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John Tanton

John Tanton was the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement. He created a network of organizations – the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA – that profoundly shaped the immigration debate in the U.S.

About John Tanton

A retired Michigan ophthalmologist, Tanton had white nationalist beliefs and wrote that to maintain American culture, “a European-American majority” is required.

In His Own Words

“I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

– Dec. 10, 1993, letter to the late Garrett Hardin, a controversial ecology professor

“I have no doubt that individual minority persons can assimilate to the culture necessary to run an advanced society but if through mass migration, the culture of the homeland is transplanted from Latin America to California, then my guess is we will see the same degree of success with governmental and social institutions that we have seen in Latin America.”

– Jan. 26, 1996, letter to Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA

“Do we leave it to individuals to decide that they are the intelligent ones who should have more kids? And more troublesome, what about the less intelligent, who logically should have less? Who is going to break the bad news [to less intelligent individuals], and how will it be implemented?”

– Sept. 18, 1996, letter to now-deceased California multimillionaire and eugenicist Robert K. Graham

“I write to encourage keeping track of those on our same side of the issue, but who are nonetheless our competitors for dollars and members.”

– April 20, 1998, correspondence asking FAIR employees to ensure they receive mailings from American Renaissance, a pseudoscientific magazine focusing on race, intelligence and eugenics. (The underlining was in Tanton’s original letter.)

Background

A retired Michigan ophthalmologist, John Tanton spent decades at the heart of the white nationalist movement. His racist views were first exposed in 1988 when a series of private memos he wrote for principals at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) leaked to the press. The memos were filled with racist statements and warned about a coming “Latin onslaught.”

At the time, Tanton’s group U.S. English, which opposed bilingualism in public schools and government agencies, disavowed any racial motivation. “Hispanics who learn English will be able to avail themselves of opportunities,” the group’s president and former Reagan administration official Linda Chavez said. She resigned when Tanton’s memos were leaked. The news that U.S. English had received funds from the distributor of “The Camp of the Saints,” a racist French novel in which starving Third World refugees overrun Europe, added to Chavez’s sense of betrayal. (She had reviewed the book in 1975, denouncing its presentation of “racial mistrust and hatred as a natural condition of man.”) Chavez urged her fellow conservatives in the National Review in 2007 to be wary of “problematic allies” such as FAIR, which she called “the most influential organization in the country on immigration.”

Tanton’s white nationalist views are fully exposed in his private papers at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that,” Tanton wrote in a Dec. 10, 1993, letter to Garrett Hardin, a controversial ecology professor.

The papers in the Bentley library revealed Tanton had for decades been at the heart of the white nationalist scene. He corresponded with Holocaust deniers, former Klan lawyers and leading white nationalist thinkers of the era. He introduced key FAIR leaders to the president of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist group set up to encourage “race betterment” at a 1997 meeting at a private club. He wrote to a major funder to encourage her to read the work of a radical antisemitic professor – to “give you a new understanding of the Jewish outlook on life” ­ –and suggested that the entire FAIR board discuss the professor’s theories on Jews.

Tanton also ran The Social Contract Press, a racist publishing company that was part of his foundation, U.S. Inc. One special issue of the press’s journal, The Social Contract, was devoted to the theme of “Europhobia: The Hostility Toward European-Descended Americans” and featured a lead article from John Vinson, then head of Tanton-backed hate group the American Immigration Control Foundation. Vinson argued that multiculturalism was replacing “successful Euro-American culture” with “dysfunctional Third World cultures.” Tanton elaborated in his own remarks, decrying the “unwarranted hatred and fear” of whites that he blamed on “multiculturalists” and immigrants.

In 1994, The Social Contract Press republished the novel “The Camp of the Saints,” along with Tanton’s wholehearted endorsement and a special afterword from its author reading, “The proliferation of other races dooms our race, my race, to extinction.” The novel describes “swarthy hordes” of Indian immigrants who take over France, send white women to “a whorehouse for Hindus” and engage in a grotesque orgy of men, women and children. The immigrants are described as “monsters,” “grotesque little beggars from the streets of Calcutta” and worse. Unconcerned, Tanton said he was “honored” to republish what he described as an important and “prescient” text. The novel, like the race war fantasy “The Turner Diaries,” has become a key screed for American white supremacists.

This history did not prevent Tanton from playing a central role in the nation’s immigration debate, particularly through the many anti-immigration organizations he founded or funded over the years. He was active with FAIR, which he founded and where he was listed as a board member as recently as 2010. Tanton was listed on the group’s national board of advisers up until his death in July 2019. 

FAIR, whose members have testified frequently before Congress, accepted more than $1 million from the Pioneer Fund, a racist foundation devoted to proving a connection between race and intelligence. FAIR has hired key officials who were also active in white supremacist groups and others who write for anti-immigrant hate sites. Due to these activities, the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated FAIR as a hate group.

FAIR is just one part of Tanton’s anti-immigration network, which has never strayed far from its roots. In fact, their founder’s vision that nonwhite immigration is a threat to white America is the driving force that links these organizations.

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) ­­– which bills itself as a scholarly think tank and has been widely quoted in the media – began its life as a FAIR program and continues to produce studies furthering FAIR’s anti-immigration agenda. Tanton described its vision in a 1985 letter, writing that CIS would produce reports “for later passage to FAIR, the activist organization, to remedy.”

Similarly, NumbersUSA began life as a Tanton foundation program. Tanton designated its executive director, Roy Beck, as his “heir apparent” at U.S. Inc. Beck edited “The Immigration Invasion,” a book by Tanton and a colleague that bashed immigrants so fiercely that Canadian border authorities banned it as hate literature.

Tanton and FAIR often asserted they were being unfairly attacked by their critics, but Tanton’s own words offered evidence to the contrary. On Jan. 26, 1996, he wrote to Beck, then an employee of U.S. Inc., questioning the ability of Latinos to govern in California.

Tanton wondered “whether the minorities who are going to inherit California (85% of the lower-grade school children are now ‘minorities’ – demography is destiny) can run an advanced society?”

On April 20, 1998, Tanton wrote to FAIR employees to ensure they received mailings from American Renaissance, a pseudoscientific magazine focusing on race, intelligence and eugenics.

“I write to encourage keeping track of those on our same side of the issue, but who are nonetheless our competitors for dollars and members,” Tanton wrote.

Tanton died July 16, 2019, at his home in Petoskey, Michigan. The following day, FAIR president Dan Stein, in a press release, called Tanton “a selfless giver of his time and talents in the interests of a better tomorrow.” He added, “For John, the big reward was to see a number of the organizations he helped conceive grow into tall oaks – guiding and shaping the public discourse in history-changing ways.”