John Tanton is the Mastermind Behind the Organized Anti-Immigration Movement

The organized anti-immigration 'movement,' increasingly in bed with racist hate groups, is dominated by one man, John Tanton.

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Before he even said a word, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) got a standing ovation from the 27 anti-immigration activists who gathered at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on the morning of Feb. 13 to kick off a two-day lobbying effort on Capitol Hill.

Tancredo, chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, proceeded to regale his audience with ominous warnings of a global plot to destroy the United States.

Many countries are pushing immigration in order to erode American sovereignty, Tancredo warned: "China is trying to export people. It's a policy for them, a way of extending their hegemony. It's a government-sponsored thing."

After Tancredo's 10-minute pep talk, Brian Bilbray, a former Republican congressman from San Diego, Calif., weighed in with horror stories about an impending social catastrophe due to immigration.

"We are creating a slave class that criminal elements breed in," said Bilbray, who complained bitterly — and improbably — that he lost his 2000 re-election bid because "illegal aliens" had voted against him.

But all was not doom and gloom, according to Bilbray.

Praising the post-9/11 sweeps of Arab communities by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) that resulted in the indefinite detention of more than a thousand people, Bilbray called for the INS to carry out an enlarged dragnet. "We could have a terrorist coming in on a Latin name," he said.

The meeting with Tancredo and Bilbray — and the entire lobbying operation in mid-February — was masterminded by NumbersUSA, an anti-immigration group that had recently opened a "government relations office" in a three-story, red-brick Victorian near the Capitol.

NumbersUSA hosted an afternoon open house at its plush new digs, where the lobbyists relaxed, nibbled on catered food, and conversed with the leaders and other officials of key anti-immigration organizations.

Patrick McHugh of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which purports to be a squeaky clean think tank that rejects racism, was there pressing the flesh along with Barbara Coe, head of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, who repeatedly referred to Mexicans — as she has for years — as "savages."

The Citizens Informer, a white supremacist tabloid put out by the Council of Conservative Citizens hate group, was available.

NumbersUSA executive director Roy Beck, a long-time friend of Coe's, adopted a more moderate tone when he addressed his guests and told them what they should be doing to end the current immigration regime.

It would be better, Beck counseled, if their attempts to lobby legislators that week did not appear to be orchestrated by NumbersUSA. For their campaign to be effective, he said, it "needs to look like a grassroots effort."

Grassroots — or AstroTurf?
To be sure, this was no grassroots effort. Nor is NumbersUSA, in any sense of the word, a grassroots organization.

Despite attempts to appear otherwise, it is a wholly owned subsidiary of U.S. Inc., a sprawling, nonprofit funding conduit that has spawned three anti-immigration groups and underwrites several others, many of which were represented at the NumbersUSA conclave.

What's more, this interlocking network of supposedly independent organizations is almost entirely the handiwork of one man, a Michigan ophthalmologist named John H. Tanton.

A four-month investigation by the Intelligence Report, conducted in the aftermath of the September terrorist attacks, found that the appearance of an array of groups with large membership bases is nothing more than a mirage.

In fact, the vast majority of American anti-immigration groups — more than a dozen in all — were either formed, led, or in other ways made possible through Tanton's efforts.

The principal funding arm of the movement, U.S. Inc., is a Tanton creation, and millions of dollars in financing comes from just a few of his allies, far-right foundations like those controlled by the family of Richard Mellon Scaife.

Moreover, tax returns suggest that claims of huge numbers of members — in the case of one group, more than 250,000 — are geometric exaggerations put forward to create a false picture of a "movement" that politicians should pay attention to.

Finally, even as activists court increasing numbers of national politicians in the wake of Sept. 11, the Report's investigation reveals that they are moving in large numbers into the arms of hate groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens — a 15,000-member organization whose website recently described blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity."

In fact, many anti-immigration groups have been growing harder- and harder-line since 1998, when they first began working together with open white supremacists. Today, many of their leading officials have joined racist organizations.

There's a word in Washington for outfits like these anti-immigration organizations — "astroturf," meaning that they lack any genuine grassroots base.

That such groups, with their increasingly direct links to racist organizations, should have real power in the nation's capital may seem hard to believe.

But Americans have grown increasingly xenophobic in the wake of the September terrorist attacks, and the rapid growth of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus that Tancredo heads reflects that — from just 10 legislators prior to the attacks to 59 by May.

What kind of influence do extremists have in this congressional caucus?

Although that is hard to measure, the caucus website now carries a prominent link to an outfit called American Patrol — a racist hate group run by Californian Glenn Spencer.

With a tip of the hat to Tancredo and the other legislators who have helped to provide him legitimacy, Spencer recently deleted from his website the image of a cartoon figure urinating on a Latino Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

From Environment to Race
It is not often that a single individual is largely responsible for creating an entire political movement. But John Tanton can claim without exaggeration that he is the founding father of America's modern anti-immigration movement.

In addition to directly controlling four prominent immigration restriction groups, Tanton has been critical in establishing or helping fund several other anti-immigration groups.

He serves on the board of the group with the largest membership, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which he founded 23 years ago.

It was an odd turn of events for an erstwhile liberal activist who loved beekeeping and the rural life.

Raising a family and practicing medicine in Petoskey, Mich., Tanton started out as a passionate environmentalist. In the 1960s and early 1970s, he was a leader in the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and other mainstream environmental groups.

But Tanton soon became fixated on population control, seeing environmental degradation as the inevitable result of overpopulation.

When the indigenous birth rate fell below replacement level in the United States, his preoccupation turned to immigration. And this soon led him to race.

Tanton had something akin to a conversion when he came across The Camp of the Saints, a lurid, racist novel written by Frenchman Jean Raspail that depicts an invasion of the white, Western world by a fleet of starving, dark-skinned refugees.

Tanton helped get the novel published in English and soon was promoting what he considered the book's prophetic argument.

"Their [Third World] 'huddled masses' cast longing eyes on the apparent riches of the industrial west," Tanton wrote in 1975. "The developed countries lie directly in the path of a great storm."

And so he began to develop a counter-force. After 1979, when he co-founded FAIR, Tanton launched "a whole array of organizations that serve the overall ideological and political battle plan to halt immigration — even if those groups have somewhat differing politics," explained Rick Swartz, the pro-immigration activist who founded the National Immigration Forum in 1982.

"Tanton is the puppeteer behind this entire movement," Swartz said. "He is the organizer of a significant amount of its financing, and is both the major recruiter of key personnel and the intellectual leader of the whole network of groups."

Tanton declined to be interviewed for this story.