BFTN #12 2018-06-25
June 25, 2018
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Part EIGHTEEN of our series on the WAR ON DRUGS – Nixon and The King.

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Show Notes:

  • Lyndon Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice was a group of 19 people appointed by the President in 1967 to study the American criminal justice system.
  • It was described as “the most comprehensive evaluation of crime and crime control in the United States at the time”.
  • It suggested a range of reforms across all aspects of crime.
  • Among other things, it recommended getting rid of mandatory sentencing for drug use.
  • It also argued that marijuana was a “mild hallucinogen” and that there was no evidence that it lead to violence or crime.
  • It shot holes in the argument that marijuana was a gateway drug – it said there were too many marijuana users who never went on to harder drugs for that to be true.
  • The report also recommended much tighter gun control laws, including preventing the sale of military-type weapons.
  • Some of those gun laws made it into LBJ’s Gun Control Act of 1968, which was talked about in our gun control series.
  • But the drug law reform didn’t get far.
  • Mostly because Nixon took the White House in 1969.
  • He appealed to what he later called the “silent majority” of socially conservative Americans who disliked the hippie counterculture and the anti-war demonstrators.
  • From his inaugural address: “We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another, until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”
  • But Nixon’s Presidential run was based on the idea that LBJ’s “Great Society” was flawed.
  • For the GOP to bury the Great Society, it would have to convince Americans that people are poor and violent not because of grand social pressures the mainstream can correct, but because they are bad individuals deserving only of discipline and punishment.
  • In this context, drug use was the perfect crime on which to focus.
  • While stealing to feed one’s family might conceivably be excused, drug taking could be framed as purely escapist and pleasure driven.
  • In October 1967, the Reader’s Digest published an article that said “Our opinion leaders have gone too far in promoting the doctrine that when a law is broken, society, not the criminal, is to blame,” it argued.
  • The country should stop looking for the “root causes” of crime and put its money instead into increasing the number of police.
  • America’s approach to crime must be “swift and sure” retribution.
  • “Immediate and decisive force,” the article concluded, “must be the first response.”
  • Its author was former vice president Richard Nixon, on the eve of his campaign for the presidency.
  • It is “incontrovertibly clear’ Newsweek reported in a dispatch typical of the day, that “the age of US drug users is dropping rapidly, sometimes reaching down into elementary schools.’
  • The article offered no data.
  • Instead, on the same page as vivid photos of junkies overdosing in Harlem, the authors quoted principals saying they’d found young teenagers smoking pot in school bathrooms.
  • Life magazine scrambled the stories further. “Drug abuse and marijuana, once confined to the shadowy underworld of junkie row, are now very much in the open,” it wrote.
  • By the end of 1967 almost half of all Americans said they’d turn in their own kids to the police if they found them using drugs.
  • LBJ knew he looked “soft on crime” and so he tried to get J. Edgar Hoover to add drug enforcement to the FBI’s mission.
  • Hoover, though, refused.
  • So Johnson took drug enforcement away from Treasury and the FBN and yanked the regulatory powers from FDA.
  • He combined them to create an agency in the Justice Department called the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, or BNDD — the predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • Opposition to the move came from the left.
  • Federal police and prosecutors had always answered to separate authorities —just as they do in state and local governments.
  • The presence of the FBI in Justice was the only exception.
  • Now Johnson wanted to put more enforcers — drug police — in the same department as the country’s prosecutors.
  • Nixon knew he couldn’t campaign on Vietnam – the country was split down the middle.
  • But he knew people were scared of change.
  • They were scared of what the long haired hippies and the rockin and rollin and the civil rights protestors meant for them.
  • So Nixon gave them an out.
  • People steal, burn, and use drugs not because of “root causes,” he said, but because they are bad people.
  • He would stand for the “forgotten Americans” who “go to work and pay their taxes and support their schools and churches.”
  • Two months for the election, Nixon went to Disneyland to give a speech.
  • “As I look over the problems in this country, I see one that stands out particularly’ he told a rally of Republican supporters. “The problem of narcotics.”
  • Once he won the election, Nixon had a problem.
  • He’d campaigned on a Law and Order ticket.
  • But the federal government didn’t have much of a role in law and order.
  • It was mainly a state and local issue.
  • The federal government prosecuted only interstate crime — the Mafia, white-collar fraud, national security, smuggling, civil rights, crimes that crossed state lines.
  • So Nixon’s top guys – John Dean, John Mitchell, John Erlichmann – you didn’t have to be called John to work for Nixon but it helped – as well as Don Santarelli, a lawyer who had first come up with the idea of the GOP being tough on crime – cooked up the idea to make drugs something that the feds could go after.
  • Drugs were almost entirely imported.
  • Protecting borders was a federal responsibility, and drugs often moved across state lines.
