Feature: SSDP, Drug War Rant Blog Score Media Hit With Attack on DEA Drug-Terror Exhibit

8/18/06

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http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/449/DEA_drugs_and_terror_exhibit_criticized.shtml

For more than four years -- since the day of the first anniversary of the 9-11 attacks -- the US Drug Enforcement Administration and its museum have hosted an exhibit that attempts to link drugs and terrorism. Known as Target America: Opening Eyes to the Damage Drugs Cause, the traveling exhibition has aroused much grumbling and sneering from people who argue that it is not drugs but drug prohibition that generates the illicit profits sometimes used by violent political groups.

DEA Targets America flyer
There was some sniping against the exhibit when it played Dallas, Omaha, Detroit, and New York, when two years ago, Patricia Perry, mother of NYC police officer John Perry, who lost his life on 9-11, criticized the exhibit in this newsletter. But it was only when it hit Chicago last week that drug reformers succeeded in hitting back with a carefully planned and well-executed counterattack that managed to generate critical media attention toward the exhibit.

It all started with some home-town concern on the part of Illinois State University theater arts professor and Drug War Rant blog author Peter Guither. After publicizing the exhibit's impending arrival on his blog and creating a new web site, DEA Targets America, the response from readers galvanized Guither, and allies began to arrive. By the time the exhibit hit Chicago last week, activists were on hand to hand out flyers in front of the museum and Guither and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) had issued press releases in an effort to draw media attention.

DEA's offensive exhibit
"Back when they first showed this exhibit, I remember thinking is the DEA propagandizing at a science museum?" said Guither. "I grew up with the Chicago Museum of Science and Technology, and I remember thinking my museum would never do that. Then, a couple of years later, I look at the upcoming exhibits and I see the DEA exhibit. This is so clearly propaganda that I had to do something," he told Drug War Chronicle. "I mentioned it on my blog, and one of my readers volunteered to pass out flyers, then I produced the press release and the web site, and then SSDP got involved -- they're a great group! SSDP's Tom Angell helped with the flyer and with getting the press interested, and then it was up to the press to do its job."

"I e-mailed our members in the Chicago area, and we were able to get some people to hand out flyers," said Angell. "We have some good people in the area."

The gambit paid off handsomely with a Washington Post story last Saturday titled "Drug-Terror Connection Disputed." That story, which was also picked up by newspapers in Knoxville, Indianapolis, and Tampa, quoted both Guither and SSDP's Angell, as well as Chicago teacher Jeanne Barr, who is also a member of SSDP. Congressional Quarterly also ran a story about the exhibit mentioning the contention that it is drug prohibition -- not drugs themselves -- that feeds terrorism, and even UPI ran a short piece mentioning the controversy on its international wire, a story that was picked up by the Washington Times.

The stories put the DEA on the defensive, with spokesmen Steve Robertson telling the Post: "We're a law enforcement agency -- we enforce the laws as they are written. Congress makes the laws. People say if we didn't have drug laws there wouldn't be a problem, but there was a problem before and that's why laws were established."

"I think we got the DEA flatfooted," said Guither. "You have that agent saying they just enforce the law, but they're out there lobbying for those laws. I don't think the DEA was ready for this."

"We did a little bit of judo on the DEA," said SSDP's Angell. "We took their message and spun it right back around on them. Reporters were intrigued by what we were saying. On the one hand, we were agreeing with the DEA's main point -- that profits from the black market drug trade can finance terrorism -- but we highlighted the fact that they are leaving out a large part of the story," he told the Chronicle.

"I was disappointed in the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, though," Angell continued. "They just toed the DEA line. They didn't mention us by name or give us any quotes; they just had a line or two about 'critics say this.'"

Guither said he didn't really expect anything better from the local press. "Since both the Sun-Times and the McCormick Tribune Corporation were sponsors of the exhibit, I didn't expect either paper to do much criticizing. The mere fact that they mentioned critics saying the exhibit is propaganda is a victory in my view."

Activists were careful to target their ire at the DEA, not the Museum of Science and Technology. "We didn't want to protest the museum but the DEA," said Guither. "And we didn't feel like we could get into picking their implied falsehoods apart, so our focus was on the inappropriateness of the DEA connecting drugs to terrorism since it is prohibition that makes drug trafficking and its profits possible. Also, since this is Chicago, we have the whole Al Capone legacy. Mayor Daley invited this exhibit, yet he seems to have missed the whole connection between drug prohibition and alcohol prohibition and how the latter made Al Capone. What we have with this exhibit is a federal agency with a failing scorecard blowing its own horn and linking itself to the war on terror, when it is really the problem."

While the DEA lists no more cities on its traveling exhibit schedule, SSDP will be ready to go if and when the DEA show hits another city. "Since we already have the materials and the press releases, we'll just follow it wherever it goes," said Angell. "If we have people on the ground, we will organize them to pass out materials. They should know we're coming after them. If we annoy them enough, maybe they'll go away one of these days."

"I'm very pleased," said Guither. "This was fun. If we hadn't done what we did, it would have been the standard announcement: Here's a new educational exhibit. Bring your kids to learn about the dangers of drugs and how the DEA is saving you. But because of the work we did here, we've managed to turn this around on the DEA. That feels good."

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Issue #449 -- 8/18/06

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Editorial: There's Always Another Drug Cartel... | Feature: Colorado Marijuana Possession Legalization Initiative Makes the Ballot | Feature: "Beyond Zero Tolerance" Conference Aims to Provide New Paradigm for Educators | Feature: SSDP, Drug War Rant Blog Score Media Hit With Attack on DEA Drug-Terror Exhibit | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Latin America: US Feds Bust Major Mexican Trafficker, Expect Violence, Continued Drug Trafficking as Result | Harm Reduction: Global Harm Reductionists Issue Urgent Declaration Calling for Action on Drug Use and HIV | Methamphetamine: One Month in One Texas County Courthouse Opens a Window on the Drug War Version 2.006 | Methamphetamine: Third Murder Trial for Woman in California Methamphetamine Poisoning Infant Death Case | Southwest Asia: Afghan Opium Cultivation Jumps to Record Level | Europe: British Public Supports More Rational Drug Policies, Survey Says | Weekly: This Week in History | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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