John Erlichman, Nixon’s domestic policy chief, made the admission to journalist Dan Baum in a 1994 interview, recently revisited for a new article in Harper’s Magazine.
Erlichman told Baum the two groups were seen as Nixon’s biggest 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. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news,” Erlichman said.
“Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did,” he said.
Erlichman was part of the Watergate coverup and served 18 months in prison for conspiracy and perjury. Nixon resigned, rather than being removed from office.
“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,” Rev. Al Sharpton told the 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.”
The 22-year-old interview was part of Baum’s research for his 1997 book Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure, but Baum said he kept the damning quotes out of the book because they “didn’t fit.”
Erlichman died in 1999.