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Tanton Memo of the Month - The Promotion of Eugenics


Sarah Viets • Mar 26, 2010

This month’s Tanton Memo of the Month focuses on John Tanton’s eugenics project, Society for the Advancement of Genetics Education (SAGE).

In the mid 1990s, John Tanton, the founder of a host of anti-immigrant organizations, including NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, decided to develop a platform to educate the public on eugenics without using the term “eugenics.”

Eugenics was used to justify slavery in the U.S. and Nazi Germany’s crimes against Jews, and Tanton recognized that the American public had come to reject pseudo-scientific arguments that certain racial or ethnic groups were inferior to others.

To hide his promotion of eugenics, Tanton decided to use the word “genetics” instead of “eugenics,” and to focus on plant life as a gateway topic to promote his belief in inherent biological IQ differences. These racialized arguments are still popular in many of today’s white nationalist and neo-Nazi organizations.

In a letter to Dr. Robert K. Graham of the Foundation for the Advancement of Man, Tanton said the project would emphasize:

“mankind’s use of eugenic principles on plants and the lower animals as a way to condition the public to the idea of genetic manipulation, and raise the question of its application to the human race. In fact, we report on ways it is currently being done, but under the term genetics rather than eugenics.”

Graham is the founder of the controversial project, “Repository for Germinal Choice,” a sperm bank which gained infamy by trying to only recruit Nobel Prize winners as donors. Only one Noble Prize winner ever admitted to donating his sperm and that was William Shockley, who was outspoken about his belief that American Blacks were of low intelligence. All of Graham’s donors were white.

Tanton’s activism with regard to racial eugenics is based on the disturbing belief that those identified as the most productive “gene pool of the human stock” should be the ones with access to and control over scarce resources.

The same American eugenics movement of the early 20th century that informed Nazi Germany’s practices also advocated against immigration in the 1920s. It is believed that eugenicists helped pass laws that ranked immigrants based on ethnicity – at the time Nordic and Anglo Europeans being the most desirable and Asian immigrants the least. Eugenics movements have found genetic fault with nearly every physical trait and ethnic group outside of the “Nordic race”. These have been considered the “undesirable” immigrant masses over the past 100 years.

Today’s anti-immigrant movement focuses on criminalizing, detaining and deporting primarily non-white immigrants.

While it’s hard to find anything left of SAGE’s website, www.genetics-ed.org, the goals and objectives were clear. The project would start “formally as a membership organization, doubtless with a self-perpetuating board to help guarantee that it stays on course” and would attempt “to reach the young, the well-educated, and the affluent.”

Tanton’s obsession with eugenics shines a light on his motivations for associating with white nationalists and controversial anti-immigrant views.

*The John Tanton letters and memos are a public collection at the Bentley Historical Library.

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