Skip to main content Accessibility

Answering Our Critics: SPLC ‘Smear’ Dissected

This Thursday, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) — a Washington, D.C., think tank that describes itself as “pro-immigrant” but pumps out an endless stream of papers claiming that immigration is hurting America in a myriad of ways — plans to issue a “report” attacking the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

According to CIS’ press announcement, the report will claim the SPLC “joined with the National Council of La Raza [a Latino civil rights organization] and others to launch a campaign to smear” three anti-immigration groups: CIS, NumbersUSA, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The press release charged that the key to this “smear” was SPLC’s listing of FAIR as a hate group. (The SPLC annually publishes a list of hate groups and a map with their locations.) The CIS and NumbersUSA were not listed, but CIS says SPLC intended to “taint” them, too.

The suggestion that the SPLC worked surreptitiously with La Raza and others to designate FAIR a hate group is false; the decision to list the organization was made by the SPLC alone, based on almost a decade of SPLC research. We make no apologies for sharing that research with others in the human rights community, including La Raza, which we consider an important ally.

FAIR, an organization that has been dominated for much of its life by its racist founder John Tanton, has probably done more to inject fear and bigotry into the national immigration debate than any other modern organization. Its demonizing propaganda, aimed primarily at Latinos, comes at a time when the number of hate groups continues a decade-long rise, fueled by anti-Latino hatred. At the same time, the FBI reported a 40% rise in anti-Latino hate crimes between 2003 and 2007. Those crimes decreased slightly in 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available.

What follows is a list of factors that resulted in the listing of FAIR as a hate group. More detailed information on FAIR and its founder may be found here and here.

•    The racism of FAIR’s founder. John Tanton, who founded FAIR in 1979 and remains a central player on its board today, has a decades-long history of making racist statements and pursuing his interest in eugenics (he once asked Michigan officials if forced sterilization was illegal, citing the case of “a local pair of sisters who have nine illegitimate children between them”). Tanton has said that unless U.S. borders are sealed, America will be overrun by people “defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs.” He has warned of a “Latin onslaught,” complained of Latinos’ allegedly low “educability,” and said Latinos “bring with them the tradition of the mordida [bribe]].” He has a long record of friendly correspondence with Holocaust deniers, former Klan lawyers, and leading white nationalist thinkers, including Jared Taylor. He wrote a major FAIR funder to suggest she read the work of a radical anti-Semitic professor — to “give you a new understanding of the Jewish outlook on life” — and suggested that the entire FAIR board discuss his theories about the Jews. At one point, Tanton wrote that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” In a letter to FAIR board member Donald Collins, Tanton enthused over the work of John Trevor Sr. — a key architect of the racially restrictive Immigration Act of 1924 and a man who distributed pro-Nazi propaganda and warned shrilly of “diabolical Jewish control” of America — and said it should serve FAIR as “a guidepost to what we must follow again this time.”
•    Taking money from racists. FAIR solicited and accepted a total of $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, a notorious organization set up by Nazi sympathizers in 1937 to fund studies of eugenics (selective breeding of humans to produce a “better” race) and race and intelligence. Saying it didn’t know about the fund’s background, FAIR stopped publicly seeking Pioneer money in 1994 after a barrage of embarrassing publicity. But that didn’t stop three FAIR board members from meeting privately three years later with the Pioneer Fund’s then-chairman, Harry Weyher, to discuss fundraising. Moreover, FAIR has apparently lost its shame about the Pioneer Fund, and now devotes two pages of its website to defending the foundation.
•    Views of FAIR’s president. Dan Stein, once the group’s executive director and now its president, has warned that immigrants are engaged in “competitive breeding” aimed at diminishing white power. He led efforts to win funding from the racist Pioneer Fund, saying in 1993 that his “job [was] to get every dime of Pioneer’s money.” Stein also served as editorial adviser to Tanton’s hate journal, The Social Contract, at a time when it ran its ugliest edition ever, “Europhobia: The Hostility Toward European-Descended Americans.” The issue’s lead article argued that multiculturalism was replacing “successful Euro-American culture” with “dysfunctional Third World cultures.” Stein has declined to offer any criticism of FAIR’s founder, instead characterizing Tanton last September as a “Renaissance man.”
•    Leading FAIR officials’ participation in racist groups. Rick Oltman, who for much of the 1990s was FAIR’s Western Regional Coordinator, spoke as part of a 1997 immigration panel put on by the Council of Conservative Citizens, a hate group that has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity.” Council publications at the time listed Oltman as a member. Jim Staudenraus, FAIR’s Eastern Regional Coordinator, participated in an anti-immigration conference in 2002 with Jared Taylor, a “white nationalist” publisher who recently wrote, “When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears.” In 2007, a senior FAIR official met with leaders of Vlaams Belang, a Belgian political party that officials outlawed in a previous incarnation (Vlaams Blok) as a “criminal organization” because of its racist anti-immigrant views.
•    Bigotry on the board. FAIR board member Donald Collins writes frequently for the website, named after Virginia Dare, said to have been the first English child born in the New World. The site is dedicated to bashing immigrants and has published the work of a broad array of white nationalists and anti-Semites. Collins’ articles have focused on attacking the Catholic Church over its stance on immigration, one of them accusing Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony of selling out his country “in exchange for more temporal power and glory.” In another, Collins said bishops were “infiltrating and manipulating the American political process” to attack the separation of church and state. Another FAIR board member, Richard Lamm, once said that “new cultures” in America were “diluting what we are and who we are.”
•    FAIR programming. FAIR has produced television programming under the title “Borderline” that featured interviews with white nationalists like Jared Taylor, who later launched the racist American Renaissance magazine, according to the anti-racist Center for New Community. FAIR’s “Borderline” program also featured a televised interview with Sam Francis, who went on to become editor of the publication of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group prone to gutter racism like posting on its website photo comparisons of the late black pop singer Michael Jackson and a chimpanzee.

