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.

The Strategy Emerges
Tanton's strategy was to fight his war on several fronts. FAIR relied heavily on arguments about diminishing resources and jobs.

In 1982, Tanton created U.S. Inc. to raise and channel funds to his anti-immigration network. The following year, he created his second major vehicle, U.S. English, which made a cultural argument — that the English language was in mortal danger of being made irrelevant.

And later, in 1985, FAIR would spin off yet another major Tanton organization — the Center for Immigration Studies, which presented itself as an impartial think tank and later even sought to distance itself from the organization that had birthed it.

Today, the Center regularly dispatches experts to testify on Capitol Hill, and last year it was awarded a six-figure research contract by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the 1980s, U.S. Inc. provided millions of dollars to FAIR, U.S. English, the Center for Immigration Studies and several similar groups — the 21st Century Fund, Population-Environment Balance, and the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which is now a litigation arm of FAIR.

During the 1990s, Tanton's U.S. Inc. adopted a new tactic, creating programs called NumbersUSA, The Social Contract Press (which publishes The Camp of the Saints), and Pro English.

Although these units would often present themselves as independent, tax forms make it clear that they are merely programs of U.S. Inc.

Tanton's funding organization, U.S. Inc., also has recently given money to Barbara Coe's California Coalition for Immigration Reform and Glenn Spencer's American Patrol (also known as Voice of Citizens Together), two of the most virulently anti-Hispanic groups in Tanton's network.

In the Trenches
Tanton's "movement" achieved some notable successes:

  • Almost 30 states and many more local communities passed "English Only" statutes enshrining English as the language of official business.
  • In 1994, after extensive campaigning by Tanton-supported groups, millions of Californians joined in passing Proposition 187, which denied social services to undocumented workers.
  • Two years later, Tanton celebrated the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, a law meant to cut illegal immigration that was heavily backed by anti-immigration groups. It required that asylum seekers be held in detention until they established a credible fear of persecution at home, a process that could take years.

There were failures, too. In 1996, Tanton helped to energize an effort to get the Sierra Club, a mainstream environmental group whose Population Committee he had headed during the 1970s, to pass an anti-immigration plank.

A major battle ensued, with many Sierra Club members seeing the proposed plank as fundamentally racist and out of line with the group's charter. The plank was finally rejected by 60% of those voting — but that may not be the end of it.

Another Tanton-financed group, Californians for Population Stabilization, is now gearing up to reintroduce the issue to the Sierra Club.

Tanton was also careless in several ways.

Between 1985 and 1994, FAIR accepted $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund — an outfit once described by eugenics expert Barry Mehler as a "neo-Nazi organization, tied to the Nazi eugenics program in the 1930s, that has never wavered in its commitment to eugenics and ideas of human and racial inferiority and superiority."

When the Pioneer link was disclosed in 1988, Tanton, who was then president of FAIR's board, said he knew nothing of Pioneer's unsavory history. Yet his group continued to accept Pioneer grants for another six years, until 1994.

The Wise Men's Mistake
More damaging, however, was the leak, shortly before a 1988 English Only referendum in Arizona, of the so-called WITAN memos written by Tanton and the then-executive director of FAIR, Roger Conner. (WITAN was short for the Old English term "witenangemot," meaning "council of wise men." The memos were meant for Tanton colleagues who met at retreats to discuss immigration.)

The memos were replete with derogatory references to Latinos, reflecting a kind of entrenched bigotry that had only been suspected before. They complained mightily of the high Hispanic birth rate suggesting that Latin American immigrants would bring political corruption to the United States.

The memos included a demographic punchline that depicted Hispanics as hyperactive breeders and revolted many readers: "[P]erhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down."

Linda Chavez, executive director of Tanton creation U.S. English and later a prominent Republican conservative columnist, quit over what she saw as Tanton's bigoted, anti-Latino bias.

So did several well-known U.S. English board members, including advisory board member Walter Cronkite, who called the memos "embarrassing."

Eventually Tanton left, although he complained he was being smeared as a racist, and went on to form a replacement organization — English Language Advocates, later renamed Pro English.

More to the point, perhaps, the WITAN memos spelled out the strategy that Tanton would continue to follow for years. "We have spent some time, money and effort trying to build a membership for purposes of political validity and power," one memo said, "but this has not been a major emphasis."

The memos candidly added what anti-immigration groups would not admit publicly — that the "movement" was "heavily based on a small number of donors."

Crossing the Rubicon
In many ways, 1998 became a kind of political Rubicon for Tanton and his colleagues. That year, a federal judge found much of Proposition 187 unconstitutional, dealing the anti-immigration movement one of its harshest setbacks ever and igniting a kind of desperation that drove many activists into increasingly extremist politics.

At the same time, Congress was whittling away at the 1996 immigration law, and u.s. political and economic elites generally were supporting immigration.

At least partly as a result of these developments, anti-immigration activists increasingly came to embrace conspiracist ideas like the notion pushed by Spencer and Coe of a Mexican plot to reconquer the American Southwest.

More and more key leaders in the Tanton network seemed to abandon all caution when it came to joining forces with like-minded white supremacist activists.

That summer, The Social Contract Press released a special issue of its journal, The Social Contract (published by Tanton), that was entitled "Europhobia: The Hostility Toward European-Descended Americans."

The lead article was written by John Vinson, head of the Tanton-supported American Immigration Control Foundation, and argued that "multiculturalism" was replacing "successful Euro-American culture" with "dysfunctional Third World cultures."

Tanton himself elaborated on Vinson's remarks, saying an "unwarranted hatred and fear" of white Americans was developing. The main culprits, in Tanton's view, were immigrants and their ideological allies, the "multiculturalists."

The issue was one of the first public manifestations of a collaboration between Tanton's network and open racists. In addition to Tanton and Vinson, the line-up of authors included:

  • Sam Francis, who would later become editor of the Citizens Informer, the racist publication of the Council of Conservative Citizens;
  • Lawrence Auster, who also spoke at conferences of American Renaissance, a pseudo-scientific magazine devoted to racial breeding and the idea that blacks are less intelligent; and
  • Joseph Fallon, who writes for American Renaissance.

Later issues of The Social Contract would carry articles by James Lubinskas, an editor of American Renaissance; Derek Turner of Right Now!, a similar British publication; and Michael Masters, the Virginia leader of the Council of Conservative Citizens.

An unholy alliance had begun to take shape.