07/27/2010

SPLC Report: Nativists Appealing to Environmentalists are 'Wolves in Sheep's Clothing'

Seeking to deflect charges of racism, anti-immigration activists have launched a cynical campaign to recruit environmentalists to their cause by blaming immigrants for urban sprawl, overconsumption and a host of other environmental problems, according to a report issued today by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The report – Greenwash: Nativists, Environmentalism & the Hypocrisy of Hate – describes how right-wing nativists are targeting the mainstream environmental movement with advertisements, websites and even a newly formed "progressive" organization that purports to represent liberals who believe immigration must be radically curtailed to preserve the environment. 

"The key players behind this effort are nothing less than wolves in sheep's clothing," said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project. "Environmentalists should not fall for this canard. These are hard-line nativists, some of whom have ties to white nationalists, and their  primary interest is to radically restrict Latino immigration. Preservation of the environment is hardly their real priority."

This is just the latest attempt by nativist forces to appear as something they are not. For example, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has been behind the creation of three other front groups that supposedly represented African Americans (Choose Black America), Latino Americans (You Don't Speak for Me!) and labor (Coalition for the Future American Worker). In fact, FAIR had its own white spokesman double as a press representative for the first two organizations and actually set up Choose Black America on its own. 

Greenwash takes a close look at the players behind this new effort and reveals the professional and financial ties to members of Congress and organizations with abysmal environmental records. 

The report also notes that the central argument of the greenwashing campaign – the belief that immigration leads to environmental degradation – has been largely rejected by the mainstream environmental movement. Greenwash also includes a timeline of "greenwashing" efforts by anti-immigration groups beginning in 1968. 

Among the other findings in the report:

NumbersUSA, a group headed by Roy Beck, one of the key activists leading the greenwashing effort, has paid nearly half a million dollars to NewsMax Media, a far-right online news service that has described global warming as a "religion" that is "impervious to evidence" and has pilloried conservationists as "anti-mankind."

US Immigration Reform PAC – a political action committee run by Mary Lou Tanton, whose husband, John Tanton, is the founder of FAIR and the main architect of the strategy to win over environmentalists – has donated to 69 congressional candidates who were ultimately elected. Their combined environmental voting record, as compiled by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), is an abysmal 14 percent. In addition, John Tanton's foundation, U.S. Inc., spent $150,000 with a direct-mail fundraising agency that describes itself as the place where "for more than 30 years conservative leaders from around the nation have turned … [to] realize their dreams." The agency's clients include several major organizations that have mocked the idea of global warming.

The chief political allies of FAIR, NumbersUSA, and most of the country's other major nativist groups are found in the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, headed by U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), a former FAIR lobbyist. The caucus' 95 members score an average of 11 percent on the LCV scorecard. 

Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), a new organization that purports to represent liberal environmentalists, is headed by Leah Durant, an attorney who once worked for the nativist Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of FAIR. John Tanton, who remains on FAIR's board, has written about the need to use progressive or liberal environmental organizations as a means of insulating nativists against charges of racism.