The Nativists

Around the country, an anti-immigration movement is spreading like wildfire. An array of activists is fanning the flames.

AGE: 59

As the face of the anti-immigration movement in Congress, Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo has enraged countless members of his own party. In 2002, presidential advisor Karl Rove, angered at Tancredo's attacks on President Bush's approach to immigration, told him "never to darken the door of the White House again." Last April, after Bush called armed anti-immigration Minutemen patrolling the Arizona border "vigilantes," Tancredo told the Minutemen that Bush should have to write an apology on a blackboard 100 times, then erase the chalk with his tongue. More recently still, Tancredo endorsed three primary challengers to his Republican House colleagues and even, in California, a Democratic candidate.

None of this seems to bother the man who started the hard-line Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus in 1999. In fact, he has gone from what many consider one outrageous action to another. Campaigning for a Senate candidate in Illinois, he warned that illegal immigrants are "coming here to kill you and to kill me and our families." When a Denver newspaper ran a sympathetic article describing the plight of a high school valedictorian whose family was undocumented, Tancredo sought to have the family found and deported. In a discussion with a radio talk show host last July, he suggested that the United States should "take out" Mecca and other Islamic holy sites if the country is hit by a major terrorist attack launched by Muslims.

Because of his outrageous rhetoric and hard-line views, Tancredo is seen in heroic terms in the anti-immigration world. Barbara Coe, who heads one hate group and belongs to another, says Tancredo is a "gold-plated, card-carrying patriot." Angela "Bay" Buchanan, a hard-right activist, thinks he should run for president. Tancredo received a hero's welcome when he keynoted at an anti-immigration conference attended by 400 activists last Memorial Day weekend.

Tancredo often doesn't sound much different than the activists who spread fears about a supposed secret Mexican plot to reconquer the Southwest. "China is trying to export people," he told one anti-immigration group. "It's a policy for them, a way of extending their hegemony. It's a government-sponsored thing."