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American Legion Attacks Report, and SPLC Responds

By Mark Potok on October 31, 2008 - 9:11 am, Posted in Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Latino, Extremist Propaganda

In the Fall 2008 issue of the Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center detailed a long list of defamatory falsehoods published by the American Legion, a major veterans group, in its new booklet, A Strategy to Address Illegal Immigration in the United States. As the Report’s story said at the time, the book “regurgitates discredited and often completely false information about how ‘illegals’ are bringing crime, disease and terrorism to this country, even as they wreck the economy.”

On Thursday, the American Legion posted a response to the Report’s criticisms on its website, including a copy of a letter sent to the editor of the Report a few days earlier. The letter notes (as our story did) that the booklet is “under review” — this because of repeated complaints from the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American GI Forum, a Hispanic veterans group — but then goes on to toss off the Report’s allegations. Finally, in an apparent effort to bolster its case, the Legion goes on to cite a series of completely unrelated attacks on SPLC that it wrongly attributes to the Atlanta Constitution.

Here is our letter of response, sent today to Legion Commander David Rehbein:

Dear Commander Rehbein,

It’s unfortunate that your response to our detailed criticism of your immigration booklet is limited to a disingenuous characterization of what we say as merely reflecting different “perspectives” on immigration. Had you actually looked at the concrete criticisms we made, instead of simply insisting we were wrong, you would have had to face the fact that you made numerous errors of fact, clear mistakes that have the effect of defaming and vilifying what you like to call “illegal aliens.”

You suggest that we “sugar coat” the problem of illegal immigration. Let’s briefly revisit a sampling of what the American Legion does in its booklet:

• You falsely claim that “non-citizens make up fully 30% of the American prison population.” That is propaganda. The real number is under 6%.
• You falsely attribute the claim that 49% of incarcerated illegal immigrants had prior felony convictions to a GAO report. The report says no such thing, and neither does any other.
• Without the benefit of any attribution, you falsely state that “more Americans are killed by illegal aliens than die in the Iraq war.” Translated, your claim means that 4% of population (the same 12 million illegal immigrants to whom you refer) is responsible for 11.4% to 16.1% of our nation’s murders. Every study shows that immigrants commit fewer, not more, crimes than natives.
• You cite an extreme-right propagandist (Madeleine Cosman), writing in a totally discredited journal, to claim that illegal immigrants are bringing a series of dread diseases to the United States. You have no other evidence at all for this inflammatory suggestion. Please note that the same journal you cite for proof recently published the claim that HIV does not cause AIDS.
• You falsely claim that 7,000 people in the United States were infected with leprosy between 2000 and 2003 by illegal immigrants. The real number of people infected with leprosy in those years is about 400. And no one knows how many of those, if any at all, were attributable to immigrants.

I could go on. It’s a shame that your response to our carefully written critique is to hurl a general accusation at us — that we “take a number of bad turns on a long road from reality” — rather than actually look at what we say. Then you go on to assure us that the American Legion’s position is “sound, non-discriminatory and equitable.” While I won’t try to discern what your motives are, the reality is that your booklet has the effect of defaming millions of people with inaccuracies, overstatements and falsehoods that the American Legion apparently did not feel the need to back up with real evidence. That’s a very sorry record for a major veterans group.


Mark Potok

The national American Legion’s attacks on undocumented workers has spread to a number of local Legion posts. In a recent posting on this blog, we noted how a Denver-area post co-sponsored a three-day “national security convention” featuring a number of bigoted speakers who also specialize in defaming Latino immigrants. One of them was Glenn Spencer — whose American Patrol has long been listed as a hate group by SPLC; who has openly courted white supremacists; who has made statements like “Chicanos and Mexicanos lie as a means of survival”; and who has suggested that Spanish-language TV networks like Univision and Telemundo be ordered shut down immediately. Another speaker was Frosty Wooldridge, a furious nativist who warns of a “disease jihad” led by illegal immigrants. Wooldridge has warned that as a result of immigrants, people going to Wal-Mart or the movies may catch hepatitis by “breathing air” (never mind that hepatitis isn’t spread via air), and that Mexicans “do not wash their hands after using bathroom facilities.”

  • James Hallman

    One of the main reason we ‘racist’ whites
    fear the changing demographics is because
    unlike non-whites we want have affirmative
    action,set-asides,and diversity programs
    working for us. We’ll actually have to work
    and use our wits to make in todays society.
    I’ll admit that most of the illegal immigrants here
    are hard workers, but it’s only because they
    know they have too or be deported in many
    instances, that, and the fact that who wouldn’t
    work harder who’s been used to working for
    only $2 a day and no welfare to help out
    and who can now make three times that making
    just minimal wage. But what about that second
    and third genration who isn’t so appreciative at
    making only minimal wage, who is more likely
    to drop out of school and join a gang, to commit
    crimes, and fill our prisons costing the taxpayers
    billions each year.
    Yes, we whites are afraid of losing our political
    and economic power as well as our cultural
    influence. What people in any non-white nation
    around the world wouldn’t be. Only in predominately
    white countries are we supposed to just fling our
    doors open to the rest of the world. And not too ,
    is to mean that we are racist and haters.
    We whites will one day throw-off our pychological
    chains and regain our racial consciousness as well
    as our nation.

