Our VoiceImmigrationNews & Politics

NY Times Profiles John Tanton, Creator of Powerful Anti-Immigrant Movement

Jill Garvey • Apr 18, 2011

Anti-immigrant leaders claim they are too polite to eject white nationalist John Tanton from their circle.

A feature article in Sunday’s New York Times establishes that the man behind powerful anti-immigrant organizations such as FAIR, Center for Immigration Studies, and NumbersUSA, is a white nationalist.

The Times article cites such examples as:

He [Tanton] set off a storm of protests two decades ago with a memorandum filled with dark warnings about the “Latin onslaught.” Word soon followed that FAIR was taking money from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation that promoted theories of the genetic superiority of whites.

The article goes on to say that over the years Tanton has increasingly framed his immigration arguments in racial terms.

“One of my prime concerns,” he wrote to a large donor, “is about the decline of folks who look like you and me.” He warned a friend that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

For folks familiar with the history of the anti-immigrant movement in the U.S., Tanton’s storied past and his power over that movement is nothing new. What’s surprising are the flimsy excuses used by leadership in these groups to defend their continued affiliation with Tanton.

Roy Beck, Executive Director of NumbersUSA, told the NY Times that Tanton is “just like any friend — there are lots of issues I don’t agree with him on,” to explain why he hasn’t disavowed his former boss.

Dan Stein, the president of FAIR and a long-time defender of John Tanton told a Times reporter, “I love John, but he’s had no significant control over FAIR for years.”

But Tanton founded FAIR and has been on its board of directors for 32 years. And he isn’t just a friend to Roy Beck, he’s a mentor - once referring to Beck as his “heir apparent.”

According to the article, a few former colleagues expressed discomfort with Tanton’s views:

Patrick Burns, FAIR’s former deputy director said, “The immigration reform movement has to say what it is and what it’s not, and it has to say it’s not John Tanton.”

“My biggest regret is I looked at what he was doing, rolled my eyes and said, ‘That’s John,’ ” said Mr. Conner, the first FAIR director, who praised Dr. Tanton’s great “decency and his generosity on a personal level” and his selfless devotion to his cause.

But Burns and Conner are no longer part of FAIR or the other groups that refuse to denounce Tanton. In fact, not one of the leaders that currently make up the three most influential anti-immigrant groups in the country will come close to expressing the same kind of mild disapproval of Tanton.

At one point in the article Roger Conner described this refusal as “politeness toward a beleaguered friend.”

Are we really to believe that the current leaders of FAIR, Center for Immigration Studies, and NumbersUSA have just been too darn nice to call out John Tanton over the last 35 years?

Have they really risked undermining a multi-million dollar effort simply because they don’t want to hurt a friend’s feelings?


After all, this is a network of organizations and self-described friends that has been working with Tanton for decades. They must have known before anyone else about his racist views, all the while telling the public that racism won’t be tolerated in their organizations. Why didn’t they distance themselves long ago?

The Dan Steins and Roy Becks of the anti-immigrant movement may not sound as controversial as Tanton, but they won’t disown his influence. Which makes the issue less about the man that is Tanton and more about the Tanton ideology.

Are we to trust that if or when the man is dispelled, that his ideas will automatically go with him?

What we may find in the coming years is an immigration debate no longer influenced by Tanton, but by dozens of Tantonites.

Imagine 2050 Newsletter

  • translate

    English • Afrikaans • العربية • Беларуская • Български • Català • Česky • Cymraeg • Dansk • Deutsch • Eesti • Ελληνικά • Español • فارسی • Français • Gaeilge • Galego • हिन्दी • Hrvatski • Bahasa Indonesia • Íslenska • Italiano • עברית • Latviešu • Lietuvių • 한국어 • Magyar • Македонски • മലയാളം • Malti • Nederlands • 日本語 • Norsk (Bokmål) • Polski • Português • Română • Русский • Slovenčina • Slovenščina • Shqip • Srpski • Suomi • Svenska • Kiswahili • ไทย • Tagalog • Türkçe • Українська • Tiếng Việt • ייִדיש. • 中文 / 漢語