  • And they would start with the one location where the White House could easily assert itself – DC, which the Federal Government actually *was* in charge of law and order.
  • They could start in DC and then say “look how well that worked, let’s do it on a larger scale.”
  • The other border they tried to “fix” in 1969 was the one with Mexico.
  • The problem was the Mexico wasn’t shutting down the drug trade on their side of the border.
  • The Mexicans kept telling the USG that the problem was on the American side – people kept wanting to buy it and there wasn’t much the Mexican Gov could do about it.
  • So the WH decided they had to come up with a solution.
  • A young Treasury official came up with the idea of flying planes from the U.S. into Mexico and spray dusting the marijuana crops with poison – without asking the Mexicans.
  • The WH nixed that idea and instead gave him another job – shutting the Mexico border.
  • That young Treasury official’s name was G. Gordon Liddy.
  • The plan was Operation Intercept.
  • The idea was to stop and search all of the cars coming from Mexico to the US.
  • Before that, cars were usually just waved through.
  • The effort involved increased surveillance of the border from both air and sea, but the major part of the policy was the individual inspection, mandated to last three minutes, of every vehicle crossing into the United States from Mexico.
  • Three minutes isn’t long enough for a very thorough search – but it was long enough to piss everyone off.
  • Because of complaints from cross-border travelers, and from Mexican President Diaz Ordaz, the searching of vehicles was reduced after 10 days and completely abandoned after about 20 days.
  • The Nixon Administration believed that it had largely achieved its goal of encouraging the Mexican government to begin an effort to stem domestic drug production.
  • Jefferson Airplane wrote a song about – MEXICO.
  • The New York Daily News called it a GRASS CURTAIN.
  • Some persons desiring to enter the United States were required to strip to the skin for a personal inspection.
  • Official reports revealed that during the first week of Operation Intercept 1,824 border crossers were stripped and searched.
  • This left some 1,978,000 persons who had crossed the border with only a superficial search or none at all.
  • Most of the 1,824 “skin searches,” incidentally, proved fruitless; there were only 33 arrests along the border during the week.
  • One effect it did have was that marijuana supplies dried up in the U.S. for a couple of weeks.
  • So what did people do? Give up? Of course not.
  • A doctor running the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic in San Francisco noticed a sudden increase in kids strung out on stronger drugs than pot and was furious.
  • “The government line is that the use of marijuana leads to more dangerous drugs,” David Smith told reporters. “The fact is that the lack of marijuana leads to more dangerous drugs.”
  • Meanwhile in 1969: The number of Americans who died from cirrhosis of the liver: 29,866. The number who died from legal and illegal drugs: 1,601
  • In 1970, John Erlichman and Bud Krogh, another lawyer working for Nixon’s White House, invited the producers of some of the most popular tv shows of the day to the White House
  • Mod Squad, General Hospital, Mission Impossible, My Three Sons, Hawaii Five-O, Andy Griffith, etc.
  • The WH asked the producers to start including more anti-drug stories in their programs.
  • And a few months later that started happening.
  • The print media played along as well.
  • In March 1970, Time magazine found a twelve-year-old heroin addict named Ralphie de Jesus and ran a photo essay about him under the headline “Kids and Heroin: The Adolescent Epidemic.”
  • “The gathering tragedy is that Ralphie is not special,” Time wrote. “Heroin, long considered the affliction of the criminal, the derelict, the debauched, is increasingly attacking America’s children.”
  • The magazine went on to suggest, quoting unnamed “experts,” that the number of teenage addicts in New York “may mushroom fantastically to 100,000 this summer. . . . However imprecise the figures, there is no doubting the magnitude of the change or the certitude that something frightening is sweeping into the corridors of US schools and onto the pavements of America’s playgrounds.”
  • The experts were actually saying the opposite.
  • Large, multi year studies were completed showing that only a very small percentage of American kids were using drugs.
  • And if they were using drugs, it was mostly tobacco and alcohol.
  • In late December 1970, Bud Krogh’s phone in the WH rang.
  • He answered it and the guy on the other end, one of Haldemann’s staff, said “The King is here.”
  • “King who?” Krogh asked. “No kings on the president’s schedule today.”
  • “Not just any two-bit king,” Chapin answered. “The King. Elvis. The King of Rock.”
  • Elvis Presley had appeared that morning at the Northwest Gate of the White House and handed the guard a nearly illegible six-page letter on American Airlines stationery.
  • He was an admirer of the president, and he wanted to help spread Nixon’s antidrug message.
  • He was well positioned, too: “The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it The Establishment.”
  • To dispel any doubts as to his own loyalty, Presley added in bold underline, “I call it America and I love it!”
  • Then Presley made his pitch. “I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large. . . . All I need is the Federal credentials.”
  • Presley was registered at a nearby hotel under the name Jon Burrows.