  • Gilbert Wells

    Before the attack on the SPLC report there was an article in the Legion magazine by newly elected National Commander Rehbein in which he said he would pursue the immigration problem. As a member of the Legion I wrote him and said this was a bad issue that would drive away young veterans and partcularly hispanic veterans.

    He went ahead and this is the result.

    National Commanders serve only one year and there must be a cadre of right wing employees who crank out this offensive right wing political rhetoric because they believe that is what the members believe.

    The National Commander’s statements and the cadre’s statements on immigration do not represent my opinions and they are wasting my membership money for political purposes.

    I suggest that other Legion members express their contra opinions.

  • Moctezuma

    It’s simple. These racist white people are afraid the changing demographics of this country. Changing demographics, in their eyes, means losing poltical power. Losing political power means losing their supposed “inheritance”, i.e. their priveleged position in the hierarchy of things. Losing their inheritance means living in the “poor house”. All this is nonsense. The truth is everyone will have to compete to live well in this country, and that includes these racist whites.

  • Carter

    Are they REALLY loosing credibility?

    In times like these – when the nation has severe unemployment & a true Depression might be at hand are the same conditions associated with 1920’s Germany.

    When a large vet’s organization can buy into distorted statistics & a guy like Dobbs get a powerful listener-ship on a (inter)national news channel; the issues are NOT light weight.

    The concept here is that in competition for the shrinking dollar any potential voting block is looked upon as an extra (potential) competitor.
    This is what should be addressed in the root causation of this reaction to undocumented individuals. Some of them do break the law further than not having legal citizenship documentation; but the larger issue is why their existence here has caused such a stir.
    We are headed for harder times. In such a situation it is NOT uncommon for ways to “cut the fat”. If such individuals are seen as a burden on society, they will have the reaction we see thrust upon them.
    The bottom-line issue, as I see it, is “are they a burden on Society or not?”
    The influx of individuals from Mexico leaves one undeniable fact. Mexico is not a very nice place to live for those who cross over. perhaps it’s the endemic corruption, crime, & lack of opportunity? Mexico is NOT going to repair itself. And that alone is a burden no one asked for. The only way we are going to deal with these issues is to face them without any agenda.
    Whats more:
    Using the term Gringo doesn’t help matters as it is considered a slur and NOT a term of endearment in Mexico. In polite company or even working class households, the use of such a term is scolded by the parents as Anglos would scold a child for saying “nigger”.

  • Mr. Ryan the non-Aryan

    This article proves that Natavists(the average age is around 55 and older) and its leaders are really dumber than they look. They love to feed on propaganda no matter how full of shit it is. They`ll lap it up.

    I saw a Retrograde once in my city holding up a sign that reads–

    “70,000 Americans killed by Illegal Aliens everyday.”

    As frivolously inept that asinine statement seems. None of those Jethro Natavists are taken seriously with such doctored up balony like that statement I noted above. I guess that’s why they are losing their credibility on a daily basis.

  • Andrew Dobbs

    Whenever I hear nativists and xenophobes rant and rave I always wonder how many mujados they actually know. I wonder how many they have ever been able to call friends, how many are real flesh and blood human beings to them rather than mere ideas and statistics. I’ve worked in the restaurant industry in Texas for years and down here all the back of the house folks are from Mexico (I’m sure you can find some from other parts of Latin America, but I’ve never known any) and the vast majority are sin papeles. In fact, I remember one of my managers all pissed off that he had to learn everybody’s new fake names when several got new fake SSNs.

    These guys are funny, down to earth, kind and largely decent people who work harder than any gringo I’ve ever known. If you meet an undocumented worker with only one job, take a picture–he or she is a rare artifact. I remember one guy I worked with in high school, he was 17 and an undocumented worker from Mexico. He worked 40 hours a week at my restaurant, 40 hours at another and worked some day labor on his days off (such as they were). I think it would be wrong to make them all out to be saints… they are human. Some of them were tremendous human beings, some were assholes, most just decent guys somewhere in between. They work hard, take care of their kids, pay their bills and other than the occasional dope smoking or getting drunk (which are hardly uncommon in the food service game; quite the opposite) they obey the laws. This vitriol is completely misplaced.

    Unless you are an American Indian you can trace your line back to someone who did the same thing: worked so hard they hurt all over, gave so much to their families that they often sacrificed food or shelter or other basic needs. These nativist assholes insult their own ancestors when they attack our undocumented neighbors. And they insult my friends. It’s too bad I have yet to run into Lou Dobbs (once again, no relation by the grace of God)… I’d have to put it right in his teeth.

  • xenophobesnightmare

    Even if the people in those scathing vitroilic natavist groups had any *brains* to conduct their own research(which are based on known facts), than rather listening to a mouthpiece who has no legitmacy on the issue at large. None of these people are independent thinkers like myself. They are very gullible and easily influenced by propaganda, as they are ignorant.
    That’s what causes these hategroups to lose their credibility.
    Even megaphonies like CNN`s Lou Dobbs can befitted with the likes of the spurious Hal Turner.