James “Whitey” Bulger taken in 1953 after his first arrest
As the trial of notorious Boston mobster Whitey Bulger carries on and a series of key witnesses take the stand, a look back at President Nixon’s own fight against organized crime will help the public better understand the tools law enforcement has at their disposal today.
Just months after taking office, President Nixon spoke to Congress on the state of organized crime in America and laid out his plan to combat it.
“As a matter of national “public policy,” I must warn our citizens that the threat of organized crime cannot be ignored or tolerated any longer. It will not be eliminated by loud voices and good intentions. It will be eliminated by carefully conceived, well-funded and well-executed action plans.”-President Nixon, Special Message to the Congress on a Program To Combat Organized Crime in America, April 23 1969
See how President Nixon fought back against organized crime by watching the Nixon Legacy Forum: Combating Organized Crime in the Nixon Era.
President Nixon’s plan revolved around expanding the budget for dealing with organized crime by $25 Million, providing greater assistance and cooperation with state and local authorities, enacting tougher criminal laws and a reorganization of the crime fighting effort at the federal level.
The following year, on June 4, 1970, President Nixon announced the creation of the National Council on Organized Crime, a committee composed of representatives of all the Federal departments and agencies having major responsibilities affecting or affected by the activities of organized crime. The intention of the council was to target corruption in metropolitan areas throughout the country.
Four months later, President Nixon would sign into the law the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, which intended to eliminate organized crime by enhancing the capability of the federal government to prosecute criminal organizations.
One of the most important aspects of the Act was the critical amount of protection granted for witnesses in cases involving organized crime, as it provided immunity for witnesses in exchange for testimony as well as security for witnesses and potential witnesses.
The importance of security for witnesses, particularly in cases like the Bulger trial, was showcased last Thursday when Stephen Rakes, a key witness, was found dead twenty miles outside of Boston.
In addition, the Act would also create the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO, which established lengthy prison sentences for anyone convicted of two crimes from a list of thirty five federal and state offenses within a ten year period. Further, under the RICO Act associated members of a criminal enterprise could be tried for a crime itself, instead of conspiracy, if they only ordered, or participated in the planning of the crime.
During the signing of the bill, President Nixon praised members of the Justice Department, FBI, and the Secret Service for their efforts, while also stressing that the war on organized crime would be won.
“Signing this piece of legislation will provide the tools to do the job, but what really counts is the fact that we have the men and the women who will do the job. I know we have them. I know we have them in the person of the Attorney General and his staff, Mr. Hoover and his staff, and in the areas where they have responsibility, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secret Service and their staffs.
I am very proud of these people. I think all Americans can be proud of the fact that the work they have done before they got the necessary tools that they needed, and now that they have these tools, I think that we can say that they shall now be able to launch a total war against organized crime. And we will win this war. It can be done.” –Richard Nixon Remarks on Signing the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, October 15, 1970
The capture and current trial of Bulger is part of the ongoing legacy of President Nixon, and his effort to ensure that the people involved in the violent world of organized crime are always brought to justice.