What's Behind a 'Black' Anti-Immigration Group
Activists say a black anti-immigration movement is gathering steam. But it seems to be largely the creation of white people.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Terry Anderson is on stage in Vegas, telling a fable about a donkey on a bridge.
"Everybody's doing everything they can to coax [the donkey] with sugar and carrots, but they can't get him to move. Some guy walks up and says, 'You've got to use kindness.' The other guy says, 'Show me.' So the [first] guy picks up a two-by-four and busts the donkey in the head. The donkey gets up and walks off. The other guy says, 'But you said use kindness.' The guy says, 'Yeah, but you got to get his attention.'"
In Anderson's mind, the bridge is America, and the donkey represents the millions of Mexicans who need to be whacked in the head, not offered the sugar and carrots of guest worker programs and earned paths to citizenship. Fuming about congressmen who support such programs, he says, "Not one of those people has ever had his wife walk by a construction site and get heckled by some Mexican grabbing his crotch, and usually a small crotch."
It's the second day of the second annual "Unite to Fight" conference, a Memorial Day weekend gathering of anti-immigration hard-liners. Earlier, as speaker after speaker railed off venomous rants about Mexican invaders, Reconquista and Aztlan (conspiracy theories about alleged Mexican plans to reconquer the southwestern United States), Anderson sat with his wife in the shadows of the back row of the Cashman Center auditorium. But now that it's his turn on the mic, the roly-poly, bow-tied orator is lighting up his audience of 200 or so mostly middle-aged and elderly white guys, who clap harder, stand longer, and whistle louder for Anderson than for anyone else on the agenda. This might have something to do with the fact that Anderson is one of only a tiny handful of African-Americans at this predominately white conference -- and the only black speaker. The implied message of his presence and enthusiastic reception is crystal clear: "How can we be racist? Our beloved keynote speaker is black."
In recent months, Anderson and a smattering of other African-American anti-immigration activists, most notably longtime Los Angeles homeless activist Ted Hayes (see interviews with both men), have become the front men for a campaign orchestrated and funded by white anti-immigration leaders. The campaign aims to convert black Americans to their cause, and simultaneously to provide groups like the Minuteman Project and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) with cover against accusations of racism.
Beyond putting a black face in the spotlight as often as possible at rallies and conventions like Unite to Fight, this effort also consists of the new FAIR front group, Choose Black America -- a supposedly nationwide coalition of black business and community leaders spreading the message that "mass illegal immigration has been the single greatest impediment to black advancement in this country over the past 25 years."
"The danger here is [black activists] being co-opted by a group who may not have the African-American community's best interests in mind," says Shayla Nunnally, a black professor at the University of Connecticut and co-author of a Duke University study on Latino immigrants' attitudes towards blacks. "It goes back to minorities fighting minorities, while fighting the overall oppression isn't being addressed."
Terry Anderson comes off like a true believer in the old Arab proverb, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" -- even if that friend looks a lot like a white supremacist.
In Vegas, Anderson shares the lectern with Rick Oltman, who in addition to being the western states regional coordinator for FAIR has spoken at several major events put on by the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) and who was described by the CCC as a member in 1998. During his speech, Oltman drops the name of Brenda Walker, a regular contributor to the racist website VDARE.com who, among other things, has described Hmong refugees living in the United States as "drug-addicted polygamists."
Oltman's comments are tame in comparison to Anderson's diatribe, a rant in which he rages about public schools being "infected with illegal alien children, who are dumb and stupid in two languages." Anderson also presides over a posthumous tribute to Madeleine Cosman, an attorney who was a popular figure on the immigrant-bashing lecture circuit until her death last March. At the Las Vegas summit, Anderson praises Cosman's legacy, then introduces a screening of the pseudo-documentary "Illegal Aliens & America's Medicine," which features Cosman's alarmist claim that Mexican immigrants are spreading dengue fever, Kawasaki disease, and various sexually transmitted diseases, especially to their many alleged rape victims. Speaking from beyond the grave, Cosman says, "Most of these bastards molest girls under 12, though some specialize in boys, and some in nuns."
