Terror tactic

Posted: Feb 11, 2002 12:00 AM
The federal government has told many outrageous lies about drugs over the years: Marijuana turns you into a killer. LSD causes birth defects. Crack is instantly addictive. But for sheer chutzpah, it's hard to beat the new "public service announcements" blaming drug users for murder and terrorism. Through misdirection and emotional manipulation, the ads seek to shift responsibility for the death and destruction caused by the war on drugs. Unlike past propaganda, the ads do not claim drug users themselves are violent. Rather, they are charged with guilt by association. "I helped murder families in Colombia," begins one TV spot, in which actors portraying recreational drug users offer a series of such confessions: "I helped kidnap people's dads. ... I helped kids learn how to kill. ... I helped kill a policeman. ... I helped a bomber get a fake passport. ... I helped kill a judge. ... I helped blow up buildings." The confessions alternate with statements that the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which commissioned the ads and bought the air time with taxpayers' money, calls "excuses": "It was just innocent fun. ... Hey, just some harmless fun. ... All the kids do it. ... My life, my body. ... It's not like I was hurting anybody else." The spot closes with two sentences in white on a black background: "Drug money supports terror. If you buy drugs, you might too." A second ad shows terrorists gathering the tools of their trade -- fake IDs, box cutters, plastic explosives, rental cars, AK-47s, ski masks -- while the price of each item is displayed on the screen. "Where do terrorists get their money?" asks the tag line. "If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you." The overt message of the first ad and the underlying assumption of the second one is that drug users are oblivious to the moral implications of their behavior. Even if neither they nor anyone they know suffers from their drug use, their taste for illicit intoxicants causes total strangers to be gunned down or blown up. In light of this reality, the government is saying, the idea that people should have the right to control their own bodies is absurd, if not offensive. The very notion of "innocent fun" is suspect, no more than an "excuse" masking the ugly truth that drug users have blood on their hands. Even on the face of it, this message is puzzling. It seems to be based on the premise that consumers bear responsibility for the actions of anyone who was involved in the manufacture or distribution of products they use. This is a heavy burden to bear, and not just for consumers of illegal products. Can you vouch for the moral character of everyone who had a hand in producing and selling the gas in your car, the clothes in your closet, the coffee in your cup? At the same time, the ads imply that people who get their drugs from sources untainted by violence -- friendly marijuana growers, say -- are off the hook. Their fun really is harmless, presumably, so they should be left alone. Yet that is something the government, which arrested a record 734,498 people on marijuana charges in 2000, is plainly unwilling to do. What makes the ads especially galling, however, is that the violence they cite (to the extent that it really is related to the drug trade) would not be occurring if it weren't for the war on drugs. By creating a black market, prohibition replaces peaceful businessmen with violent criminals. It generates artificial profits for thugs, guerrillas and terrorists. In other words, the murdered families, the kidnapped fathers, the homicidal children, the dead policemen, the terrorist bombs, the assassinated judges and the devastated buildings that the government wants to blame on drug users are all predictable consequences of its own disastrous policies. If any group, aside from the perpetrators themselves, bears responsibility for "narco-terror," it's the politicians and bureaucrats who insist upon using force to stop people from altering their consciousness in unapproved ways. Like the drug users portrayed in the government's ads, the drug warriors offer excuses as the bodies pile up: "Drugs are wrong. ... We must not surrender. ... We have to protect our children. ... We're determined to achieve a drug-free society." Unlike the drug users, however, they cannot plausibly claim that they're not hurting anyone. The war on drugs supports terror. If you support the war on drugs, you support terror too.