Crack Lives Matter

The 2016 war on cops recalls the crackpot conspiracy of election year 1996.

Racist cops, agents of an oppressive white supremacist society, are gunning down innocent blacks all over America. That narrative boasts considerable support among politicians and celebrities as the November election approaches. The surging war on cops also recalls a similar narrative from an election year twenty years past.

The U.S. government, working through the shadowy efforts of the CIA, spread crack cocaine throughout America’s black community as part of an effort to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua during the 1980s. That was the charge of “Dark Alliance: The Story Behind the Crack Explosion,” a series of San Jose Mercury News articles by Gary Webb that first appeared in August, 1996.

Louis Farrakhan’s Final Call turned the series into a cover story and the Rev. Jesse Jackson rushed to the barricades. Rep. Maxine Waters, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, dragged CIA boss John Deutch to a raucous inquisition in Watts. A similar episode played out during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, when activists interrupted testimony with screams of “Cover-up!”

Trouble was, as Washington Post and Los Angeles Times investigations confirmed, the story wasn’t true. In fact, the story didn’t even qualify as news. Mercury News editor Jerry Ceppos conceded he had advanced a story that was ten years old.

That crackpot conspiracy first emerged from the Christic Institute, a “nonprofit, interfaith center for law and national policy in the public interest” headed by Daniel Sheehan, a Harvard-trained lawyer who made his name defending nuclear martyr Karen Silkwood. Sheen and Christic executive director Sara Nelson believed that Marxist dictatorships could liberate people and establish social justice. In the Christics’ default description, those who opposed Marxist dictatorships were fascists and murderers just like the Nazis.

In 1986, Sheehan filed a RICO lawsuit charging that a “secret team” of former military and CIA officers, Gen. John Singlaub among them, were running U.S. foreign policy. In this narrative, U.S. policy from the late 1950s was a massive anti-communist plot, funded by profits from drug dealing. The secret team ran mercenary armies and worked with opium-growing tribesmen in Laos, where Singlaub, the Christics charged, personally killed 100,000 people. As the suit had it, a Marine named Oliver North joined in the Laos drug operation. The same omnipresent secret team, the Christics charged, was helping the Nicaraguan Contras and financing its dirty work by trafficking in cocaine.

Both the lawsuit and the conspiracy theory played well in Hollywood, where Christic backers included Ed Asner, Mike Farrell, Martin Sheen, Darryl Hannah, Jane Fonda and others. The Christic conspiracy provided the story for episodes of Miami Vice and Wiseguy. Former presidential aide Bill Moyers championed the Christic cause in The Secret Government, a PBS special later turned into a book that the Christics peddled for $9.95 as a resource in their “Tools for Truth” catalogue.

On June 23, 1988, U.S. District Court Judge James King, citing fabricated testimony and lack of evidence, dismissed the suit and all charges. The Christics soon found themselves under fire in the Boston Globe, Mother Jones, and the Nation but that did not prevent Gary Webb from repackaging the story.

“Cocaine – a drug that was virtually unobtainable in black neighborhoods before members of the CIA’s army started bringing it into South Central in the 1980s at bargain basement prices,” reads the lead piece of the “Dark Alliance” series. The Christics charged that the drugs came in through the Mena airport in Arkansas, then governed by Bill Clinton, the presidential incumbent in 1996.

In Webb’s version, the secret team flew the drugs from El Salvador to a U.S. Air Force base in Texas. On a radio talk show, he blamed the CIA for sparking “the worst drug plague in the nation’s history and financing the rise of the Crips and Bloods.” So now even gangs were the work of the CIA.

Webb resigned from the Mercury News in late 1997 and the next year the California Assembly hired him as an investigator. When that comfy gig ended he freelanced for publications such as the Sacramento News & Review. In 2004, Gary Webb killed himself but his brand of conspiracy theory lived on.

According to Black Lives Matter, the police are agents of a white supremacist nation, gunning down innocent blacks at will. Like the crackpot conspiracy, this charge does not rely on facts. As Heather MacDonald has shown, of the 987 civilians killed by police in 2015, whites were 50 percent and blacks 26 percent. Most of the victims, both black and white, were armed or threatening police with lethal force.

The anti-cop ideology regards any attempt to deal with facts as “cherry picking” as the president said of the FBI’s James Comey.  Beyond that, the BLM anti-cop ideology offers people a theory of their plight that has nothing to do with themselves and everything to do with the moral lapses of other people. So no surprise that, in an election year, the narrative should mount a surge, with an echo chamber of politicians and celebrities blasting away at high volume.