ProEnglish opposes bilingual education and the translation of government documents, like voters’ ballots, into any language other than English, making life harder for immigrants and people for whom English is not a first language. ProEnglish regularly derides multiculturalism and has a history of embracing white nationalists. Tanton hoped to preserve America’s white hegemony by severely limiting – if not outright halting – immigration, especially by people of color.
In Their Own Words
"Aside from the fact that assimilation and Americanization have been crucial to our success as a heterogeneous nation, not having English as the sole language of our government and schools is creating miscommunication among people, adding to mounting taxpayer expense and even posing a serious public safety hazard." – Former ProEnglish Executive Director Robert Vanderdoort, Washington Times op-ed, October 2015.
“We really appreciate having you on the bill and, as you know, you mentioned Balkanization. One of the problems we are facing in this country: we used to be a melting pot; we're getting away from that with multiculturalism. What are your thoughts on that?” – Former ProEnglish Executive Director Robert Vanderdoort, March 2016, interviewing U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, about co-sponsoring the English Language Unity Act, which sought to designate English as the official language of the United States. The bill did not pass.
“To many patriotic Americans, the ad looked like a naked promotion of divisive multiculturalism. ProEnglish promptly sent a letter to Coca-Cola’s CEO, explaining how the ad undermined America’s linguistic unity and discouraged assimilation. We have yet to receive a response.” – The English Language Advocate newsletter, Spring 2014, in response to a Coca-Cola Co. advertisement that aired during the 2014 Super Bowl where “America the Beautiful” was sung in a variety of languages. The ad was not pulled.
“These demographic trends and the reemergence of linguistic diversity and linguistic-cultural segregation have been reinforced and facilitated by other trends. One has been a decided shift in the attitudes of American intellectuals and cultural elites away from assimilation into the prevailing American culture and the ideal of the ‘melting pot,’ toward ‘multiculturalism’ and its closely related manifestation in multilingualism, in which maintaining group identity is the overriding goal.” – K.C. McAlpin, “Why English Should Be the Official Language of the United States?”, obtained from ProEnglish website January 2023.
“Rep. [Steve] King fully understands the connection between advocating for official English legislation and cultural assimilation. They go together like a hand in a glove. ProEnglish greatly appreciates Rep. King’s Twitter comment on assimilation and his excellent leadership in authoring and driving the passage of the English Language Unity Act in the United States House of Representatives.” – ProEnglish Executive Director Stephen Guschov, “Rep. Steve King and Assimilation” article, December 2017.
Founded in 1994, ProEnglish’s main goal is for English to be declared the official language of the United States. The group works to accomplish this in a variety of ways. ProEnglish is born out of the English-only movement and the group’s message has been amplified by figures like former President Donald Trump.
ProEnglish regularly lobbies for legislation at the national and local level to designate English as the official language. The group actively works to oppose translating government documents to any language other than English. Some of the group’s core agenda includes working against bilingual education and multilingual ballots. Such intiatives are representative of what ProEnglish calls “divisive multiculturalism.” ProEnglish staffers also claim language translation efforts are a threat to national identity leading to the “Balkanization” of the U.S. Balkanization is a trope frequently used by the anti-immigrant movement to suggest diversity and multiculturalism will lead the U.S. to a fate similar the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, which resulted in the breakup of former Yugoslavia.
ProEnglish, formerly called U.S. English Advocates, was the second attempt by Tanton to establish an English-only advocacy group.
In the 1980s, Tanton founded ProEnglish’s predecessor U.S. English Advocates, which pushed for English-only legislation at the state level. As the civil rights organization Western States Center reports, “Tanton was able to recruit high-profile figures for U.S. English’s board such as Walter Cronkite and Linda Chavez.” But during a battle over English-only legislation in Arizona in 1988, racist memos attributed to Tanton surfaced. In the memos, Tanton proposed questions like, “Will Blacks be able to improve (or even maintain) their position in the face of the Latin onslaught?” and “As whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?”
The memos forced Tanton to step away from the group and saw Chavez and Cronkite resign from their board positions. Tanton then founded U.S. English Language Advocates in 1994, which was later renamed ProEnglish.
ProEnglish is a project of U.S. Inc., an umbrella organization founded by Tanton in 1981 to fund his various anti-immigrant endeavors. Other projects housed under U.S. Inc. include The Social Contract Press, which was responsible for publishing the anti-immigrant quarterly The Social Contract as well as putting on an annual writers’ workshop event that regularly attracted anti-immigrant figures. The Social Contact published its last issue in 2019 after Tanton’s death.
ProEnglish has shared staff and board members with U.S. Inc. over the years. Unlike the other groups he founded, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), Tanton remained actively involved with ProEnglish until 2017. He was then moved from the active board to the board emeritus where he remains listed.
K.C. McAlpin, a close confidant of Tanton, served as executive director of ProEnglish until 2010. During his tenure, McAlpin oversaw ProEnglish’s mission, including opposition to Puerto Rico’s statehood without a concession to make English the official language. ProEnglish’s hardline stance on Puerto Rican statehood remains one of its core issues.
