nixon never pardoned him.
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