POLITICS

Nixon Aides Suggest Colleague Was Kidding About Drug War Being Designed To Target Black People

Former officials are disavowing decades-old comments attributed to adviser John Ehrlichman saying the war on drugs was racially motivated.

03/25/2016 17:32 EDT
Associated Press
John Ehrlichman in a 1973 photo speaking before the Senate Watergate committee in Washington, D.C. Ehrlichman died in 1999, but a quote attributed to him recently resurfaced in a Harper's article.

Former aides to President Richard Nixon disavowed a recently published, provocative quote from a colleague about the racial motivation behind the war on drugs, and suggested that the colleague was being sarcastic.

The statement -- attributed to Nixon’s chief domestic adviser, John Ehrlichman -- alleged that the administration’s drug war was meant to cripple black communities and the “antiwar left.”

Journalist Dan Baum wrote in the April cover story for Harper's that Ehrlichman told him in 1994 that the Nixon campaign and Nixon White House considered those two groups to be their enemies. “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,” Ehrlichman reportedly said.

But three former Nixon aides say the quote just doesn’t sound like Ehrlichman, and if he did say it, he was mistaken.

“The comments being attributed to John Ehrlichman in recent news coverage about the Nixon administration's efforts to combat the drug crisis of the 1960's and 70's reflect neither our memory of John nor the administration's approach to that problem,” wrote Jeffrey Donfeld, Jerome H. Jaffe and Robert DuPont in a joint statement sent to The Huffington Post on Friday.

They added that Ehrlichman was "known for using biting sarcasm to dismiss those with whom he disagreed, and it is possible the reporter misread his tone ... John never uttered a word or sentiment that suggested he or the President were 'anti-black.'”

Erhlichman may have never said anything to suggest this, but Nixon himself was taped referring to the "little Negro bastards" on welfare and stating that they "live like a bunch of dogs."

The former officials also noted that the Nixon administration established drug education and addiction treatment programs. While this is true, Nixon also signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which gave law enforcement the right to conduct "no-knock” searches, allowing them to enter premises without notifying occupants. This is presumably what Ehrlichman was referring to when he allegedly said the drug war gave authorities the license to “raid [the] homes” of black people and hippies.

Baum declined to comment on the statement to HuffPost and said he does not plan to respond publicly.

Read the full statement from the former Nixon officials below:

The comments being attributed to John Ehrlichman in recent news coverage about the Nixon administration's efforts to combat the drug crisis of the 1960's and 70's reflect neither our memory of John nor the administration's approach to that problem. We are not aware of any statements or writings by John, other than those being attributed to him now more than two decades after they were allegedly made (and seventeen years following his passing), that suggest he believed there were ulterior motives for the administration's efforts to deal with the heroin epidemic. He was, however, known for using biting sarcasm to dismiss those with whom he disagreed, and it is possible the reporter misread his tone. Some of us worked with John and knew him well. John never uttered a word or sentiment that suggested he or the President were “anti-black.”

Most importantly, the statements do not reflect the facts and history of President Nixon's approach to the drug problems. As reflected in the narratives written by several reputable historians, President Nixon initiated a very comprehensive approach. Immediately after Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act reducing the severity of penalties for cannabis and reorganizing the agencies responsible for enforcing drug laws, John Ehrlichman gave White House staffer Jeff Donfeld a mandate to design programs that would coordinate and centralize non-law enforcement federal programs in the fields of drug abuse education and treatment, including the creation of multi-modality treatment programs that offered therapeutic communities and methadone maintenance for heroin addicts, and programs that would divert addicts out of the criminal justice system into treatment programs.

The result was President Nixon's creation in June 1971 of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention to coordinate a major effort to increase the availability of treatment and Federal investment in treatment, prevention, and research. The 1971 to 1974 Federal budgets for these efforts were two-to three-fold higher than the budgets for all of Federal law enforcement.

Treatment in communities throughout the country (including methadone maintenance treatment which has been adopted by more than 35 countries throughout the world); treatment in virtually every Veterans Administration Hospital; a well funded National Institute on Drug Abuse; and programs that attempt to divert arrestees into treatment are among the direct results of the efforts of the Nixon administration. These are the achievements that are more properly seen as its legacy.

Jeffrey Donfeld, White House Domestic Council Staff Assistant to the President 1969-1971; Assistant  Director, White House Special Action Office for Drug abuse Prevention, 1971-1973

Jerome H. Jaffe, M.D., Director, White House Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention and Special Consultant to the President for Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, 1971-1973

Robert DuPont, M.D, Administrator, District of Columbia Narcotics Treatment Administration, 1970-1973; Director of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention 1973 to 1975 and First Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1973 to 1978.

Also on HuffPost
27 Reasons Why U.S. Shouldn't Lead War On Drugs