A handful of anti-immigrant movement heavyweights came out in full force on Tuesday, September 13, to show their support for a Tanton Network “Jobs Rally.”
Some of the usual suspects spoke out in favor of E-Verify, as some “special” guests also showed up on the steps of the capitol to further push the boundaries of far-right extremism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia.
Several weeks ago Jim Runestad (R-Waterford), a state adviser for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and Oakland County Commissioner, sent out an email to his constituents announcing a “Protect American Jobs Rally.” In his email, Runestad specifically noted the following under the section of speakers: “including supporters of the American Federation for Immigration Reform [i.e. FAIR], and Numbers USA to stand up and take back our county from the crooked politicians.” He then listed two contacts: himself and Tamyra Murray.
Murray states on her business card that she is a state adviser for FAIR and performs “Advocate Enforcement” for both U.S., Inc. and The Social Contract. All three organizations were founded by white nationalist and nativist figurehead John Tanton of Petosky, Michigan.
Speakers other than Murray and Runestad included State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) member Dave Agema; SLLI founder, former FAIR adviser, and current Pennsylvania State Representative, Daryl Metcalfe; and Kamal Saleem, a supposed former member of the PLO who spoke of the supposed great need to ban Sharia law.
“The illegals are crossing into the US – terrorist illegals – some in the state of Michigan. Today we say no,” said Kamal Saleem. One speaker referred to immigrant workers as “termites.”
When Dave Agema, who claims his place in SLLI via his seat in Michigan’s House of Representatives, began speaking, the opposition sector of the crowd boo-ed loudly. Agema was scheduled to speak earlier this week when notorious Terry Jones held his own event at the state capitol, “The Destructive Force: Islam.” Beyond direct associations with the Tanton Network’s SLLI and other anti-immigrant bigots, Dave Agema is known foremost for introducing the decidedly anti-Muslim HB 4769.
Tamyra Murray took a slightly more patriotic angle by claiming, “Those jobs should go to Americans, not illegals. We need to be united together to stand for American people”.
Two older women, both holding the flag of Israel in one hand, were passing out fliers for the Independent Tea Party Patriots (ITPP). One flier, with the American Flag as its backdrop, is supposedly an educational piece on E-Verify, proclaiming in bold letters that “With our horrendous and rising unemployment in Michigan, it is imperative that legislators pass these jobs bills to stop illegal workers paid for by Michigan taxpayers.” The other flier advertises for an upcoming event sponsored by the ITPP, an educational meeting featuring Terry Bowman dubbed, “Freedom to Work.”
While the eight speakers used the steps of the capitol to spew hateful rhetoric, a group of students and activists stood in opposition with banners and fliers. Bearing large signs that read “No Human is Illegal” and a large banner that read “Solidarity with Immigrants,” the group of students and activists far-and-away outnumbered the anti-immigrant nativists. Tuesday’s counter Rally for Immigrant Rights and Worker’s Solidarity was only one part of Michigan State University’s “Resist Week - Resist Racism, Resist Apathy.” With more than three extreme right-wing events occurring in Lansing just this week, the student body of Michigan State has been teaming up with activists associated with the Lansing Workers Center, AFSC, and Alliance for Immigrants Rights and Reform Michigan (AIR).
Rather than just holding up signs confirming solidarity with immigrants who are being targeted by FAIR, NumbersUSA, SLLI, and other groups, a flier specifically targeting Jim Runestad was distributed. The text stated in bold, “Say No to Hate!” Along with a picture of Runestad, the flyer details his direct ties to FAIR and its white nationalist leader, John Tanton.
“Resist Week – Resist Racism, Resist Apathy” is not the first time that the people of Michigan have turned out in the hundreds to protect their communities from the dehumanizing agenda of the anti-immigrant movement and the racist right. But this last week should be a significant marker in a fight for the dignity of all people.
Michigan is in the crosshairs of some of America’s foremost bigots, xenophobes, and Islamophobes. With the founder of the nation’s leading anti-immigrant network, John Tanton, residing in Petosky, Michigan, it is no great surprise that the state will remain heavily contested terrain. But Michigan students and activists are themselves at the forefront of protecting their state and country from political extremism.