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Nixon Aide Alleges Drug War Meant to Target Black People

at12:05 pm | By

Nixon cited rising crime, death tolls, broken families, and other social tolls of widespread drug addiction to justify the legislation, but was the health of the American people the administration’s main concern?

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In 1994, journalist Dan Baum interviewed John Erlichman, Nixon’s chief domestic advisor who served 18 months in prison following the Watergate scandal. Erlichman’s account on the war on drugs, however, differed greatly from what the administration said at the time:

“You want to know what this was really all about? 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.”

Erlichman’s revealing comment would indicate that the rampant racism and disproportionate arrest and incarceration of minorities that continues to this day was the entire aim of Nixon’s war on drugs, not just an unfortunate aftereffect.

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Even more surprising is that, while Erlichman made this revelation in 1994, Baum did not include it in his book. He shared the story in 2012, but just this week did it start gaining the traction and attention that it seems to deserve.

What do you think? Was Erlichman just making damning comments after a bitter experience with the administration, or could there have been an explicitly racial agenda behind Nixon’s war on drugs?

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