Pubdate: Tue, 11 Aug 2020
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2020 The New York Times Company
Author: Colin Moynihan


Harry J. Anslinger's pioneering work as head of the Federal Bureau of
Narcotics has largely been unsung, though experts see him as the
founding father of America's war on drugs.

In 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration raised his profile with a 
symposium that focused on the decades he spent creating national drug policy, 
starting in the 1930s. Following that, in 2015, the agency's museum opened an 
exhibition: "A Life of Service: Harry Jacob Anslinger, 1892-1975."

When that closed in 2017, the D.E.A. Museum & Visitors Center created
a virtual version, which is displayed on its website.

But neither the live exhibition nor the virtual one mentioned that Mr.
Anslinger has been criticized for making racist and denigrating
remarks, accusations that have trailed him for years.

In 1934, for example, Mr. Anslinger used a racial slur to describe a
Black informant in a letter to narcotics bureau district supervisors,
as described in a biography of the drug war czar by John C.
McWilliams, a former history professor at Pennsylvania State University.

Other researchers have cited Mr. Anslinger's book from the early 1960s, "The 
Murderers: The Shocking Story of the Narcotic Gangs," in which he ascribed 
"Oriental ruthlessness" to the Chinese involved in the drug trade.

In response to questions, D.E.A. officials said museum administrators
did not focus on Mr. Anslinger's speech when creating the exhibition,
which was organized around a timeline of his career. In a statement,
the museum's director, Laurie Baty, said: "D.E.A. has always
acknowledged that the history of drug control policy and enforcement
is complicated and ever-evolving."

In its online presentation, the D.E.A. museum does say Mr. Anslinger's
tenure was "not without controversy," but it does not discuss the
issue of racial remarks and attributes the harshest criticism of him
to "those opposed to laws governing marijuana."

The issue of Mr. Anslinger's remarks did surface during the D.E.A.
museum's symposium. One speaker, Charles Lutz, a retired D.E.A.
special agent, defended Mr. Anslinger, who has also been accused of
making other racist remarks, the origins of which are unclear. Mr.
Lutz, who has studied Mr. Anslinger's life, said his research
indicated that "most of the statements attributed to him had actually
been made by others."

Mr. Lutz also said he had interviewed a Black Narcotics Bureau agent
who worked under Mr. Anslinger and who was in the audience that day.
That agent, William B. Davis, would say there were racists in the
Narcotics Bureau, Mr. Lutz told the audience, adding: "But he'll also
tell you, as he told me, that Harry Anslinger was not one of them."

But Mr. McWilliams, who also spoke at the symposium and whose book, "The 
Protectors: Harry J. Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 
1930-1962," provides a balanced look at Mr. Anslinger's life, wrote that he 
saw the 1934 internal letter with the racial slur while reviewing documents 
at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum.

Among those who objected to the slur at the time was a United States
Senator from Pennsylvania, Joseph F. Guffey, who called for
Anslinger's resignation, according to the book.

In a telephone interview, Mr. McWilliams said Mr. Anslinger was
respected by his peers as a narcotics expert and dedicated
administrator but sometimes depended more on lurid accounts than sober
analysis to generate support for his initiatives.

"He was a product of his time, when that sort of language was not
unusual, unfortunately," Mr. McWilliams said of the slur used in the
letter. "He also impressed members of Congress and the media because
he did go after organized crime and Mafia types."

The full passage in Mr. Anslinger's book, "The Murderers," written
with Will Oursler, says: "The Chinese underworld of dope - combined
with gambling and prostitution - had its own special Oriental
ruthlessness, which fitted the aura of violence and brutality and
killing that has always been the hallmark of the narcotics

Many museums and other cultural institutions are confronting issues of
race as part of the broader discussion prompted by the killing of
George Floyd while in police custody.

The American Museum of Natural History, for instance, is removing a
statue of Theodore Roosevelt that shows him astride a horse, towering
above an African man and a Native American, in a tableau that critics
saw as symbolizing colonialism and racial discrimination.

Officials said that when the D.E.A. Museum & Visitors Center reopens
this fall after a renovation, there were no plans to exhibit items
associated with Mr. Anslinger, though the agency said that decision
was based on space constraints. D.E.A. officials said the museum, in
Arlington, Va., would frame the story of drugs in America around three
major themes: examining how laws and policies were created in response
to epidemics; looking at how major categories of drugs have affected
people physically and cycled in use over time; and exploring the
science of various substances.

The idea to create an exhibition about Mr. Anslinger was initiated,
agency officials said, after the symposium at which members of the
Anslinger family donated some items that had belonged to him.

A family member, a great-nephew, Jefferson Anslinger, said in an
interview that his great-uncle was an honest man and a patriot with
whom he regularly visited.

"I never heard him say anything disparaging about any race," he said.
"His whole life was dedicated to easing the suffering from drugs from
around the world."

Two of the donated items - a tan leather suitcase with brass fittings
and a brown composite suitcase reinforced with wooden ribs and
stenciled "H.J. Anslinger American Legation The Hague," - appeared in
the exhibit, which depicted Mr. Anslinger as a crucial forefather to
the D.E.A. Other artifacts on display included a Bureau of Narcotics
badge, an invitation to a dinner held in honor of the 1945
inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a 1962 letter from
the White House accepting Mr. Anslinger's resignation.

Few officials had as much power and prestige as Mr. Anslinger did
while leading the narcotics bureau during the administrations of five
presidents. His admirers have long seen him as unfairly overshadowed
by his better-known contemporary, J. Edgar Hoover.

Born in Altoona, Pa., he was appointed to the job of assistant
commissioner of Prohibition at the Treasury Department in 1929. He
then became the first commissioner of the Treasury's Federal Bureau of
Narcotics, which was founded in 1930.

While running the bureau Mr. Anslinger investigated the drugging of
race horses with heroin, cocaine, caffeine and strychnine. In
addition, he established ties with Interpol, arranged for
international drug accords and offered some of the first evidence of
the existence of a criminal network controlled by Sicilian-Americans.

Mr. Anslinger also championed measures that some drug experts today
describe as draconian. He lobbied successfully for the passage of an
anti-marijuana law in 1937, testifying during Congressional hearings
that a single marijuana cigarette could induce a "homicidal mania."

Johann Hari, a writer and critic of U.S. drug policy, described Mr. Anslinger 
in his book "Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs" 
as someone who depicted drugs as dangerous by associating them with racial 
minorities. He said in an email message that his research indicated that Mr. 
Anslinger had adopted "a consistent framing that drugs are something nonwhite 
people disproportionately use."