The University of Maryland recently joined the growing movement to create “sanctuary campuses;” schools that will not participate in deportation raids on undocumented students. In reports about the school, Bob Dane, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) was quoted as the opposition, saying that the move was politically motivated. FAIR’s bland-sounding name has allowed it to appear as just another special-interest group, one lobbying regional politicians to see standard policy shifts. This would certainly be the impression for many readers who see FAIR’s name quoted in articles across the mainstream press. In these articles, sources from FAIR are often used to provide “balance” to the opposing view offering protection to undocumented immigrants. On a weekly basis, FAIR’s name will appear in articles and news reports across the country, as well as in congressional testimony, conferences and public events. In 2008 alone, FAIR was quoted almost 500 times in the mainstream media and has been in front of Congress so many times that they blend in with groups like the AARP or the ACLU. The persistent nature of FAIR’s media profile has hidden the fact that the organization has been at the forefront of white nationalism in the US, using immigration as the wedge issue necessary to push an “ethnostate” politic that hails back to the eugenics and “racial hygiene” arguments of the 1920s.
Population and Immigration
FAIR was started by John Tanton, the enigmatic immigration restrictionist behind the larger Tanton Network. Over his 30-year run in the political sphere, Tanton has stood out as one of the most prolific American racialists, using large donations and political connections to push nationalist policies into mainstream Republican politics. Inspired by fanatical fears about population growth, he worked with the Sierra Club for years, pushing the wing of the environmental movement that saw immigration restriction as an answer for population concerns. That connection between the Tanton Network and the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations continues, where the language of ecological consciousness is used as a coded construct for resentment against the developing nations of the Global South.
Tanton formed FAIR in 1979 with the intent of making his anti-immigrant fantasies come to life in a straight-laced setting, and tried to dial back the image of his own racism until his own opinions were revealed by the disclosure of a 1986 internal memo in which he warned of the “Latin onslaught” on its way across the US border. Since then, Tanton’s own relationships have become well known, as well as his own ideas on nonwhite peoples. He is a close friend of white nationalist and “alt-right” leaders, including Jared Taylor, the founder of American Renaissance and the most prominent “race realist” in the US. Taylor believes that African and Latino people are genetically inferior [to] Western European whites, with lower IQs, a higher propensity for crime and little sexual restraint. Tanton had an incredibly close relationship with the late Sam Francis, the former GOP columnist who turned fully in the direction of white nationalism, working with groups like the American Renaissance and the Council of Conservative Citizens to advocate for “white identity.” Sam Dickson, a well-known speaker in the “alt-right” circuit and attorney for Ku Klux Klan figures fighting criminal charges, has hosted Tanton as a houseguest at his Georgia home. Tanton, meanwhile, has hosted controversial “Holocaust Revisionist” David Irving, who served time in an Austrian prison for publically calling the historical record of the Holocaust a hoax.
These associations reflect Tanton’s white supremacist ideological affinities, which are also betrayed by his personal letters, which maintain an explicit anti-Semitism, a fear of Catholicism and a deep resentment of “multiculturalism.” These letters, now saved in the Bentley Historical Library, reveal Tanton’s obsession with people like John B. Trevor, a Nazi sympathizer who was an author of the Immigration Act of 1924. Tanton looks back at past eugenics movements with awe, and approaches the present with a eugenicist worldview. While his language has been well coded, what has spilled through the cracks is evidence of a conscious fascist politics deeply entwined with white supremacist ideologies.
The organization he developed, despite its success in the political arena, has been unable to keep the tentacles of its racialist politics obscured from view. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has identified FAIR as a hate group, the same categorization it applies to the National Socialist Movement and the Ku Klux Klan. This comes, in part, from the fact that FAIR has received more than $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist foundation started in 1937 to fund research to support eugenicist and “racial difference” findings across the academy. The Pioneer Fund is famous for funding controversial “twin studies” that attempted to prove the “highly hereditarian” nature of intelligence — a theory that has widely been dismissed as pseudoscience. Staff members, like Eastern Regional Coordinator Jim Staudenraus, have joined American Renaissance conferences, and board members Donald Collins and Joe Guzzardi write for VDARE, the virulently anti-immigrant website that is now an epicenter for the border theories of the “alt-right.” FAIR’s television program, meant to attract a tech-savvy social media audience, features members of the Council of Conservative Citizens and other organizations also on the same hate group map from the SPLC.
