The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

FAIR Embraces Racist Founder

By Heidi Beirich on September 14, 2009 - 5:02 pm, Posted in Anti-Immigrant

Despite John Tanton’s long, documented history of racism, Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), called the founder of his organization a “Renaissance man” of wide-ranging “intellect” in a Washington Post article published today.

It’s hard, of course, for Stein to distance himself from Tanton. After all, Tanton started the organization in 1979 and is still a member of the group’s board of directors. But since the full extent of Tanton’s racist views have been exposed in recent years, Stein hasn’t talked about the founder’s ideas much. But now he is.

Stein told the Post that attacks on Tanton “are out of context and ‘simply do not reflect the true character of the man.” But it’s hard to understand how.

Over the decades, Tanton has repeatedly described contemporary immigrants as inferior. He has questioned the “educability” of Latinos and written that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” In a letter to Roy Beck, head of NumbersUSA, Tanton wondered “whether the minorities who are going to inherit California … can run an advanced society?”

It doesn’t stop there. Tanton has corresponded with Holocaust deniers, former Klan lawyers and the leading white nationalist thinkers of the era. He introduced key FAIR leaders to the president of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist group set up to encourage “race betterment,” at a 1997 meeting at a private club. He wrote a major funder to encourage her to read the work of a radical anti-Semitic professor — to “give you a new understanding of the Jewish outlook on life” — and suggested that the entire FAIR board discuss the professor’s theories on the Jews. He idolized a principal architect of the Immigration Act of 1924 (instituting a national origin quota system that dramatically favored whites over people of color and barred Asian immigration), a rabid anti-Semite whose pro-Nazi American Coalition of Patriotic Societies was indicted for sedition in 1942.

Based on an investigation of Tanton’s views and those of his organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) began listing FAIR as a hate group in 2007. Stein’s defense of Tanton shows one more reason they deserve the label.

  • CJ

    Also notice how they lobby big time to take citizenship away from native-born citizen children from undocumented immigrants, the only reason why they don’t target legal immigrants is because they have not legal grounds on it – and yet they say their first priority is to cut the numbers (regardless of status); and this would also include legal immigrants. Now, when they are talking about legal immigrants directly they say “we have no problem with legal immigrants” so they hide their hate when they have no grounds, and also notice how they hire other nuts from smaller cities to make smaller groups like “save our state” or “save Arizona”, just pure hateful people, which seek nothing but to scapegoat undocumented immigrants. What really ticks me off is how they are always making up their own statistics – showing outrageous statistic, when are nothing but lies. And when something actually is true they make it sound like 500 times worse and make it sound like everybody is like that. So that they can have more effect on the public opinion. The hate groups always start by targeting the weak and defenseless, It’s a shame, and I see every time more and more people start to recognize their true colors, Not on the “descent” image on which they try to hide. They are also trying to to make “SPLC” as if they are not credible, and I would not be surprised if they come on here to try to comment and try to discredit using misguided information like they always do, I saw they actually made a whole website for it, they couldn’t handle someone exposing them, and thumbs up to Rachel Maddow who also had the courage to expose them using her own research.

  • Todd Harris

    The designation of FAIR as a hate group will cause me to cancel my membership status with SPLC this month. I’ve been a contributing member since 2002 but see the SPLC is increasingly using the hate group label in a partisan, or at a minimum overly casual, way.

    Anyone here can go to FAIR’s website and read their principles which include: “There should be no favoritism toward or discrimination against any person on the basis of race, color, or creed; that all admissions of immigrants come within a single, stable ceiling which is periodically reviewed on the basis of reasoned, explicit population goals for the United States”. Could one ask for a more concrete statement of principle regarding race?

    If there is evidence that the group FAIR is acting outside those principles then present that evidence – instead I see ‘guilt by association’ based on correspondence by certain individuals. It is the same sort of loose guilt by association that was applied against Obama to categorize him as a terrorist or communist (‘they sat on a board together’) and I find it equally distastefully regardless of which side is slinging the mud.

    I do believe there are still real Hate groups within the US but it feels like SPLC has lost their way in identifying those.

  • Nezua

    Thanks, as always, to SPLC for their tireless work exposing the wicked roots of groups like FAIR. Also happy to read articles that get all the Fake Anti-Racism Activists and Fake Concerned Minorities up in arms on their comment threads, supposedly defending white supremacists. Funny stuff.

  • anon ymous

    why do you think someones views about their race and heritage disqualify them from this or any other job? it seems to me that it is SPLC that is the hateful, bigoted org that seeks to make those who don’t follow the splc party line destitute.
    Shame on SPLC

  • beholder

    tom roe said,

    on September 20th, 2009 at 8:56 am

    is opposition to historically high levels of legal and illegal immigration automatically racist in nature?


    tom roe

    Any group that agrees with the agenda proposed by the KKK and other white supremacists shouldn’t be surprised when they are considered racist.

    There is nothing racially neutral about FAIR’s nativist agenda, no matter what tawdry attempt to pawn it off as sustainability or protecting sovereignty.

    FAIR seeks to limit ALL forms of immigration. Just like the KKK. Two peas in a pod.

  • Agustin Perez

    I am troubled by how SPLC determines who is a hate group and what is hate! Also why are you silent on the Hispanic hate groups in the LA area and the Muslim hate groups in NYC??? I,m of Mexican descent and I’m worried about illegal immigration, because our jails in the Southwest are filled with criminals who are illegals, I myself have been a victim of a crime by illegals, this has change my views on immigration I’m for immigration but legal immigration only!!!

  • RKA


    Are you saying the JDL isn’t a hate group? Or that they became irrelevant after their leadership died in prison?

