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Anti-Immigrant Group Dumps White Nationalist


Jill Garvey • Apr 27, 2011

Amid intense pressure from the media and civil rights groups, anti-immigrant organization Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) dumped white nationalist John Tanton from its board of directors.

John Tanton isn’t any ordinary board member; he founded FAIR in 1979, and has served on the board for 32 years. Tanton’s departure comes just 10 days after a front-page article appeared in the New York Times Sunday edition.

According to K.C. McAlpin, a former FAIR staffer and the man who recently took over Tanton’s foundation U.S. Inc., Tanton himself made the decision to leave the board. Bob Dane, a FAIR spokesperson, backed up that claim, telling Imagine 2050 that Tanton’s decision to step down was made months ago - long before the article came out.

But if that’s true, why didn’t FAIR communicate that to the Times reporter? It’s clear that FAIR staffers were contacted by him in recent months and they knew the story was built around Tanton’s involvement with anti-immigrant groups.

Wouldn’t that have saved the organization a lot of trouble? After all, the three largest organizations that Tanton helped create have spent considerable energy the past 10 days responding to the Times article. Center for Immigration Studies alone devoted four articles on its blog to bashing the article and the New York Times.

FAIR released a statement just days after the article appeared and neglected to mention that Tanton had stepped down. One would think that would be an important fact to include in trying to tamp down the controversy.

FAIR continues to play dumb when it comes to controversy surrounding John Tanton - preferring to tell the public that his term expired rather than admitting that he was causing the legitimacy of the organization to be questioned.

In fact, Tanton’s exit comes more than 20 years after the public first learned of his controversial ideas. In 1988, a private memo dated October 10, 1986 from John Tanton to attendees of the WITAN IV conference was leaked to the mainstream press. The conference was part of a series of meetings held during the height of an English only campaign in Arizona and the memo was leaked by recipients who considered Tanton’s ideas to be extreme.

Following are a handful of the statements he made in the memo that may have caused alarm:

“Will Latin American migrants bring with them the tradition of the mordida (bribe), the lack of involvement in public affairs, etc.?”

“As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?”

“On the demographic point: perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!”

The memo caused quite an uproar, and many of Tanton’s ardent supporters broke ties with him.

But not FAIR. Even after subsequent stories emerged by Salon.com, In These Times, and the Washington Post that detailed funding received from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation that has a history of promoting the genetic superiority of white, European-Americans, Tanton continued to serve on FAIR’s board.

The past year, however, has proved to be much more difficult. As public concern over anti-immigrant laws grew, so did questions about FAIR’s history. In April 2010, FAIR suffered a major blow to its carefully maintained reputation when the group’s president, Dan Stein, went on the Rachel Maddow show and lied to viewers about the group’s controversial background.

Last December, an investigative report by Village Voice Media meticulously traced FAIR’s history from its current legislative projects back to its founder, John Tanton. Although the article described Tanton as “articulate and friendly,” it concluded that, “Even today, John Tanton sees nothing wrong with associating with white nationalists. He says he doesn’t necessarily agree with them, but reaching out to them is part of his ’coalition building.’”

Similarly, all these years, FAIR and other anti-immigrant groups have seen nothing wrong with associating with John Tanton.

What is most troubling and will continue to linger long after Tanton’s departure is the fact that FAIR didn’t boot Tanton because he’s a bigot, it booted him merely because he’s a liability to its mainstream veneer.

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