In a 2009 newsletter outlining the group’s opposition to H.R. 2499, which would’ve guaranteed Puerto Rican statehood, McAlpin wrote, “Admitting a linguistically and culturally distinct territory like Puerto Rico as a state without first making English our sole official language is asking for trouble.”
McAlpin has a history of making incendiary remarks. In 2010, he defended an editorial written by The Social Contract editor Wayne Lutton that called for banning Muslim immigration to the U.S. According to McAlpin, “Congress has used that power in the past to ban the immigration of Communist Party and National Socialist (Nazi) party members who were deemed to be threats to our national security. This case is no different.”
In a 2010 issue of The Social Contract focused on the "The Menace of Islam," McAlpin penned a piece in which he called the Muslim religion “a hostile, intolerant, and totalitarian ideolog” that needs to be “quarantined in the failed states it has already infected, and not allowed to spread.”
McAlpin took over as president of U.S. Inc. in 2010 and moved to the ProEnglish board of directors, where he remains as of publication. Jayne Cannava then replaced McAlpin as ProEnglish’s executive director after previously serving as the group’s director of government relations.
The ProEnglish board of directors also includes Phil Kent, a Georgia-based communications consultant and media commentator. Kent once served as a spokesperson for American Immigration Control Foundation, another SPLC-designated anti-immigrant hate group. In 2011, Kent was appointed by former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to serve on the Immigration Enforcement Review, a state panel created by a contemporary anti-immigrant law. The panel’s goal was to “review and investigate complaints related to illegal immigration and it will hold the authority… to sanction those found to have violated Georgia’s immigration law.” The panel was disbanded in 2019 after receiving only complaints from two citizens over the years. Notably, one came from D.A. King of the Dustin Inman Society.
Kent has been published by the Citizens Informer, a tabloid associated with the SPLC-designated white nationalist hate group Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC). White supremacist mass shooter Dylann Roof claimed CofCC was his gateway into white nationalism. In a 1999 issue of the Citizens Informer, Kent defended CofCC, claiming they had been “targeted for demonization by the political leadership of the Left and its media allies.”
In 2011, ProEnglish named Rosalie Porter its board chair. Porter has promoted ProEnglish’s agenda, including opposing bilingual education in schools in her home state of Massachusetts.
In a 2017 interview with BBC Boston, Porter sided with Senior Trump Adviser Stephen Miller about requiring immigrants who obtain green cards to be able to speak English. She noted the U.S. is a diverse nation and does a lot to accommodate immigrants but advocated that a pause on immigration may be needed. “Look, nobody today is recommending that we stop immigration, but only in the past 40 years our population in the United States has doubled, and 60% of that increase is from immigration,” she said. “Maybe we should look at reducing the level of immigration.”
In a 2016 newsletter, ProEnglish announced Paul Nachman had joined its board of advisors. Nachman founded the nativist group Montanans for Immigration Law Enforcement. He is also a regular contributor to the white nationalist blogsite VDARE, where he has noted his admiration for the racist French dystopian novel The Camp of the Saints and mused about “Great Replacement”-style ideas. As of publication, Nachman was not listed on the group’s advisory board.
Enter Robert Vandervoort
In 2011, ProEnglish hired a new executive director, Robert Vandervoort, who came with his own baggage of white nationalist associations. Vandervoort is the former head of the white nationalist group Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance, a satellite for American Renaissance, a group founded by Jared Taylor, one of America’s most well-known white nationalists.
In 2012, Vandervoort’s ProEnglish sponsored a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on “The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the pursuit of diversity is weakening the American Identity.” The panel was moderated by Vandervoort and featured prominent white nationalists Peter Brimelow and John Derbyshire of the SPLC-desginated hate group VDARE. During his remarks, Brimelow lamented multiculturalism and claimed bilingualism can lead to the dispossession of those who are not bilingual.
Vandervoort presented remarks on behalf of Serbian anti-Islam commentator Serge Trifkovic, who was unable to attend but still provided a speech on “the harm multiculturalism presents to Western Civilization as a whole.”
A friend in Steve King
The event also featured then-U.S. Rep. Steve King, one of ProEnglish’s most strident advocates. During the event, King said he read Brimelow’s books and later told The American Prospect he was a fan of the white nationalist’s writing.
King also used the panel to promote the latest iteration of the English Language Unity Act of 2011, which seeks to declare English as the official language. King wrote the original version of the bill in 2005. ProEnglish has supported it for over a decade. It has been reintroduced into Congress in various forms since then with various sponsors.
In 2008, King was awarded ProEnglish’s “Theodore Roosevelt American Unity Award,” which is given to members of Congress whom “ProEnglish’s board feels has shown outstanding leadership in the battle to make English our official language.”
King has returned the favor. In a 2012 fundraising email for ProEnglish he said, “The organization has a long history of opposing harmful things like bilingual ballots, bilingual education, and the admission of territories as states that have a language other than English as their official language – such as Puerto Rico.”
