COMMENTARY Denial is more than a river: The anti-immigration lobby exposed

The Southern Poverty Law Center released a bombshell of a report last month entitled “The Nativist Lobby, Three Faces of Intolerance.” The report is a bombshell because it ties three leading “immigration reduction” groups to a single founder with racist and extremist views: John Tanton. It rips off any mainstream façade these groups have carefully created.

The groups — Federation for American Immigration Reform, Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA — are darlings of the mass media. Whenever the topic of immigration is featured in news media, so-called “experts” from these organizations are sure to be a part of the mix.

FAIR was quoted in mainstream news some 500 times during 2008, with countless appearances on television shows, including CNN’s Lou Dobbs. (Dobbs, according to a detailed Media Matters report, “Fear and Loathing in Prime Time: Immigration Myths and Cable News,” is a prime pusher of immigration myths and has undertaken a crusader-type campaign against undocumented workers, devoting 70 percent of his 2007 shows to the topic.)

These groups’ connection to a racist extremist like Tanton could blow their cover of being “reasonable” immigration groups. They have carefully developed a fair-minded image since any whiff of anti-immigrant or racist extremism would put them far outside the mainstream.

And it’s the mainstream they seek to influence. The majority of Americans, time and time again, have come to reject overt immigrant-bashing and extreme racism, causing groups like these to have to “soft-sell” their approach.

For example, when you go to the NumbersUSA web site, the first listing under the About Us category is “No to immigrant bashing,” a message from the group’s founder and executive director, Roy Beck. At the same time, they post a nativist slander of the AFL-CIO, calling them “labor bosses” and condemning them for taking a pro-legalization position.

The SPLC report calls Tanton the “puppeteer” of these groups and ties them to long-standing nativist and neo-Nazi movements in this country. The report says its information and conclusions are based on Tanton’s own papers and writings stored at a historical library at the University of Michigan. In these 17 boxes are correspondence between Tanton and leading white supremacist activists.

“He has corresponded with Holocaust deniers, former Klan lawyers and the leading white nationalist thinkers of the era,” the report states. “He introduced key FAIR leaders to the president of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist group set up to encourage ‘race betterment’ at a 1997 meeting at a private club.”

FAIR went on to receive $1.2 million in funds from the group, which also promotes eugenics, a pseudoscience used by the Nazis to “better the Aryan race.” The Pioneer Fund has also concentrated on studies “meant to show that blacks are less intelligent than whites,” the report says.

The SPLC report is chuck full of details on the extensive ties between Tanton and neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan types.

Yet Tanton and organizations like FAIR deny such charges, claiming they are “different” from groups promoting fears and hatred of the past. Yet, the report says, “that is far from true.” The report’s editor says, “They have never strayed far from their roots.”

Tanton is on the board of directors of FAIR. A group Tanton founded, U.S. Inc., funded FAIR at least up to 2005. The so-called “independent” think tank Center for Immigration Studies, according to the report, was started by Tanton in 1985. He raised millions of dollars for CIS and “published the writing of top CIS officials in his racist journal, ‘The Social Contract’,” the report said. NumbersUSA’s Roy Beck was a 10-year employee of U.S. Inc., and NumbersUSA was until 2002 incorporated under U.S. Inc.

These intertwined organizations carefully cultivate their image and do a lot of denying that they are racist. But, as the song goes, “denial is more than a river.”

The SPLC report documents cases when these organizations’ leaders deny or downplay their relationship with Tanton.

The People’s Weekly World recently received a letter from a NumbersUSA attorney regarding an earlier story we published online about the SPLC report. There were two minor errors in that story, since corrected, but these did not change the premise of the story, which was to report the SPLC finding that these groups are “part of a network of restrictionist organizations conceived and created by” a “man with deep racist roots” — John Tanton.

The letter itself is an example of how these groups work extra hard to cover up their extremist roots with euphemisms, omissions or other trickery.

The attorney’s letter quoted this statement in the SPLC report: “Roy Beck says that he is no racist, that he opposes racist ideology with every fiber of his being — and his website and other writings do not contradict that.” However the letter fails to quote what the report goes on to say: “But when he is confronted with facts that seem to call that into question — in particular, his long and intimate relationship with John Tanton, and what looks a lot like his seeking to obscure that fact — Beck has declined to take an explicit position.” So reading the letter without the benefit of having read the report makes it sound like Beck is untarnished by the racist stench emanating from Tanton. Yet, according to the report, the opposite is true.

For example, the report notes that when questioned by a congressman on his relationship to Tanton, Beck denied having a “long and intimate relationship” with Tanton. Yet, the report continues, Beck had worked for Tanton for 10 years and even vacationed with him in 1997. It was on that vacation that Tanton took Beck to dinner and introduced him to John Trevor Jr., who is the son of the “key architect of the 1924 Immigration Act that formalized a racial quota system.” The son seems to have followed in the father’s footsteps, since he was a board member for several decades of the Pioneer Fund.

The letter prompted me to read from cover to cover the 21-page SPLC report. And eye-opening it is. A façade of tolerance has been manufactured by three extremely reactionary organizations, and it has worked. The report notes that NumbersUSA “flooded the Senate with more than a million faxes” in June 2007, effectively helping to scuttle any chance of immigration reform with a legalization component.

The American people deserve to know who is pulling the strings behind the immigration-restriction movement, so the more exposés on them the better.

talbano @ pww.org