Drug Warrior and Pro-Drone Democratic Congressman Silvestres Reyes Goes Down Hard

Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.  You can follow him on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/matthewstoller

Yesterday, we hit a turning point in the war on drugs.  Pro-legalization Democratic Congressional candidate Beta O’Rourke defeated eight term Democratic incumbent Silvestre Reyes in a bitterly fought and exceptionally vicious primary yesterday in a Texas border district, where the war on drugs was a central issue.

Nearly everyone in Congress and in the Executive branch knows the war on drugs is stupid and/or ineffective and/or corrupt, but very few will speak out against it.  I mean, most of them have used illegal drugs at some point in the past.  There are many reasons for this reticence, one of which is that every member seemingly has some story about seeing some pro-legalization candidate get destroyed in an election, with the idea that drug legalization is a fringe position akin to establishing a Department of Peace or abolishing the CIA.  There are also huge sums of money behind the war on drugs, from the pro-meth pharmaceutical lobby that uses “blood money” to keep selling addictive chemicals to the massive defense contractor and predator drone industry that wants to militarize the borders to police departments that like their drug war money to the banking system itself that launders drug money.

But mostly, ending the drug war is seen as a fool’s errand.  It’s not even a debate, it’s so fringe.  Here’s Barack Obama mocking people on the internet for caring about drug legalization.  But the war on drugs is a key architectural pillar of the authoritarian parts of our government.  Since most people have used illegal drugs, a government can choose who to imprison based on selective prosecution, without any real debate in our political system.  A lack of debate is key to sustaining the war on drugs.

We might have just seen the end of this dynamic of shameful silence.

This race in Texas is important, because many factors were stacked in favor of the drug warrior.  Reyes, the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee and a member of the Unmanned Systems Caucus in Congress (the Predator Drone caucus) is a proponent of militarizing the border and sending in drones to Mexico to kill cartel leaders.

“We have to do what we’ve done essentially in Pakistan, and that is start taking out the heads of the cartels,” said Reyes, whose four-year tenure as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee ended in December.  That, he said, is what it will take to end the cartel drug wars that have caused 35,000 deaths and brought Juárez and other Mexican towns and cities to their knees since 2008.

Asked if he meant employing the kind of drone missile strikes that have been effective but hugely unpopular in Pakistan, Reyes told El Paso Inc., “I wouldn’t rule that out.”

This debate over the war on drugs was not incidental in the race.  O’Rourke has argued that drug laws increase profits for Mexican drug cartels and increase violence; Reyes used this stance to run ads against O’Rourke using children shaking their heads and saying “just say no” to drugs.  The Nancy Reagan-esque messaging did not cause O’Rourke to run fearfully, instead, O’Rourke stood his ground and made the argument that the drug war causes murder on the other side of the border.  That O’Rourke won is, politically speaking, like seeing a dog walk on his hind legs.  This just isn’t supposed to happen.

What makes this even more impressive is that Reyes was endorsed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  In primaries, these kinds of endorsements are exceptionally important, because people in Democratic primaries like and trust Democratic leaders.  That the voters threw out an ardent drug warrior despite such endorsements and without an obvious scandal is a very powerful statement about the change in political atmosphere around the war on drugs.

There are many reasons to be happy that Reyes lost.  He is and was an awful Congressman, both stupid and craven.  As Democratic leader of the Intelligence Committee, Reyes did not know the group Hezbollah, and he didn’t know whether Al Qaeda was Sunni or Shia.  Reyes is a proponent of any number of authoritarian policies violating our civil liberties, and he is backed by predator drone cash.  So if you like militarizing, well, everything, then Reyes is your man.  And this has been the trend recently.

So it’s nice to see voters choose peace over war, and an end the war on drugs.  Now that a candidate won a significant race while arguing for drug decriminalization, it’s going to be increasingly more difficult for politicians to avoid debating the issue.  And that’s good.

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About Matt Stoller

From 2011-2012, Matt was a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He contributed to Politico, Alternet, Salon, The Nation and Reuters, focusing on the intersection of foreclosures, the financial system, and political corruption. In 2012, he starred in “Brand X with Russell Brand” on the FX network, and was a writer and consultant for the show. He has also produced for MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show. From 2009-2010, he worked as Senior Policy Advisor for Congressman Alan Grayson. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller.


  1. Rick

    This really doesn’t have the effect you think it does. Being from El Paso, I can tell you that lots of people hated Reyes for being a useless piece of shit. Beto was picked (obviously) because he had the best chance at winning. But being against the War on Drugs (which is just basic common sense) doesn’t make him a good representative; he comes from a history of behind closed doors and friend of a friend deal making that will make him a perfect fit in the House. I’m not saying that Reyes should have won and stayed in; just that Beto being there doesn’t make anything better

    1. Warren Celli

      I agree and would take it further…

      The phony baloney war on drugs is the gift that just keeps on giving to the self anointed elite gangster ‘good guys’ that own and control the equally phony baloney electoral process. You know, those same gangster ‘good guys’ — ALL of your politicians — that own and control the domestic alcohol and tobacco drug cartel that kills 500,000 thousand Scamerican citizens each year, not to mention the millions of their friends and neighbors that grieve on and have to pick up the pieces after they are six feet under. And don’t forget their mean and vicious ATF army that it funds in fees and licensing — the ‘good guy’ cops that selectively and vocally put competitive product users in jail, especially competitive product users that might be pro competitive products. Its not all just to fill the ‘privatized’ prisons.

