A compassionate anti-immigrant movement? Most organized restrictionists want you to believe it’s possible. With conspicuous disavowals of bigotry and chauvinism, anti-immigrant honchos allege that the ethnicity or nationality of the “offenders” does not motivate their stance, and that they will not tolerate racist interpretations of their arguments. Organizationally, it’s a necessary move and—who knows?—maybe they even believe it.
The truth is, the anti-immigrant movement is fully aware of its propensity to attract the least savory kind of politicking. And this is especially true of the famed Tanton network. After a New York Times article exposed the views of their founder, white nationalist John Tanton, the affiliated groups he founded and funded have scrambled to distinguish their projects from his. These organizations with more mainstream ambitions know that, in the case of extremists, distance is the best policy.
But distance is hard to come by lately. In a political climate that equates activism to sending a fax, an online constituency might be the only constituency. Social networking websites and online communities such as Facebook are beginning to outstrip other forums, and while Tantonites have adapted, the disinterested receptivity of the internet has also laid bare the people at its heart.
The world of open contribution has left these organizations with a culture of empty disclaimers, asserting that comments and opinions “don’t reflect the views of” the movement itself. Roy Beck, president of the Tanton financed NumbersUSA, has written on several occasions to discourage “immigrant-bashing,” stating, “It is the NUMBERS, not the character or characteristic of the foreign citizens who move here that causes problems.” He continues:
[I]t is easy for people to make unguarded comments in the heat of frustration that reflect badly on all people of a certain ethnic origin. It is these unguarded comments that draw the attention of pro-illegal-immigration groups who claim that they fan hate and violence.
Lest it reflect poorly on them, the people at NumbersUSA have a response in the chamber once that bad apple runs his/her mouth. Similarly, the Tanton founded Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) posts a “Comment Policy” on its Facebook page:
We do not allow graphic, obscene, explicit, sexist or racial comments or submissions nor do we allow comments that are abusive, hateful or intended to defame anyone or any organization.
They go as far as to claim strict enforcement of this policy, up to and including a permanent ban on contributions. And again, FAIR is ready for that overzealous adherent “in the heat of frustration.” But why all the preemption?
As anti-immigrant figures, the people of the Tanton network know their constituency well, and they know how riotous the discussion gets—their Facebook pages exemplifying this fact. Cascades of protest saturate their “walls” in varying degrees of emphasis, from the ineffectual howl of “No amnesty!” to the flagrant call to “deport all illegals now!” But some “friends” and “fans” overtake even this barefaced nativist diction, such as one young man responding to U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez’s (D-IL-4) recent call for reform, as posted on NumbersUSA’s “wall”:
“…he has a Third World District. How do you think he got elected in the first place.” (May 1, 2011)
Having resided in the Fourth District for years, this author is curious to know what he meant by “Third World.” Whatever the case, this is only one example of many that troll the dredges of ignorance. In the last month, the following comments have emerged on Tanton-affiliated Facebook pages:
- Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), an organization sharing leadership with FAIR, posted a legislative “Action Alert” on its page May 10. One of the comments under it read, “15 years ago I said these people wouldnt [sic] res until this was a third world mud hut country.” The same contributor went on to claim “[I] see no way out of this except for civil war/revolution.”
- On May 13, one “frustrated” follower posted on the FAIR page, referring to immigrants in a most unenlightened manner: “…ever look into their eyes, like looking into the eyes of a shark, cold & dead [caps lock omitted].”
- On the NumbersUSA page, one “fan” posted her admiration of a Rawandan refugee she had seen on television, then quickly switched gears and said, “She is the kind of person we should be accepting of, not the scum who crawl in like thieves in the night.”
- May 24 featured a popular post on the FAIR page, on which one person commented, “What do you expect? This is the land of the mixed breed now! What happened to the real America like in the 1940’s and 1950’s. [sic]”
Apparently their warnings have not been heeded. The Tanton groups would like us to think that they have no interest in this kind of thinking, but they still advertise it to the world. As of this writing, none of these comments have been omitted—a little odd for organizations that denounce bigotry.
And even if they had, why is it that they attract these thoughts? Though they claim otherwise, perhaps the anti-immigrant project isn’t so distinct from such vapid prejudice. Indeed, their disclaimer is expected, but it doesn’t absolve them; you just can’t get the necessary mileage out of insincere sloganeering.