  • “I will be here for as long as it takes to get the credentials of a Federal Agent,” Presley wrote. “I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good.”
  • Though he didn’t mention it in the note to Nixon, Presley was a collector of police badges.
  • And he was a dopehound of legendary excess.
  • But in the squareball Nixon White House, Presley found perhaps the only people in the United States who didn’t know that.
  • Krogh certainly didn’t. He took the letter at face value.
  • At 12:30, the King was relieved of his present for the chief executive — a nickel-plated .45 automatic, complete with ammunition — and ushered into the office of the president.
  • Nixon was dressed like Nixon: blue suit, white shirt, tie.
  • Elvis was dressed like Elvis: black velvet jacket, chest hair, gold medallions, sunglasses, and a belt buckle big as a dinner plate.
  • He pulled up a sleeve to exhibit cufflinks the size of hamsters.
  • As Nixon bent close to examine them, Elvis launched into a tirade against the Beatles, whom he accused of being anti-American.
  • “You know,” Nixon said, “those who use the drugs are the protesters. You know, the ones who get caught up in dissent and violence. They’re the same group of young people.”
  • “Mr. President,” Elvis said, “I’m on your side. I want to be helpful. And I want to help get people to respect the flag because that’s getting lost.”
  • Then Elvis got to the point. “Mr. President, can you get me a badge from the Narcotics Bureau?”
  • Krogh was afraid of this.
  • He’d already called the number two man at Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, who earlier that day had thrown Elvis out.
  • Elvis had gone there before stopping at the Northwest Gate and offered a $5,000 “donation” to BNDD in return for a badge.
  • Nixon, not knowing any of that, looked uncertainly at Krogh. “Bud, can we get him a badge?”
  • “If you want to give him a badge, I think we can get him one.”
  • Nixon said “I’d like to do that. See that he gets one.”
  • Elvis then did something nobody had ever done in the Nixon Oval Office; he gathered the president up in his arms and gave him a big bear hug.
  • The staff was stunned; the photographer didn’t even get a picture.
  • Nixon endured it stiffly, handed out presidential tie clasps, and dismissed the King with a hearty pat on the shoulder.
  • And the King took his job seriously.
  • He didn’t fuck around, The King.
  • If he was going to learn about the evils of drugs, he was going to do it RIGHT.
  • Twice during 1973, Elvis overdosed on barbiturates, spending three days in a coma in his hotel suite after the first incident.
  • Toward the end of 1973, he was hospitalized, semicomatose from the effects of pethidine addiction.
  • In the first eight months of 1977 alone, his doctor George Nichopoulos – or Doctor Nick as he was known – had prescribed thousands of doses of sedatives, amphetamines, and narcotics: all in Elvis’s name.
  • Evidence showed that during the seven and a half months preceding Elvis’s death — from January 1, 1977, to August 16, 1977 — Doctor Nick wrote prescriptions for Elvis for at least 8,805 pills, tablets, vials, and injectables.
  • Going back to January 1975, the count was 19,012.
  • These numbers might defy belief, but they came from an experienced team of investigators who visited 153 pharmacies and spent 1,090 hours going through 6,570,175 prescriptions and then, with the aid of two secretaries, spent another 1,120 hours organizing the evidence.
  • One theory is that in 1967 Elvis was filming the movie Clambake, and he tripped over an electrical cord, fell, and cracked his head on the edge of a porcelain bathtub.
  • He was knocked unconscious and had to be hospitalized.
  • It’s suspected Elvis suffered from what’s now known as Traumatic Brain Injury — TBI.
  • Is that TMI?
  • The theory is that Elvis’s bathtub head injury was so severe that it caused brain tissue to be jarred loose and leak into his general blood circulation.
  • This is now known to be a leading cause of autoimmune disorder which causes a breakdown of other organs.
  • This was unknown in 1967 and Elvis went untreated.
  • Side effects are chronic pain, irrational behavior, and severe bodily changes such as obesity and enlarged organs like hearts and bowels.
  • Today, TBI is a recognized health issue in professional contact sports.
  • With a change in mental state and suffering chronic pain, Elvis Presley entered a 10-year spiral towards death.
  • He became hopelessly addicted to pain killers, practiced a terribly unhealthy diet and lethargic lifestyle, and resorted to the typical addict’s habit of sneaking a fix wherever he could.
  • But anyway – on the day he died of a heart attack brought on by drugs in 1977, he was a credentialed Special Assistant in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
  • He was 42 years old.
  • Number of Americans who died in 1970 from legal and illegal drugs: 1,899.
  • Number who died from the flu: 3,707.
  • Number of prescriptions for psychoactive drugs written in 1970: 214 million.
  • Amount spen tby Americans on legal spirits, wine, and beer: $24 billion.
  • Estimated size of the illegal drug market: $2 billion.

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