  • tom roe

    is opposition to historically high levels of legal and illegal immigration automatically racist in nature? would i be as concerned about this issue if a majority of the immigrants were coming from ireland or poland? as an immigrant am i being selfish by attempting to pull up the bridge behind myself? using the tools of logic i can answer these difficult questions but am always left with a “however” and at some point i have to withdraw from the debate or commit. splc has long had my support and respect for it’s work. i’m looking for splc to make good it’s designation of fair as a hate group with something more than a wispy thread of comments and letters hinting at unsavory contacts on the part of it’s founder. isn’t this the same technique used to brand civil rights activists like dr. king as communist sympathizers? as the white supremiscist’s once sought to avoid a discussion of the central injustices of jim crow it seems some want to use the same tactics to achieve the same end in the immigration debate. IF fair is truly a hate group it must be seen as advocating hate based on some criteria other than opposition to current national immigration policies. for every offensive or racially charged statement made by one of it’s members fair can respond with the same made by someone advocating the other side. as the debate on health care reform has turned to a bitter examination of motivation it may be giving us a small taste of what is to come. it is my hope that splc can build on it’s reputation for fighting the worst and leave those whose views it finds objectionable the freedom to speak. designating fair as a hate group may be pushing an honest difference of opinion to far. what say you?

  • Illinois Student

    Craig, thank you for your comment.

    Brendan M. – Where has Dr. Tanton has never claimed that “non-whites are inferior”? He definitely has some repulsive views (especially his support of abortion and Planned Parenthood), and has made very politically-incorrect statements, but similar statements are being made today, by supporters or abortion and birth control. See here, for example.

    Dr. Tanton clearly has his focus on population stabilization, and preserving the environment. Because he was a founder of FAIR (as well as many other sustainability organizations) should not place that organization on the “hate groups” list.

  • Dave A

    The SPLC labeled the “Jewish Defense League” as a hate group. They also think anyone who wants immigration laws enforced as racist. Obviously this is just more open borders propaganda. Do people really believe this stuff?

  • Kate De Braose

    Americans have uncounted numbers of prejudices. It’s a good thing that most people are able to see these attitudes for how silly they are in a multicultural society.

    What amazes me is how right wing politicians are able and willing to let them give voice to silly speeches that make a lot of noise but say nothing of consequence except spectacular and false accusations against the federal government..

    I’m sorry, but it needs to be said that they are playing with fire and actually inciting people to violence.

  • Brendan M.

    Shorter Craig Swanson: Sure, he says non-whites are inferior, but he seems like a nice guy, so that’s good enough for me!

    It’s a good thing that history has proven that there have never been any bigots or monsters who others found charming, eh? If Craig Swanson is an example of an “anti-racism activist and scholar,” what does that say about those he considers a little racist like Tanton and Rohe?

  • Craig Swanson

    I know John Tanton (and John Rohe) personally, and, although I am an anti-racism activist and scholar, I find them both very nice folks with very little racism. I understand that books like “Camp of the Saints” and others like it merit criticism, and perhaps some of Dr. Tanton’s quotations have an old-school, genetic understanding of race and intelligence, but to label FAIR and the myriad other organizations as “hate groups”. It makes me wonder about the other labelling going on at the SPLC. I want to know what groups are actively involved with hate and how to fight them, but with this Tanton fetish of the SPLC, I’m not sure how to trust your determinations in who is labeled a “hater”. I simply cannot and will not believe that Dr. Tanton is a white supremacist. If he were, then his close friend Mr. Rohe, would be in fear of his safety, as he is Jewish. I’ve had John Rohe speak to my community college classes about immigration, and he does a very even, FAIR (sic), and rational presentation.

  • Nakamura

    I strongly agree with Andrew. This is the same and old tactic that genocidal theorists use purposely. Decreasing others’ value to boost one’s value and dehumanizing others for one’s hubris are neccessary steps to calling for a genocide or ethnic cleansing.

  • andrew griggs

    We must work hard to expose what the actions of these groups will lead to. Genocide and ethnic cleansing always begin by dehumanizing minorities. This process is slow and methodical and always counts on hiding the truth uintil it is too late to stop the horor. Don’t forget the key role that the Dobbs/Limbaugh crowd plays.

  • Marisa

    Dan Stein has become a joke – a dirty joke like Tanton and the other right-wing whackjobs.


    It is difficult to see how Dan Stein can distance himself from the white nationalist John Tanton. A comprehensive review of SPLC and other data yields the following robust results.
    There is a straight line running from the white nationalist John Tanton through the Federation for American Immigration Reform to the House Immigration Reform Caucus and its pursuit of a Christian Right theocracy, an end to birthright citizenship guaranteed under the 14th Amendment, and delegitimizing President Obama by requiring him to once again prove his own birthright citizenship.
    There is a straight line running from John Tanton to his organizations FAIR, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, to the Secure Borders Coalition that included major elements of the Christian Right, to the Christian Right’s Families First in Immigration Coalition and their opposition to birthright citizenship.
    There is a straight line from John Tanton’s FAIR to the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and the Declaration Alliance and their execution of the “war of attrition” against legal and undocumented immigrants, opposition to birthright citizenship, their belief that America is a Christian nation, and their evolution towards and embrace of Christian Patriot militia ideology.
    And, there are straight lines between John Tanton’s network and the Council of Conservative Citizens, American Renaissance, Sons of Confederate Veterans, League of the South, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and the Christian Right’s Constitution Party. This network is associated with white supremacy, white nationalism, Christian Reconstructionism, the “war of attrition,” and claiming that whites are under genocidal threat, racial persecution, and loss of constitutional protections.