Four months before she died, Cosman was a guest on the "The Terry Anderson Show," the weekly Sunday night radio pulpit from which Anderson preaches the need for black Americans to get angry about illegal immigration, to listen to white "experts" like Cosman, and to join forces with groups like the Minuteman Project and FAIR. Essentially, Anderson wants to shut down the border while tearing down the walls between urban, working-class blacks and far-right whites, at least until the country is cleansed of illegal immigrants, who both he and Ted Hayes argue present a far greater threat to blacks in America than racist whites.
The way Anderson tells it, black Americans simply do not have a choice: "If we don't fix this and put other problems to the side, then, man, we gone," he says in an interview with the Intelligence Report.
While Anderson's stated aim is to amass a black following, he wasn't known to most blacks outside California, where he lives in South Central Los Angeles, until he affiliated with the white leaders of the Minuteman Project. By his own description, most of his radio show's nationwide listening audience is white. He reaches more blacks with his frequent appearances on "Urban Policy Roundtable," a weekly TV program in California hosted by African-American columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, than he does with his own show.
"I'm the only one that's really given Terry a platform to come in and talk about these issues with a black audience," says Hutchinson. "So, he can't go anywhere else, except with white folks."
It's white folks who have paraded Anderson all over the country in the past year, financing his appearances at the Unite to Fight convention in Las Vegas, a Minuteman Project summit in Arlington Heights, Ill., and a Capitol Hill rally where Anderson warmed up the crowd for anti-immigration hard-liner and U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), among other events. When officials at white-dominated FAIR needed black figureheads for their front group, they knew Anderson was their man. He signed on as a founding member of Choose Black America (CBA), along with 10 other activists, academics, clergymen, and entrepreneurs.
The formation of CBA was announced at a FAIR-sponsored press conference last May at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. To date, that press conference is the only verifiable action CBA has taken. It otherwise seems to exist only as a website and a public relations gambit.
"The African Americans they brought there were just to put a black face on their position," says Hutchinson, who, unlike Anderson and Hayes, declined an offer to join CBA. "These blacks had no other further use. [FAIR] got what they wanted, so why would they have meetings [of the CBA]? Why would they create an organization? These individuals are so loosely affiliated, what kind of organization are you going to form out of that?"
CBA is billed as a "coalition of business, academic and community leaders" who believe that "Blacks, in particular, have lost economic opportunities, seen their kids' schools flooded with non-English speaking students, and felt the socio-economic damage of illegal immigration more acutely than any other group." It's portrayed as a grassroots organization, but it hardly sprang from the community. Tiny type at the bottom of CBA's home page reads, "A project of FAIR."
That is not a new tactic for the best-known anti-immigration organization in the United States. Other, similar front groups set up by FAIR include the Coalition for the Future of the American Worker, which claims to be a coalition of blue-collar groups, and You Don't Speak for Me ("American Latino Voices Speaking Out Against Illegal Immigration"), the Hispanic version of CBA.
Though he's critical of CBA, Earl Ofari Hutchinson is no open-borders advocate. Several times this year in his Pasadena Weekly column, Hutchinson has written about black frustration with illegal immigration and has even warned of the potential dangers Latino immigration presents to black Americans. "The leap in Latino voting strength and the likely prospect that Democrats and Republicans can bag even more voters from the rising number of legal and illegal immigrants comes at a bad time for black politicians," Hutchinson wrote last April, about a month before the CBA press conference.
Hutchinson tells the Intelligence Report that not long after that column came out, FAIR offered to fly him to D.C. and put him up in a nice hotel if he would join their press conference, pose for a photo, and agree to be identified as a founding member of CBA. Hutchinson said no. "They assumed that essentially I was on their team, and I would be an effective advocate for their point of view as an African-American spokesperson," Hutchinson says. He rejected the offer, he says, because of FAIR's ties to white supremacist groups and because he didn't want to be associated with the anti-multiculturalism attitudes of FAIR founder John Tanton, who wrote of non-white immigration in 1986: "Will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile? ... 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?"