      Matt, you forgot to mention that the war on drugs in Mexico, and in Columbia too, is in reality also a pretense covering operation to murder and jail political opposition and build fear and respect for evil authority. It is an escalation of what the ATF goon squad gang is already doing domestically with alcohol and tobacco. Its essentially the same dynamic with more blood and guts spilled.

      Can we all say “R&D pilot program coming to America”. Actually it is already here and part of the overall perpetual conflict creation. Read about your wonderful ATF goon squad’s part in the R&D here…


      This scam election of one shill politician over another is meant to normalize the dialogue, the use of drones, killing and maiming political opposition, build the fear, justify greater oppression and control, etc. There is no “good” here! Because there is no good in the scam electoral process that is responsive to the will of the people.

      People that keep sucking on that PollyAnnish scam electoral lollipop as savior only serve to validate, justify and prolong it.

      No balls! No brains! No freedom!

      Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

      1. Warren Celli

        Correction: Because there is no good in the scam electoral process that is NOT responsive to the will of the people.

    2. dcblogger

      What I heard was the many Republicans crossed over to vote for Beto because they thought him to be the weaker candidate. I may be misinformed. Or the Republicans may be in for a surprise. But it sure would be nice to think that the politics of the War On Some of the People Who Do Drugs was beginning to change.

  2. toxymoron

    Hi Matt,

    As stated repeatedly here on NC and elsewhere, the ‘war on drugs’ is also good for the for-profit prison business and slave camp management systems.

  3. Gorgi

    Rick, I think the point Matt is trying to make is not that Beto is a great guy. Its the fact that the voters were willing to support a candidate that was pro legalisation. And hopefully other politicians will take note and no longer be afraid they will lose an election for having a pro-legalisation stance.

      1. steelhead23

        So, going on the premise that money wins elections, would it be legal for pro-marijuana forces (say legal growers from California and Colorado) to form a PAC and fund commercials supporting candidates like O’Rourke?

        1. Roger Bigod

          I’ve read that big growers in Northern California quietly oppose legalization, expecting that it will reduce the huge markup and attract competition from Big Pharma. (Why don’t they go by “ethical drug manufacturers” any more?)

    1. Francois T

      We all should note that Beto won despite having Obysmal and Slick Willie endorsing his opponent.

  4. Halls of Lobbyists

    “Nearly everyone in Congress and in the Executive branch knows the war on drugs is stupid and/or ineffective and/or corrupt, but very few will speak out against it” But destroying lives by imprioning people, endless murders, carnage and prison construction makes them very pleased as lobbyists help them pay their mortgages. In other words, nearly everyone in congress is a two faced liar who whole heartedly supports the profits to be had from the drug war. Every once in a while an ***hole is actually voted out, after decades of ineptitude, special interest pandering, and degeneration.

  5. ambrit

    Despite our cynical natures, there is a ray of hope here. The fact that the Dem wing of the Republicrat Party chose to allow a standard bearer to openly raise the issue points to there being splits within that wing of the Party. (We may as well start calling it “The Party” as the folks in the old Soviet Bloc used to call their monolithic political structure.)
    Next up is the general election. Will the “Failed Drug War” theme continue to be a main issue? How does the Rep wing of the Republicrats try to counter the supposedly ‘unprecedented’ win by the ‘rogue’ Dem? Reyes apparently ran a classic Rep campaign, and still lost. Watch this space indeed.

  6. oy

    Havingt seen several of my classmates destroyed by drugs, I will never subscribe to this nonsense.

    1. Art Eclectic

      Just wait until you get older and watch several of your co-workers and family members destroyed by perfectly legal alcohol and prescription drugs ….because it’s coming. Those with a weakness for excessive reliance on mood alterting substances will get high legally or not and some will destroy their lives legally or not. Focus less on the substance and more on the fact that certain people need treatment and need to stay away from ANYTHING that triggers addiction, whether it’s legal or not.

      Grow up.

    2. F. Beard

      The OTC legal drugs are not adequate for many people so it’s no wonder that some turn to illegal drugs.

      People should have more choices than caffeine and nicotine for stimulants, alcohol for a depressant, and a few weak painkillers. And so what if they get addicted so long as the cost for their fix is low? And speaking of cost, the health costs of nicotine and alcohol are high.

    3. F. Beard

      The drug use was more likely a symptom of something else that damaged them.

