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.

Number Inflation
Tanton also wrote an editorial in 1998 that spoke of "trying to touch off the political phase of the immigration reform movement."

While Tanton didn't spell out exactly what he meant, it seems clear that he sought to develop a real base of popular support — and to regain the trust of lawmakers, particularly the many Republicans who were scared off in the wake of the Proposition 187 fiasco. Many already had been punished at the polls for their support for the California proposition.

Typically, American politicians respond most to those groups that seem to represent a real constituency — groups whose leaders are presumed to be able to command votes and money. Obviously, it was in the interest of the now struggling anti-immigration groups to appear to have large numbers of paid-up members.

The problem was, most of them did not.

First of all, the vast majority of funding for most of these groups comes from just a handful of donors, many of them large, right-wing foundations.

  • In 2000, the latest year for which tax returns are available, Vinson's American Immigration Control Foundation (AICF) received 90% of its funding from just three contributors.
  • Five contributions accounted for 82% of U.S. Inc.'s income in the same year.
  • Fifty-eight percent of FAIR's 2000 donations were provided by six donors.
  • Fourteen donors account for 94% of the Center for Immigration Studies income for that year.

The narrow funding base of such groups becomes even more apparent in cases like that of FAIR (with a budget of $4.2 million in 2000), which received more than $6 million from a single donor between 1996 and 1999.

U.S. Inc. (whose 2000 budget was $2.3 million) likewise got nearly $5 million in that period from one donor, while three other Tanton-linked organizations were given $1 million to $2 million donations by single donors.

If these kinds of major grants are subtracted from the groups' annual donation totals — and if the membership fees posted on group websites are taken seriously — then the membership claims made by many groups are clearly exaggerated.

For example, after subtracting the three major donations reported on AICF's 2000 tax forms, only $39,386 in income is left. If members pay $15 a year, as the AICF website says, then the group has at most 2,625 members — hardly the 250,000-plus that it claims.

Similarly, ProjectUSA has said it has 3,000 members; but if a donation of $20 — a figure recently suggested on its website — was paid by each donor, then it would have had 841 members.

In the case of FAIR, which claims 75,000 members, the 2000 tax forms suggests a real membership base of about half that.

FAIR's executive director, Dan Stein, defends his numbers, telling the Intelligence Report members pay "a certain amount over a period of 24 months ... like $20" — in other words, $10 a year. FAIR's website says that membership costs $25 a year.

The Foundations
The tax returns reveal another hidden aspect of many anti-immigration groups — their heavy reliance on funding by right-wing foundations.

Tanton's most important funding source for the last two decades may well have been the Scaife family, heirs to the Mellon Bank fortune.

Richard Mellon Scaife, a reclusive figure, has been instrumental in establishing right-wing organizations like the Heritage Foundation and supporting causes like the "Arkansas Project," an effort to dig up dirt on President Clinton.

Scaife family foundations, including those controlled by Scaife's sister, Cordelia May Scaife, provided some $1.4 million to FAIR from 1986-2000.

These foundations, along with private trusts controlled by Scaife family members, have also provided millions of dollars to other anti-immigration groups.

Other foundations that have supported the Tanton network include:

  • The McConnell Foundation, whose president, Scott McConnell, is on both FAIR and the Center for Immigration Studies' boards;
  • The Shea Foundation, which also funds the Council of Conservative Citizens; and
  • The Weeden, Salisbury, Smith Richardson, Blair and Sikes foundations.

Joining the Extremists
Since 1998, the links have been strengthened between key anti-immigration activists and groups and white supremacist organizations – in particular, the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) and American Renaissance (also known by the name of its parent, the New Century Foundation).

That year, Coe, Spencer and Rick Oltman, FAIR's western regional representative, all came to Cullman, Ala., for a CCC-organized protest against a swelling local population of Mexican workers.

After the protest, Vinson, the leader of the American Immigration Control Foundation, began writing of the perils of immigration for the CCC's paper, the Citizens Informer. Spencer started selling his anti-immigrant videotape in the same tabloid.

In 1999, the CCC hosted a panel on immigration that featured four key anti-immigrant activists — Vinson, Spencer, Population-Environment Balance's Virginia Abernethy and Wayne Lutton, who had begun to edit The Social Contract, a Tanton publication, just a year earlier.

More recently, Lutton joined the editorial board of the Citizens Informer — and also became a trustee of the racist New Century Foundation, parent of American Renaissance magazine.

Barbara Coe of California Coalition for Immigration Reform has spoken at three recent CCC conferences and writes regularly for the Informer.

Brent Nelson, who is on the board of Vinson's AICF, began serving as president of the CCC's Conservative Citizens Foundation and as an adviser to the Informer.

Asked by the Intelligence Report about Lutton — who works out of Tanton's Petoskey, Mich., offices — and other anti-immigration activists who have climbed on board with hate groups, Tanton declined to answer that or a series of other questions faxed to him by the Report at his request.

The questions showed "little evidence of tolerance for differences of opinion," he wrote.

Last year, Virginia Abernethy, a professor emeritus at Vanderbilt's medical school and leader of the Tanton-influenced Population-Environment Balance, became the latest in the Tanton network to join the Citizens Informer editorial board.

"My view of the Council of Conservative Citizens," she told the Intelligence Report, "is that they support traditional values and the freedom of people to associate with people that they want to associate with."

She spoke on the same day that the CCC's website carried a comparison of black pop singer Michael Jackson and an ape — a comparison that Abernethy suggested may have reflected "bad taste," but not racism.

"What is the point of a society that pushes [racial] mixing?" she asked when told of another CCC web item that derided the wife of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl as a "mixed race" woman who is "committed to racial and ethnic amalgamation."

"Our society pushes mixing," the retired Vanderbilt professor added. "I think this is probably not a good thing for the society."