The ideological goal of FAIR has always been to spread panic about immigrants, erasing positive narratives about the US as a “melting pot” and instead depicting the US as a nation under assault from invaders.
The Grand Old Party
This cauldron is one that the GOP has tapped into heavily since neoliberal globalization started in the 1970s, using this crisis to develop a strategic scapegoat. Within that basket of fireworks, FAIR’s agenda seems part and parcel of the contemporary conservative conversation about racial issues.
While it seems obvious that white-nationalist-affiliated organizations like FAIR should be outside the “Overton window” of acceptable discussion, FAIR has managed to enter the mainstream and lend an air of credibility to a right-wing extremist contingent. Three-time Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm sits on FAIR’s advisory board, which is not surprising, given his own fearmongering about nonwhite immigration. Kris Kobach has been serving as the secretary of state for Kansas since 2011 but is also the legal counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal wing of FAIR. He rose to prominence while crafting the controversial Arizona law SB 1070, which turned police in the state into active immigration enforcers who could demand proof of citizenship for anyone suspected of being undocumented. He went on to work on Alabama’s HB 56, a measure that promised to be even stricter than Arizona’s, though many components of it were struck down in court. Kobach made headlines at the end of 2016 when he joined Trump’s transition team, even being shortlisted for attorney general before Jeff Sessions was chosen. In photographs of Kobach entering into a meeting with the Trump team, a document could be seen nestled in his arms. It read as a blueprint for Trump’s later travel ban attempts targeting Muslims. If Kobach had his way, Muslim bans would just be the beginning: Along with FAIR, he opposes the 14th Amendment, which grants “birthright citizenship” to most of those born within the borders of the US.
Kobach’s mainstream respectability is not an outlier for the organization, and they have seen concerted acceptance by mainstream political candidates like Mitt Romney because of their aggressive support during the heated seasons of political advertising. The Conservative Political Action Conference, which recently received pats on the back for shunning “alt-right” figures like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannoupoulos, still invited white nationalist Robert Vandervoort to host a panel called “The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity is Weakening the American Identity,” featuring VDARE founder Peter Brimelow. Vandervoort is now the director of FAIR’s ProEnglish project, which is trying to pass “English-only” ordinances state by state. US Rep. Bob Stump (R-Arizona) and Former US Sen. and Immigration Committee Chairman Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming) have given glowing endorsements to FAIR, which are posted on their website, and GOP congressmen Steve King has continued to keep a close relationship with FAIR.
Trump’s Immigration Plan
Kobach’s ascendency was only part of FAIR’s investment in the coming Trump administration. The group also released a “Immigration Priorities for the 2017 Presidential Transition” proposal seeking to embed a nativist strain in the federal government to match Trump’s “America First” rhetoric. The Center for Immigration Studies, another anti-immigration group in the Tanton Network, provided Trump with a 79-point immigration plan, one that he pulled from liberally during his first 50 days in office. Tanton’s NumbersUSA has also been invited into the ICE “stakeholders meeting,” which will allow Tanton’s various groups a direct line into government policy on the millions of undocumented immigrants and those living in the country on temporary visas. The Tanton Network’s members have had their hearts set on Trump since the earliest days of his campaign, as his flippant racist remarks struck a chord with the base that Tanton hopes to activate into anti-immigrant action. The travel ban may be the most explicit of their policies, but the network is also focused on the southern border wall and efforts to repress the sanctuary movement.
While Tanton has enjoyed access to DC politicians’ offices and held meetings with political elites, he has simultaneously shared an ideological platform with the furthest reaches of the white nationalist movement. The work of the Tanton Network has shifted the politics of the Republican Party even more in a xenophobic direction and has made racialized calls for “national security” a standard part of the conservative playbook. This is the type of process that fascists have always relied on to make their way into the mainstream, adapting their messaging to a public that is less responsive to the shrillest forms of white supremacy.
FAIR would not have been able to secure its entry into mainstream politics without mainstream media complicity. As long as large media corporations continue to seek out FAIR’s commentary uncritically, they will continue to send the message that FAIR is within the boundaries of acceptable opinion. In reality, however, FAIR’s extremist, xenophobic vision is far outside what most Americans believe. We all bear a responsibility to call FAIR what it is and demand that mainstream media outlets stop giving a platform to this reprehensible group.