Former Sierra Club Director Discusses Hostile Takeover Attempt by Anti-Immigrant Activists

A director of the Sierra Club discusses an ongoing attempt to turn the environmental powerhouse into an anti-immigration group

IR: Does Watson's role signal some kind of alliance between anti-immigration activists and the more radical fringe of the animal rights movement?

COX: I wouldn't go so far as to bring in the whole radical animal rights movement. I don't want to speak for animal rights groups, but in my own association with them I have not seen an interest in immigration issues.

Paul Watson is a very opinionated and charismatic individual committed to a range of issues including opposition to immigration, and he found a convenient alliance with Zuckerman. These forces have now converged and are willing to vote as a bloc on the board.

IR: What is SUSPS' strategy in the current election?

COX: One of their strategies has been to run high-profile candidates. This year, they are backing former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, who in recent years has been working very closely with anti-immigration groups and U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo [R-Colo.], who chairs the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus and is one of the most vocal anti-immigration leaders in Congress.

Their second candidate is Frank Morris, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, who is making his second attempt backed by SUSPS. Morris has become very involved in the same anti-immigration groups that Zuckerman is involved in. Morris sits on the board of the Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America, as does Lamm, and that's the organization that Zuckerman is a past director of.

The third well-known SUSPS candidate, David Pimentel, is on the advisory board of the same group.

It goes further. Dick Lamm is also the chairman of the board of advisors for the large anti-immigration group the Federation for American Immigration Reform [or FAIR, a group originally started by John Tanton].

Morris is on the board of another anti-immigration group, the Center for Immigration Studies [also founded by Tanton] and, along with Zuckerman, is on the Californians for Population Stabilization board. Lamm is on that group's advisory board.

Finally, the Carrying Capacity Network, another anti-immigration group, has David Pimentel on its board. Doug LaFollette and Frank Morris sit on its advisory board. So we're seeing something of an interlocking set of directors with all these anti-immigration groups.

IR: You also looked at the funding of some of these groups, didn't you?

COX: We did, and what we discovered simply blew us away. We found out that one of the primary players behind this movement is Richard Mellon Scaife, the right-wing Pittsburgh billionaire who financed a number of anti-Clinton activities [the so-called "Arkansas Project"] as well as a number of anti-immigration groups.

In fact, we've been able to document that the Scaife family foundations and other foundations on whose board Mr. Scaife sits have provided a combined total of $2,720,500 to organizations that are directly tied to the current SUSPS candidates: Lamm, Morris and Pimentel.

IR: What do you think lies down the road?

COX: I think there's a Plan A and a Plan B. If the SUSPS folks fail to take over the board of directors, then their Plan A is to initiate another ballot proposition next year that would reverse the Club's policy of neutrality, similar to the 1998 effort.

IR: What ultimately is at stake here?

COX: I think the very identity and character of the Sierra Club is at stake if these outside forces succeed in taking it over. We will lose the historical values that have made the Club what it is — a grassroots-driven organization whose members care deeply about the protection of the wild places of the Earth, human health and the quality of the environment overall.

Just recently, I was deeply distressed to discover that a Sierra Club member and SUSPS advocate had posted something on what I consider a racist Web site, The article was an explicit and detailed set of instructions for how to join the Sierra Club and for whom to vote — a call for the readers of this Web site to sign up and vote for these candidates because of their position on immigration.

I noticed the other articles posted on the site, too. One, called "Routing the Race Deniers," talked about the differences in racial groups based on skull measurements and compared the skulls of Northern European whites and Africans — just disgusting stuff. These are very alarming groups.

A victory by the anti-immigration forces would damage the credibility of the Club. We would be less trusted on mainstream environmental issues, and those who have supported the Club with their donations would feel betrayed.

I expect that a number of senior staff would probably resign. But I think you would probably also see a rebellion of Sierra Club local leaders throughout the country.

If we lose this election, by the next election a sleeping giant will have been awakened.