Terry Anderson has no such qualms about Tanton. In fact, records show that Anderson has received upwards of $10,000 from Tanton's U.S. Inc. to fund his radio show. "I know John Tanton. I've met him on many occasions," Anderson tells the Intelligence Report. "What somebody does in front of you and what they do behind you is always going to be two different things. I just know that he has founded an organization that is at the forefront of this problem and without them we would be a lot worse off. ... If Tanton is a racist and he says illegal immigration is wrong for this country, does that make his statement wrong? No."
Coalition of the Willing
Five of the 11 founding members of CBA were interviewed for this article. All but one said they had no idea who the other individuals in their "coalition" were before they arrived in D.C. for the press conference. James Clingman, a Cincinnati columnist and businessman, said that if he had known, he would have never shown up. "Choose Black America was just the banner under which we had a press conference," says Clingman, who writes on economics. "There are people involved [in CBA] who I am just diametrically opposed to, like [far-right Christian evangelical] Jesse Lee Peterson and those other neo-conservative, black so-called leaders."
Clingman says that with the exception of his personal friend, Claud Anderson, he has had no contact with any of the other CBA founders or with FAIR since the press conference. According to the rest of the CBA founders interviewed, there have been no meetings, no phone calls, and no other organizational advances since May.
The chairperson of CBA is identified in press materials as Frank Morris — the same longtime FAIR member who in 2004 ran for the board of directors of the Sierra Club as part of a well-organized but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to convert the environmental powerhouse into an anti-immigration organization. Morris did not return three phone calls seeking comment for this story.
A primary FAIR aim in creating the CBA has been to convince black Americans that Latino immigrants will take their jobs or significantly depress their wages, despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary. Even a study by Harvard economist George Borjas, widely considered an ally by anti-immigration forces, only showed a wage-lowering effect (and a modest one at that) on the least skilled and poorest educated workers, and many other scholars dispute that finding. A new study by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center found "no apparent relationship between the growth of foreign workers with less education and the employment outcome of native workers with the same low level of education."
Such research doesn't sway the opinion of CBA founding member Claud Anderson. The president of PowerNomics, an inner-city development corporation, concedes that he went to the press conference knowing nothing about FAIR, but he says he came away a fervent FAIR supporter. The group, he says, is pushing the right agenda. "You got silly naïve black leadership who don't understand that those people [Latino immigrants] are not coming here to get along with black folks. They are coming here to compete with black folks."
Asked what the government should do about the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now living in the U.S., Claud Anderson told the Intelligence Report: "Put their asses on the boat and send them back."
'You're Not Black'
FAIR isn't the only organization trying to put a black face on the anti-immigration movement. The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (see Ruckus on the Right), an offshoot of the original "citizens border patrol" Minuteman Project, is now identified as "a project of the Declaration Alliance," a right-wing consortium led by African-American ultraconservative Alan Keyes, best known for his many failed runs on the Republican ticket for U.S. Senate and president. Keyes now speaks at Minuteman Civil Defense Corps events wearing a black cowboy hat.
Also, when Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist kicked off his group's cross-country caravan to Washington, D.C., last May 3, he picked Leimert Park, a mostly black Los Angeles neighborhood, as the caravan's rallying point. Gilchrist brought out the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, African-American head of the right-wing, Christian fundamentalist Brotherhood Organization for a New Destiny, along with Ted Hayes, the black homeless advocate, to back him up.
The rally was supposed to be an invitation to Minuteman discipleship, but it didn't end in benediction. Faced by dozens of African-Americans calling Gilchrist a racist and labeling his black associates as "Sambos," Gilchrist dropped the friendly face. "Minutemen, stand your ground," he barked. Then, referring to a man leading chants against his followers, Gilchrist added, "If it's war he wants, then let it begin here," according to the Los Angeles Times.
"We confronted them and chased them out of our community with that racist nonsense," says Najee Ali, president of the Islamic H.O.P.E. civil rights organization in Los Angeles. "We wanted to let them know that they are not welcome in our community and we were offended they chose that as their departure point."