King is known for his nativism and associations with other anti-immigrant hate groups like FAIR. King’s rhetoric has mirrored white nationalist conspiracy theories of a “Great Replacement” taking place in the U.S. In 2016, speaking favorably of Islamophobic Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders, King tweeted, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
In 2019, King was removed from his committee assignments after an interview with The New York Times during which he asked, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” A year later he lost his primary election. Post-Congress, King has embraced the hard right and was a featured speaker at the annual white nationalist conference put on by American Renaissance in November 2022. He also appeared on a web show associated with white nationalist figure Jason Kessler in January 2023.
King was not the only ally ProEnglish in Congress. In 2016, the group awarded U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise with its “Unity Award.” Reps. Jim Inhofe, R-Iowa, and Louie Gohmert have also introduced and co-sponsored the English Language Unity Act multiple times.
During CPAC 2016, Vandervoort interviewed U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Tex., another supporter of ProEnglish. Vandervoort asked Babin what he thought about the “Balkanization” of the country, saying, “We used to be a melting pot; we're getting away from that with multiculturalism. What are your thoughts on that?” Babin responded, “It’s a disaster.”
Vandervoort left ProEnglish in 2016 and was replaced by Sam Pimm, who was shortly replaced by current executive director Stephen Guschov in 2017. Guschov previously served as executive director at the Florida-based anti-immigrant hate group Legal Immigrants for America. Prior to that he was employed at the anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel.
ProEnglish has continued its mission under Guschov. In 2017, ProEnglish had a booth at Values Voter Summit (VVS, but now renamed as Pray, Vote, Stand), an annual event convened by the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council. ProEnglish wrote in a blog post they were “able to engage an enormous number of VVS attendees, speakers, and organizational leaders about the urgent need for official English legislation in the United States.” They added they looked forward to returning the following year.
In October 2017, ProEnglish held a legislative briefing to discuss its high priority legislation. The group was joined by legislative counsel, who gave an update on the English Language Unity Act and the RAISE Act. The RAISE, or Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, is another bill supported by ProEnglish.
According the American Immigration Council, “The bill seeks to significantly reduce levels of legal immigration to the United States by drastically cutting off some family-based categories, redefining others, and eliminating the diversity visa. It would also substitute the existing employment-based system with a narrow and rigid points system.” The Council highlighted some of the negatives and challenges the Trump-supported bill would create, including gender bias, age discrimination, fewer opportunities for less-skilled immigrants and the potential to break up families by eliminating some current categories of family-sponsored immigration.
Like other anti-immigrant groups, ProEnglish opposes comprehensive immigration reform. Specifically, the group said it “opposes any amnesty” that is not tied to requiring immigrants to learn English. ProEnglish also opposes the DREAM Act, which gives immigrants brought to the United States as children protected status. The group laments, “Once they [DREAMERS] receive their amnesty, they can immediately turn around and sponsor their parents for legal status under the current Chain Migration law.”
Many groups comprising the Tanton network oppose “chain migration” also known as family unification programs. In a 2019 op-ed at The Washington Post about the vilification of the term “chain migration,” professors Arissa H. Oh and Ellen Wu note immigration destructionists use the term as a pejorative and intend it to be “a rallying cry for those who are alarmed at the country’s increasing racial diversity and who feel that it threatens the essential character of America. By closing off family-based migration, the right aims to effectively enact a racial restriction under a seemingly neutral guise — and thus reverse the browning of America to preserve its narrowly conceived, white American culture,” the authors add.
The Trump years
In 2018, ProEnglish urged President Trump to repeal former President Clinton’s Executive Order 13166, which requires Federal agencies to provide language translation services. ProEnglish has long advocated the repeal of the executive order, claiming it is costly to taxpayers and promotes “divisive multilingualism.”
ProEnglish enjoyed access to the White House while Trump was in office. In 2018, ProEnglish published a blog on its website saying Guschov and ProEnglish Director of Government Relations Dan Carter met with a Trump aide to discuss “a variety of official English legislation issues.”
The blog continued, “The White House meeting, which occurred in the East Wing, focused on Trump administration support for the English Language Unity Act, the RAISE Act, the COST Act, and also the possibility of President Trump repealing former President Clinton’s onerous Executive Order 13166 with a new Executive Order signed by the President.”
ProEnglish noted that Vice President Mike Pence was a co-sponsor of English-only legislation as an Indiana state legislator. ProEnglish claims they visited the White House six times while Trump was in office. None of ProEnglish’s suggested bills or executive orders were passed.
Continuing its agenda
The group remains close to others comprising the Tanton network. ProEnglish staff regularly attend FAIR’s annual radio and networking event, Hold Their Feet to the Fire, which takes place in Washington, D.C. Guschov recapped the group’s participation in FAIR’s 2022 event in a post on ProEnglish’s website. Guschov wrote that his group “met with several members of Congress at the FAIR Radio Row event in order to recruit more cosponsors of the English Language Unity Act in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.”
ProEnglish claims on its website the group has “hit the ground running” in 2023 as the 118th Congress begins its session. According to the group, this includes engaging “the offices of several senators and representatives on Capitol Hill, including both those who are new and those who are returning, in an effort to continue to build support for” for English-only legislation.