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Courting Conservatives

Peter Brimelow was a respectable, albeit hard-line, conservative commentator. Then he met nativist John Tanton

Peter Brimelow, the author of a key anti-immigration book and proprietor of a racist website, was brought into the nativist fold largely through the efforts of John Tanton, the primary architect of the modern anti-immigration movement.

Brimelow, a British immigrant who was eventually naturalized as an American citizen, had moved quickly into mainstream U.S. conservative circles, becoming a senior editor at Forbes magazine (a financial publication that jokingly referred to itself as a "capitalist tool") and a frequent contributor to the National Review. Tanton helped lead him further to the right, into the world of white nationalism, and Brimelow returned the favor by introducing Tanton to key conservative thinkers.

As early as Nov. 16, 1993, Tanton was already writing that he hoped to make Brimelow, with his relative respectability, into the face of the modern nativist movement. According to Tanton papers lodged at the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library, Tanton pushed Brimelow to write 1995's Alien Nation and paid white nationalist columnist Joseph Fallon to conduct key research for the book. In a Nov. 2, 1995, memo, Tanton wrote that he "encouraged Brimelow to write his book" and "provided the necessary research funds to get it done."

Alien Nation is a nativist screed that, among other things, describes the role of race in the world as "elemental, absolute, fundamental." Brimelow has written that he once considered ending the book with a fictional account of "the flight of the last white family from Los Angeles." He praises his mentor effusively in the book, calling Tanton "truly a citizen who has taken up arms for his country."

Tanton's support for the book wasn't limited to research. In an April 14, 1994, letter, he offered "to raise funds to keep [Brimelow's] income intact" while the writer was on the road. He also recommended venues for Brimelow to publicize the book, suggested various visual aids, and even offered to pay for media training. In a June 21, 1995, letter to Brimelow, Tanton noted that "the opposition is turning the heat up" on Brimelow's book and offered "to help wherever I can."

Two years later, in 1997, Brimelow joined Tanton and board members of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) for a private meeting with principals of the Pioneer Fund, a racist eugenicist foundation that was set up to work for "race betterment" through selective human breeding.

Tanton frequently shared his nativist views with Brimelow, including in a June 25, 1997, letter in which he compared immigrants to an untreated disease. "It's rather like developing a cough," Tanton wrote. "If one checks into it early, simple inexpensive measures may suffice… . [I]f you wait until you're coughing up blood, have lost 20 pounds, and have swollen lymph nodes … [p]alliation may be the best that can be hoped for." He concluded: "With the immigration problem, now only strong measures will suffice." (This letter was copied to FAIR leader Dan Stein and Roy Beck of NumbersUSA, another immigration restriction group.)

For his part, Brimelow helped Tanton win a $12,500 "director's grant" from the McConnell Foundation, according to a July 25, 1997, thank-you letter from Tanton to Brimelow. The grant, Tanton said, went to support his own eugenicist organization, the Society for the Advancement of Genetics Education.

The next year, Tanton apparently helped Brimelow conceive and organize, the white nationalist and nativist website Brimelow still runs today, according to a Feb. 25, 1998, Tanton memo that refers to the site as "our enterprise.", which was officially launched in 1999, is named for Virginia Dare, said to be the first English child born in what is now the United States.

Brimelow helped Tanton widen his own circle, introducing him to John O'Sullivan, the editor of the National Review in the 1990s, while Brimelow was still a contributor there. Since then, Tanton has written and visited with O'Sullivan frequently. On Sept. 10, 1999, he thanked O'Sullivan for writing about "infamous immigrants," in particular Charles Ponzi, the Italian immigrant who created the notorious "Ponzi scheme" pyramid swindle. Earlier, Tanton had suggested that O'Sullivan offer National Review readers copies of The Camp of the Saints, a racist French nativist novel republished by Tanton in 1995.

O'Sullivan, who is now the executive editor of Radio Free Europe, did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did Tanton or Brimelow.

Brimelow also introduced Tanton to white nationalist Pat Buchanan, a political commentator for MSNBC and three-time presidential candidate. Tanton sent Buchanan a political contribution and later, on Feb. 2, 1997, visited him at his home. The two went on to become friends, with Buchanan, who also declined comment, contributing essays to Tanton's racist journal, The Social Contract.