      But blame the drugs, eh? That relieves us of any further consideration of what the real problems are such as banker induced poverty and stress?

      1. Douglas

        So what do u want . It realy sound great to say keep it the way it is. But then there no problem with person under the age of 21 buying it. The D-E-A has to keep kidds getting invole in drugs so they will have a job. Lets face it we all know that u dont get card when u go to your fring house and buy some MJ. Try buying beer from a store.

    4. Cujo359

      Personally, I have far more acquaintances who were ruined by legal drugs, especially alcohol. Destroying our society isn’t a price I’m willing to pay to deprive people of one more way to hurt themselves.

    5. Matt Stoller Post author

      I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened if drugs were illegal. Oh wait, they are.

      1. Tim

        Yeah, America needs a case study to uncover the truth about drug use as a function of legality. If drugs become legal, what change in use really occurs? Perhaps prohibition data could provide clues.

    6. bdy

      Smoking weed 2-3 times a week in a non-demanding major (Fine-Arts) at a middle of the road state university, I dropped out after six years with a 2.0 GPA.

      Returning to a top twenty school in a far more demanding major (Architecture), I literally smoked myself out every morning noon and night on the stickiest kronic you could imagine. I graduated honors and had my pick of scholarships from the very best of the best graduate programs. Now, I don’t smoke nearly so much (about every other month), but I could never have become decently self sufficient without the introspective personal growth and discipline I developed while blissfully stoned out of my mind on the kind buds.

      Drugs don’t destroy peoples’ lives. People destroy their own lives, with or without good buzz.

      1. Joe S

        I had a similar experience to you bdy. All this crap about dope making you dumber is just that- utter crap. Older now and smoke way less but I don’t notice any difference in brain function other than that wrought by age and maturity

    7. Francois T

      Isn’t it remarkable that abuse of prescription drugs have killed many more Americans than street drugs?

    8. wunsacon

      How did they destroy their lives if drugs are illegal? Oh, right. They’re available anyway.

      Just that now we have all the attendant corruption and violence that led people to repeal Prohibition a few generations ago.

    9. robw

      I don’t know anyone among the hundreds of users I’ve known since the ’70s whose lives were ruined by marijuana. I do know several whose lives were ruined by arrest and incarceration for marijuana possession. Not to mention all those who lost their jobs because a urine test showed they’d gotten high sometime in the last month (not on the job, not that it mattered).

      1. Synopticist

        I’ve known 5 people who went mad as teenagers, probably through taking too much acid. Maybe it would have happenned anyway, but they all certainly did massive amounts of LSD.
        Having said that, I dont regret doing it, I reckon it made me smarter and more broadminded, but there’s always risks involved.

        That Reyes guy is one shockingly stupid moron though.
        “The new Democratic chairman of a US congressional intelligence committee did not know what Hizbollah was and incorrectly described al-Qa’eda as deriving from the Shia rather than Sunni sect of Islam.”
        That was in 2006. if it was 1996 you could possibly understand it, but 5 years after 9-11? Amazing.

        1. Roger Bigod

          The obvious question is whether they were toking a lot in addition to the LSD. There’s good anecdotal evidence that cannabis is associated with the first psychotic episode of schizophrenia. I’ve known one person with a diagnosis of schizophrenia who did well on his meds, but never touched weed because he was sure it made the schizophrenic thinking come back.

          There’s zero evidence that cannabis actually causes schizophrenia. It just hastens the onset for some people. And no evidence I’ve heard that LSD has even that much effect. I’d suspect your friends were toking, which goes along with LSD use, and that was the connection.

  7. h4x354x0r

    Also note, the Colorado Democratic party has officially adopted cannabis legalization as part of their platform, and while the Republican party couldn’t quite bring itself to do the same, the R’s caucus saw a majority favor vote for adopting cannabis legalization.

    This issue is continuing to gather steam on the ground, and it’s about to blow through the glass ceiling of politics.

  8. Cujo359

    This is good news. While Beta O’Rourke may not be much of an improvement in other ways, the message that supporting an end to the war on drugs isn’t a political career ender is an important one to pass on.

  9. wunsacon

    Has anyone tried boycotting alcohol until at least marijuana is legalized?

    In other words, we should vote with our dollars and hurt the people who make the laws rather than the people who just sign them.

  10. different clue

    Keeping certain drugs illegal keeps their price up and preserves money-laundering profits for all the Very Best International Banks and others who launder the money. It also keeps big War On Drugs armies in well paid existence and in retirement after that.

    So the War On Drugs is not a failure. It is a success. You just have to admit to yourself what the real agenda is and what the real goal is and who the real beneficiaries are; and then you will realize what a total success the War On Drugs totally is.

    We need a Peace On Drugs.
    We need a War on the War On Drugs.
    We need to defeat and “exterminate” the War On Drugs. We need to destroy its evil and immoral supporters one way or another.

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