I took a few hours yesterday to drive down to one of my long-time favorite places in Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry.
I haven’t been there in years, and I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this. That’s because I wasn’t there to see the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit. I was there to see this:
It’s a traveling exhibit produced by the DEA that “traces the historic and contemporary connections between global drug trafficking and terrorism.“
As you can see, the doors were closed. Rather than wait for them to re-open, I went to check on something else going on at the museum that day. I walked out that magnificent historic front entrance (I had entered from the parking structure) and took the picture that opens this post. Then I went down the rest of the stairs and said hello to a certain shifty-eyed gentleman hanging out in front of the museum.
That’s Pete Guither from the Drug WarRant blog. (Pete’s not really that shifty eyed, I just took pictures while he was talking, and the others came out even worse.)
Pete’s out there protesting the exhibit with his own DEA Targets America campaign. He’s got flyers to hand out, and he’ll talk to anybody who’ll listen.
As you’d expect from Pete if you read his blog, he’s pretty low key about it. He told me he dropped in at the security office to find out where it would be okay for him to protest. I was surprised they let him as close as they did, but I guess the Museum is on Chicago Park District land, so freedom of speech is the rule.
Speaking of which, there were a few rules to the protest: Pete was not allowed past the edge of the building containing the main pedestrian entrance. The salient features are shown below in my best “Alice’s Restaurant” diagram.
I said goodbye to Pete and went back inside to see if the exhibit was open yet. It was. I didn’t have a lot of time left, but I managed to get a few nice pictures.
The first exhibit inside the door is about some genuine victims of drug abuse. It’s the front end of a car that was in a lethal collision that killed a mother of two and injured her children. In addition to the car parts, there are pictures of the driver and his victims before the crash, along with children’s toys and drug paraphernalia. The driver was using many different drugs and is currently doing jail time.
The other side of that exhibit is more stuff from the families, and there are placards hanging overhead showing pictures of overdose victims and other hazards of drugs.
You may recall that the DEA started emphasizing narco-terrorism after 9/11. A cynic might suggest that they were afraid of losing some of that War on Drugs budget to the War on Terror unless they found a way to make themselves part of it.
This brings me to the biggest reason I don’ t like this exhibit:
Those are real pieces of the World Trade Center leaning up against a giant poster of the remnants of the outer wall of one of the towers. The back side has parts of the Pentagon. I would probably find it moving if it wasn’t such a cynical attempt to cash-in on Americans’ feelings about 9/11. DEA officials have admitted there’s no evidence that drug money helped fund the attacks. I guess whoever designed the exhibit just wanted to exploit our memories of 9/11 to punch up the message a bit.
I guess I should be thankful. A few of the things on exhibit, such as the car crash at the beginning, strongly support the DEA‘s message, and stuff like this only serves to undermine it. I should be in favor of that, because maybe then we’ll see less of this:
I didn’t see any sign explaining what this was, but it looks like a photo of some kind of inter-agency task force. (It almost looks good enough to be from a television show, I hope I’m not fooling myself.) It seems like whenever I read something at Drug WarRant or The Agitator about some overbearing government action in the name of the War on Drugs, there’s an inter-agency task force involved.
Next stop: Second floor.
That’s where I found this minimalist simulated tenement apartment.
That’s all there was, other than some explanatory posters.
The weirdest exhibit was right next to it:
It looks like a child’s room, but why? There’s no sign explaining it. Actually, I imagine a poster on one of the nearby exhibits probably explained it, but there was nothing to explain it while you were standing in front of it.
I guess the idea here is that when you stay in a hotel room, your bed could be right up against a meth lab. I’ve got to give the DEA credit for getting this right. The flammable and potentially explosive chemicals used in these labs are a genuine danger to the general public.
That’s a bust of Enrique Camarena, a legendary undercover agent for the DEA who helped destroy a lot of drug trafficking organizations before he was brutally kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in 1985. The DEA‘s relentless pursuit of his killers eventually led to an international incident and a Supreme Court case when bounty hunters kidnapped them in Mexico and brought them to the United States for trial.
It’s a reminder that while I disagree with most of what the DEA stands for, they really are taking down some evil people. For example:
The lower right corner of this exhibit has a flag for Sendero Luminoso, a.k.a. Shining Path, one of the most brutal and heartless terrorist organizations in the world. They are Maoist communists, dedicated to overthrowing the Peruvian government. Given how much of the world’s cocaine is produced in Peru, this seems like the real thing: Terrorists who probably receive a lot of money from the drug trade.
That brings me back to another view of the DEA‘s 9/11 Memorial about a terrorist act that was not funded by drug money. Here’s another picture of it that I took on the way out.
As I was leaving, I also grabbed a picture of this simulated outdoor drug lab.
The museum gift shop had DEA merchandise for sale. I was tempted to get Pete a hat or a shirt to wear while he was protesting, but I’m sure he wouldn’t want to be accused of misleading people.
One thing I learned on my trip: I’ve got to come back to this museum soon to see all the cool stuff: