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The FAIR Files: Founder Proposed ‘European-American Defense’ Group

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), has fiercely defended the group’s founder and current board member, John Tanton, despite his long history of racism. Just this past September, Stein told The Washington Post that Tanton is a “Renaissance man” of wide-ranging “intellect.” Stein’s comments were part of a general defense of FAIR, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group (for a summary of the reasons, see here).

Stein’s comments came despite the fact that Tanton has questioned the “educability” of Latinos, written that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that,” and wondered “whether the minorities who are going to inherit California … can run an advanced society?” No matter to Stein, who told the Post that attacks on Tanton for these and similar comments “are out of context and “simply do not reflect the true character of the man.’”

But documents stored in George Washington University’s Gelman Library by Otis Graham, a close friend of Tanton who helped him launch and run FAIR in the 1980s and who currently serves as a board member at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), make the point about Tanton’s interest in race one more time. Most instructive is a Tanton plan in the files to create what he called a “League for European-American Defense, Education and Research” or, to use Tanton’s acronym, LEADERs. In a 1993 cover memo attached to his LEADERs plan, Tanton, who is white, wrote to Graham: “For a decade or more, I have been musing about the drift in our society back toward organization along group lines, all the while realizing that there was no group for me – no legitimate group that I could join to further or defend my own particular social, cultural or linguistic interests.”

A serial creator of organizations, Tanton, who by then had already funded and founded an array of anti-immigration groups that included FAIR and CIS, added that “with the establishment of several national organizations behind me, I need to pick my targets carefully and in a way that reinforces what has gone before.” The plan makes clear that Tanton saw LEADERs as bolstering his anti-immigration work.

The document offers an argument as to why LEADERs, which is clearly a “European-American” (read: white) version of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, is needed: “[T[here is currently no socially acceptable umbrella organization to which persons of European ancestry can belong to defend and promote their common interests. Absent such an organization in a highly organized society, European-Americans will continue to see their history rewritten, their character and accomplishments denigrated, and their faults magnified. They will steadily lose ground and position to other groups… . For those not resigned to this gradual or not so gradual decline, a new organization tailored to the needs and interests of European-Americans as a group is essential.”

If it had come into being, LEADERs would have had several areas of concern, including defending “ourselves and our tradition against attacks,” countering “the denigration of Western culture” which Tanton writes is “under siege,” and stopping the “reduction of the European-American demographic and cultural majority to minority status.” On this last point, Tanton is adamant. “This is unacceptable; we decline to bequeath to our children minority status in their own land,” Tanton writes. “Thus immigration must be sharply reduced.”

The LEADERs idea had more than a passing similarity to former Klan leader David Duke’s National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP), which Duke founded in 1981. Now defunct, NAAWP was a white supremacist group that nevertheless portrayed itself as a mainstream civil rights organization that hated no one but was devoted to the defense and welfare of whites and “their” culture. (Among other actions, the group held in 2000 “Operation Appalachia,” a program it said was designed to “deliver the basic staples of life to ... the deserving folks of Appalachia ...  particularly among Whites of European extraction.”)

Tanton was well aware of Duke’s activities, as is made clear by a 1991 letter he wrote to Otis Graham. Tanton was interested in Duke’s campaign for governor of Louisiana that year, which Tanton described as based on “the excesses of affirmative action and illegitimate pregnancy.” Tanton told Graham that “there is a lot going on out there on the cultural and ethnic (racial) difference” front and added, in a hopeful tone, that it was “all tied to immigration policy. At some point, this is going to break the dam.”

Though FAIR officials have steadfastly denied Tanton’s racism, the 1993 LEADERs document makes crystal clear that Tanton’s concerns about immigration have long been driven by the non-white skin color of today’s immigrants, most of whom come from Latin America. No wonder Tanton’s hero is John Trevor Sr., founder of the racist American Coalition of Patriotic Societies and a key architect of the racially restrictive Immigration Act of 1924. Trevor also distributed pro-Nazi propaganda and warned shrilly of “diabolical Jewish control” of America. Tanton once said that Trevor should serve as FAIR’s “guidepost to what we must follow again this time.”

It’s hard not to wonder how Stein, who did not respond to a request for comment today, would view Tanton's LEADERs idea. Would he claim Tanton’s plan was being described “out of context?” Or might Stein consider that LEADERs actually represents Tanton’s “true character?” Whatever Stein may think, Tanton’s plan lays bare the fact that he is against immigration because today’s immigrants aren’t white like him.

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