Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees, North America

RIGHTS-US: Racist Ideology Permeates Anti-Immigrant Lobby

Ben Case

NEW YORK, Feb 3 2009 (IPS) - The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) said Tuesday that its research has connected three mainstream U.S. anti-immigration groups to racist ideas.

Its new report says the personal papers of John Tanton, the common founder of the three groups, bring to light the true nature of an entire sect of the anti-immigration lobby.

"These are the three most important nativist groups in the United States," says Mark Potok, who co-wrote the report. "They have been responsible for blocking a lot of immigration legislation."

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a non-profit interest group advocating immigration reform, the Centre for Immigration Studies (CIS), a think tank, and NumbersUSA, a grassroots lobby group, all denounce racism and claim to have little association with one another. However, the SPLC report details the close connection and the sinister ideology of these organisations.

All three groups were founded by John Tanton, a retired ophthalmologist from Michigan, whose personal papers were recently uncovered by the SPLC in the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library. The papers, which include letters, memos and journals, reveal Tanton's shockingly candid racism, as well as his belief that immigration is the main battle in what he believes is a new "race war".

In his journals, Tanton clearly stated his intention to start separate and seemingly independent organisations that could attack the immigration issue from different angles with the ultimate goal of a "whiter" nation.

"Tanton has been at the heart of the white nationalist movement for decades," says Potok. "He sees non-white immigration and even breeding of non-whites as a threat to America."

In the many letters the SPLC found, Tanton wrote friendly correspondences to prominent white supremacists, mused whether Latinos were "educable" and even officially queried the state of Michigan about the legality of forced sterilisation.

This connection is even more significant considering the influence these three groups have had on immigration legislation in the U.S. According to Frank Sharry, executive director of immigration reform group America's Voice, Tanton's organisations are often treated as mainstream.

"They routinely send people to testify before Congress and they took credit for major policy outcomes, like blocking the 2007 immigration overhaul bill," he said in Tuesday's joint statement with SPLC.

All three organisations are implicated in the SPLC's report. FAIR, founded in 1979, has accepted 1.2 million dollars from the Pioneer Fund, and continued to accept support years after the fund was exposed as a neo-Nazi organisation. Its members have also written for racist publications, including Tanton's own magazine, 'The Social Contract', and it is now officially listed as a hate group by the SPLC.

The CIS was founded in 1986, one year after Tanton's papers reveal he wanted to start a research group that appeared to be unbiased and independent in order to support FAIR's positions to the public. Not surprisingly, CIS's studies, many of which have been proven to be bogus, all conclude that immigration has a universally negative impact.

NumbersUSA fervently claims to be independent and even states its opposition to racism outright, but the group was founded by Tanton, and its executive director, Roy Beck, previously worked as a writer and editor for Tanton. Beck served as the Washington D.C. editor of Tanton's magazine and his publishing company, the Social Contract Press, which printed such books as 'The Camp of the Saints' by Jean Raspail, a work the SPLC described as a "lurid, racist novel… that depicts the invasion of white Western world by a fleet of starving, dark-skinned refugees."

Beck also worked on Tanton's own book, 'Immigration Invasion', which was banned by Canada as hate literature.

According to his own writings, Tanton models his network of organisations on the America Coalition of Patriotic Societies, which pushed for the 1924 Immigration Act that set up race-based statutes and barred all Asian immigration. That group's founder and leader, John Trevor Sr., worked in military intelligence in World War I and spoke of planning to deploy troops in Jewish neighbourhoods in New York City to "crush Jewish subversives". Trevor was indicted for sedition in 1942 because of his "pro-Nazi positions".

The papers the SPLC sighted in their report were sitting in boxes in a public library, and amazingly, John Tanton appears to have stored them there to be found. "Tanton had every intention to have a public archive of his papers. Every memo, every letter everything he's ever written is in there," Heidi Beirich, co-writer of the report, told IPS.

"He believes he is a man of history, a bit of ego is involved," she said.

Apparently, Tanton even made an effort to put the works of his inspiration, John Trevor Sr., in the library alongside his.

"It is very important that both Republicans and Democrats are aware of the players in the immigration debate, because the stakes here are much higher than the average policy debate," said Sharry, though he also stressed that in light of the Republicans' 2008 nomination of relatively pro-immigration candidate John McCain, the far right anti-immigration lobby might be "more bark than bite".

Even so, the atmosphere generated by the campaign of FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA is dangerous. According to the FBI, hate crimes against Latinos rose by 40 percent between 2002 and 2007, and SPLC says the number of organised hate groups has increased by over 50 percent since 2000.

The SPLC is a non-profit civil rights law firm located in Montgomery Alabama. Founded in 1971 by lawyers Morris Dees and Joe Levin, the SPLC deals with cases involving discrimination and prides itself on its numerous legal victories against hate groups.

In addition, the SPLC tracks U.S. hate groups, publishing its findings in a quarterly newsletter, the Intelligence Report, and runs Teaching Tolerance, a leading anti-bias education programme for schoolteachers.

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