In its press announcement, CIS alleges that the SPLC is attempting to “taint” both CIS and NumbersUSA by their close associations with Tanton, which are described in the SPLC’s 2009 report, “The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance.” Here are some facts about CIS:

•    Bigotry of the director. CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian, who is moderating the panel of speakers CIS has organized for the release of its anti-SPLC report, has made several ugly statements about minorities. Most recently, writing in National Review Online, he responded to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Haitians in a major earthquake by saying, “Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough.” The solution, he added, “would be to resume colonialism.” In 2008, shortly after the failure of Washington Mutual Bank, Krikorian found a press release recently issued by the bank that celebrated its inclusion on a list of “Business Diversity Elites.” He posted the news release at National Review Online with the headline “Cause and Effect?” — a clear suggestion that Washington Mutual’s commitment to opening its ranks to Latinos had caused its financial collapse.
•    Ties to John Tanton. Krikorian claims to have no “personal relationship” with Tanton, who has become an embarrassment to CIS. But the reality is that Tanton originated the idea for CIS and installed his close friend, Otis Graham, as its first director. (Graham has written that the civil rights movement falsely depicted America as a “nation of immigrants”; he also described the racist Immigration Act of 1924 as merely an honest attempt to preserve “a working American nationality.”) For his part, and despite his statement about not being close to Tanton, Krikorian worked at FAIR before coming to CIS, has participated in Tanton’s writers workshops, and has received letters from Tanton, including copies of correspondence with white nationalists and suggestions for various organizing tactics. Krikorian has generally avoided criticizing Tanton until earlier this month, when, in response to a question, Krikorian conceded that his colleague has “kind of a big tent policy, and his big tent is too big.”
•    Circulating of white nationalist material. CIS regularly circulates articles to its members that come from the white nationalist website.

In the case of NumbersUSA, executive director Roy Beck has downplayed his relationship with Tanton for the same reasons that CIS has. In a 2004 congressional hearing, Beck was especially cagey in response to questions from a congressman about that relationship. Here are some other facts about NumbersUSA and its leader:

•    Ties to John Tanton. NumbersUSA began life as a program of Tanton’s foundation, U.S. Inc., only becoming independent in 2002 — a fact that goes unmentioned in the group’s literature. Beck, in other words, was an employee of Tanton’s for a decade. During that period, he helped edit an anti-immigrant book by Tanton and another U.S. Inc. employee, white supremacist Wayne Lutton, that was banned as hate literature by Canadian border officials. Tanton often wrote Beck, including a letter in which he asked “whether the minorities who are going to inherit California … can run an advanced society.” Beck was also one of the editors of Tanton’s immigrant-bashing The Social Contract. Beck and his wife have vacationed with the Tantons, once joining them on a visit to the home of a member of the board of the Pioneer Fund. At one point, Tanton named Beck his “heir apparent,” which Beck says was an honor. Tax forms show that NumbersUSA still receives funding from U.S. Inc.
•    Associations with bigoted groups. Beck spoke in 1996 to a conference of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, though he says he did not understand the group’s racism until he arrived. (He still gave his speech.) In 2008, he spoke at a conference hosted by Tanton’s Social Contract Press.

Comments or suggestions? Send them to Have tips about the far right? Please email: Have documents you want to share? Please visit: Follow us on Twitter @Hatewatch.