Ali's May confrontation with the Minutemen was neither his first nor his last. Throughout the summer Ali hosted a number of forums on black and Latino community relationships. They were sponsored in part by the Latino and African American Leadership Alliance, which lists as co-chairs Ali, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Christine Chavez, granddaughter of union activist César Chavez. Minutemen, both black and white, showed up to heckle panel members -- including California state assemblymen and Los Angeles City Council members -- and to intimidate the audience.
"At first I didn't get why they were there," says Anike Tourse, a panelist at one of Ali's forums representing the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. "The panel wasn't about immigration, it was about relationships between blacks and Latinos. But they made sure it [immigration] came up."
During her presentation, Tourse said Minutemen sat in the front rows making distracting noises and "a big scene."
One of the black Minutemen, adds panelist Xiomara Corpeno, "went up at Ali and said, "You sold out your people. You don't represent black people. You're not black."
Hard evidence shows it is the black Minutemen, however, who don't represent mainstream black thought on the topic of immigration. Several major polls show that most African Americans favor the U.S. Senate's Kennedy-McCain bill, which would allow many undocumented workers to stay in America and eventually earn citizenship. Most mainstream civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Urban League, have come out in support of Latino immigrants. Historically black colleges and universities have aggressively begun recruiting Latinos, who have an 86% high school graduation rate, according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center study.
Sheila Jackson Lee, an African-American congresswoman from Texas, has called the immigrant rights movement "the civil rights issue of our time."
But for Ted Hayes, it's not that. It's "the greatest threat to U.S. black citizens since slavery."
Pawns in Their Game
Tall and gangly, Hayes dresses in robes and wears a mane of dreadlocks underneath an African kufi. Around his neck hangs a Black Hebrew Israelite pentagram. Hayes was a black-power advocate in the early 1980s, before he became an activist for the homeless, and you won't hear him endorsing white supremacist websites. But he considers himself a Minuteman, and has named his own anti-immigration spinoff group the Crispus Attucks Brigade, after a black man who was first person killed in the Boston Massacre carried out by colonial Britain.
And that led to his showing up at a recent rally and marching side-by-side with a woman named Barbara Coe, founder and leader of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. Coe, Hayes enthuses, is "a great lady."
Coe is also a self-described member and repeat guest speaker of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white supremacist group that has described blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity" and once compared pop singer Michael Jackson to a chimpanzee.
"That just shows Ted's ignorance," says Najee Ali, adding that Hayes has "no constituency" in the black community. "He aligned himself to be used as a pawn."
Adds Hutchinson: "Ted and Terry -- other than immigration, they don't have any following. They have none. They are considered, out here in Los Angeles, a joke."
But in the world of the national anti-immigration movement, Anderson and Hayes are major players. The vitriol they spit out about Mexicans has the same incendiary tone as the rhetoric that some black nationalists and Nation of Islam leaders have in the past directed at whites. Now, black activists like Anderson and Hayes are using that same provocative, indicting tone to pick on someone their own size: Latinos, who according to the last census have just edged out blacks as the largest minority in the United States. They say it's Hispanics who are now oppressing black communities -- by depressing wages, taking jobs and killing blacks in the streets, schools and prisons. Explains Terry Anderson, "The 'white man' we're fighting is the Mexicans."
On stage in Vegas, Anderson pardons the entire white race on behalf of the four other blacks in the audience. "White folks weren't always fair to my people. But we forgive and forget." He then calls Latinos "the most racist people I have ever seen in my life," and goes on to mock the idea that "Mexicans do jobs Americans won't do," reeling off a litany of blue-collar jobs he would gladly do: drywalling, roofing, washing cars. "I will even pick cotton," he says. Then he pauses a beat, as if realizing what he's just said. "Nah, I ain't pickin no cotton!"
The audience laughs in approval of Anderson's jolly oratory. He ends with the popular call-and-response catchphrase, delivered in the dialect of South Central Los Angeles, that marks his radio show: "If you ain't mad..."
The audience, well-schooled in following this black man, shouts back as one: "Then you ain't payin' attention!"
Anderson exits the stage to a standing, cheering ovation and makes his way up the aisle, giving high fives as he goes. He spots his wife, still sitting in the dark in the far back row, and resumes his place in the shadows.