Jun 1 2011

Letting Anti-Immigrant Movement Off the Hook By Focusing on Founding Figure’s Racism

John Tanton--Photo Credit: Johntanton.org

John Tanton–Photo Credit: Johntanton.org

The April 17 New York Times ran a long front-page piece on the racism of John Tanton, founder of the anti-immigration organizations Federation for American Immigration Reform and Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). Reporter Jason DeParle included a good deal of damning information about Tanton (long documented here at FAIR—1/1/93—and by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center—Winter/08) and some of Tanton’s own racist words (e.g., his message to a large donor—“One of my prime concerns is about the decline of folks who look like you and me”—and his warning to a friend that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that”).

But DeParle also managed to interview almost exclusively people currently or formerly affiliated with Tanton’s groups (six of these people in all), plus a few GOP officials—none of whom have anything bad to say about the Federation, CIS or Numbers USA (another Tanton-connected group), even if they’re mildly critical of Tanton himself.

Just a single critic was quoted, Frank Sharry of the progressive immigration reform group America’s Voice. As a result, the piece essentially portrayed Tanton as the only problem with these anti-immigrant groups: Despite their close ties to Tanton, they’re not actually racist themselves—they just roll their eyes at their racist founder and tolerate his eccentricities.

DeParle explained the trouble with critics of the groups:

Accusations of bigotry could alienate moderates the immigrant rights groups need. Allies of Dr. Tanton say their accusers are discrediting themselves with a guilt-by-association campaign that twists his ideas and projects them onto groups where, they say, his influence long ago waned.

The idea is attributed to allies of Tanton, but that’s the basic framing of the entire piece. If critics were given more space, they might have been able to point out that it’s not just a Tanton problem–although the fact that he remained on the Federation’s board for decades ought to be plenty damning in itself. (After the Times piece appeared, the Federation quietly removed Tanton’s name from its published board of directors. When questioned, the group declared that Tanton had decided to step down from the board two months earlier—New York Times, 4/30/11.) As the SPLC documents (3/16/10), the racism at the Federation and CIS extends far beyond Tanton, permeating the board, staff and programming.

As an example, Mark Krikorian, executive director of CIS, wrote in the National Review Online (1/21/10) that

Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough…. Unlike Jamaicans and Bajans and Guadeloupeans, et al., after experiencing the worst of tropical colonial slavery, the Haitians didn’t stick around long enough to benefit from it. (Haiti became independent in 1804.) And by benefit I mean develop a local culture significantly shaped by the more-advanced civilization of the colonizers.

Dan Stein, president of the Federation, was asked by Tucker Carlson (Wall Street Journal, 10/2/97) to respond to a quote from another Federation board member, eugenicist Garrett Hardin, who had warned that “breeders” were reproducing uncontrollably “in Third World countries,” and that the “less intelligent” should be discouraged from “breeding.” Stein’s response: “Yeah, so what? What is your problem with that? Should we be subsidizing people with low IQs to have as many children as possible, and not subsidizing those with high ones?”

Rachel Maddow (MSNBC, 4/29/10) recently confronted Stein with this quote and other evidence of racism at the Federation compiled by the SPLC. Stein claimed that all of the SPLC’s factual allegations about his group were wrong. The next night (4/30/10), Maddow factchecked Stein’s claims, demonstrating that he, in Maddow’s words, “was flat-out, totally shamelessly uncomplicatedly lying.”