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American Legion Attacks Report, and SPLC Responds

In the Fall 2008 issue of the Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center detailed a long list of defamatory falsehoods published by the American Legion, a major veterans group, in its new booklet, A Strategy to Address Illegal Immigration in the United States. As the Report’s story said at the time, the book “regurgitates discredited and often completely false information about how ‘illegals’ are bringing crime, disease and terrorism to this country, even as they wreck the economy.”

On Thursday, the American Legion posted a response to the Report’s criticisms on its website, including a copy of a letter sent to the editor of the Report a few days earlier. The letter notes (as our story did) that the booklet is “under review” — this because of repeated complaints from the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American GI Forum, a Hispanic veterans group — but then goes on to toss off the Report’s allegations. Finally, in an apparent effort to bolster its case, the Legion goes on to cite a series of completely unrelated attacks on SPLC that it wrongly attributes to the Atlanta Constitution.

Here is our letter of response, sent today to Legion Commander David Rehbein:

Dear Commander Rehbein,

It’s unfortunate that your response to our detailed criticism of your immigration booklet is limited to a disingenuous characterization of what we say as merely reflecting different “perspectives” on immigration. Had you actually looked at the concrete criticisms we made, instead of simply insisting we were wrong, you would have had to face the fact that you made numerous errors of fact, clear mistakes that have the effect of defaming and vilifying what you like to call “illegal aliens.”

You suggest that we “sugar coat” the problem of illegal immigration. Let’s briefly revisit a sampling of what the American Legion does in its booklet:

• You falsely claim that “non-citizens make up fully 30% of the American prison population.” That is propaganda. The real number is under 6%.
• You falsely attribute the claim that 49% of incarcerated illegal immigrants had prior felony convictions to a GAO report. The report says no such thing, and neither does any other.
• Without the benefit of any attribution, you falsely state that “more Americans are killed by illegal aliens than die in the Iraq war.” Translated, your claim means that 4% of population (the same 12 million illegal immigrants to whom you refer) is responsible for 11.4% to 16.1% of our nation’s murders. Every study shows that immigrants commit fewer, not more, crimes than natives.
• You cite an extreme-right propagandist (Madeleine Cosman), writing in a totally discredited journal, to claim that illegal immigrants are bringing a series of dread diseases to the United States. You have no other evidence at all for this inflammatory suggestion. Please note that the same journal you cite for proof recently published the claim that HIV does not cause AIDS.
• You falsely claim that 7,000 people in the United States were infected with leprosy between 2000 and 2003 by illegal immigrants. The real number of people infected with leprosy in those years is about 400. And no one knows how many of those, if any at all, were attributable to immigrants.

I could go on. It’s a shame that your response to our carefully written critique is to hurl a general accusation at us — that we “take a number of bad turns on a long road from reality” — rather than actually look at what we say. Then you go on to assure us that the American Legion’s position is “sound, non-discriminatory and equitable.” While I won’t try to discern what your motives are, the reality is that your booklet has the effect of defaming millions of people with inaccuracies, overstatements and falsehoods that the American Legion apparently did not feel the need to back up with real evidence. That’s a very sorry record for a major veterans group.


Mark Potok

The national American Legion’s attacks on undocumented workers has spread to a number of local Legion posts. In a recent posting on this blog, we noted how a Denver-area post co-sponsored a three-day “national security convention” featuring a number of bigoted speakers who also specialize in defaming Latino immigrants. One of them was Glenn Spencer — whose American Patrol has long been listed as a hate group by SPLC; who has openly courted white supremacists; who has made statements like “Chicanos and Mexicanos lie as a means of survival”; and who has suggested that Spanish-language TV networks like Univision and Telemundo be ordered shut down immediately. Another speaker was Frosty Wooldridge, a furious nativist who warns of a “disease jihad” led by illegal immigrants. Wooldridge has warned that as a result of immigrants, people going to Wal-Mart or the movies may catch hepatitis by “breathing air” (never mind that hepatitis isn’t spread via air), and that Mexicans “do not wash their hands after using bathroom facilities.”

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