Leader of Sierra Club Takeover Effort Resurfaces With New Anti-Immigrant Warning

Since his efforts to take over the board of directors of the Sierra Club with anti-immigration activists failed in 2004, UCLA professor Ben Zuckerman seems to have refocused his energies on his academic specialty, the planet and the stars. But there he was last week on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight," warning about the perils of immigration. “The mainstream environmental movement has entirely dropped the ball on this issue,” Zuckerman said in a brief interview for a story about an Oregon State University report showing that having fewer children produces fewer carbon emissions. Books that tell what steps to take to ensure a greener future “don’t even mention population,” Zuckerman complained.

A physics and astronomy professor, Zuckerman was a leader of a Sierra Club takeover effort that began in the 1990s aimed at making the venerable environmental organization adopt an anti-immigration platform. Back in 1986, anti-immigration poobah John Tanton wrote then-secret memos naming the Sierra Club as a potential target for immigration activists. “[T]he issues we’re touching on here must be broached by liberals,” Tanton wrote, because conservatives would be labeled as racists. Ten years later, Zuckerman and others formed Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization – SUSPS – to lobby the Sierra Club to support immigration restrictions.

In 1998, SUSPS spearheaded a ballot proposition committing the Sierra Club to supporting immigration restrictions. Club members voted it down, 60% to 40%. But Zuckerman was elected to the club’s board of directors in 2002, and two SUSPS-supported candidates joined him the next year.

SUSPS then backed a slate of five more candidates for the board, and a rival group within the organization formed in opposition to them. Meanwhile, Zuckerman described an Intelligence Report story documenting Tanton’s connections to racist hate groups as “pure, unadulterated trash” and defended Tanton as “a great environmentalist.” In an effort to block the anti-immigrant slate of candidates, SPLC co-founder Morris Dees announced his candidacy for the board. He did so, he said, not to gain a seat on the board, but to warn Sierra Club members via his candidate’s statement that a “hostile takeover of the Club by radical anti-immigrant activists is in the making.” The takeover attempt failed.

Zuckerman, no longer on the Sierra Club board, has remained active in anti-immigration groups while maintaining a lower profile. For example, he’s one of a dozen people on a statistical oversight committee at NumbersUSA, which started out as a program of U.S. Inc., a Tanton foundation that financed nativist groups.

The timing of Zuckerman’s latest immigrant harangue was ironic. Two days after he appeared on Dobbs' show, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that birth rates fell in the United States last year for the first time since 2001. And the U.S. Census Bureau projects a steady slowing of U.S. population growth, with the growth rate sinking to the lowest levels in U.S. history from 2030 to 2050. That isn’t likely to assuage nativist groups, however. The census experts foresee the Hispanic-origin population accounting for 45 percent of the nation’s growth from 2010 to 2030, and 60 percent of the overall growth from 2030 to 2050.