Hatewatch

The Tanton Files: More on FAIR Founder’s White Nationalism

I’ve spent the past week going through piles of correspondence written over the years by John Tanton, the racist founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which the Southern Poverty Law Center added to its list of hate groups in 2007. While digging, I came across a memo that shows once more how deeply invested Tanton really has been in the white nationalist movement. Dated March 2, 1993, the memo is entitled “SECOND DRAFT PROPOSAL FOR LEADERs.”

The document, housed in a university library in Michigan, is addressed to three principals of America’s white nationalist movement: Sam Francis, the late editor of the Citizens Informer journal, which is published by the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC); Jared Taylor, editor of the race-science newsletter American Renaissance; and Wayne Lutton, a member of several hate groups who is a former editorial advisor to the CCC and a current board member of American Renaissance’s parent organization, the New Century Foundation. Most importantly, Lutton has worked for years from the same office as Tanton in Petoskey, Mich., where the men put out the nativist hate journal, The Social Contract.

Tanton’s 1993 memo, along with an accompanying draft proposal, are a summation of the discussions these men had over the creation of a new organization dreamed up by Tanton and tentatively called the League for European-American Defense, Education and Research or, to use Tanton’s shorthand, LEADERs. The memo suggests that the group knew LEADERs, which never came into being, would be controversial and that all involved needed to be careful with their words. Tanton warned that the organization “should have a cultural denotation, not a racial one, even if the two are roughly equivalent: European-American rather than white.”

LEADERs, in other words, would be a group dedicated to defending the interests and reputation of white people. “[T[here is currently no socially acceptable umbrella organization to which persons of European ancestry can belong to defend and promote their common interests,” Tanton wrote. “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 describes as being “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.”

What was unknown at the time Hatewatch first reported on LEADERs was that Tanton had worked so closely with prominent white nationalists to create the group. His 1993 memo to Francis, Taylor and Lutton specifically thanks the men for their “input,” which Tanton found “all very thoughtful.” The second draft proposal of LEADERs, which embodies the group’s “suggestions,” can be found here.

Given the four men involved, it is no wonder that the proposed LEADERs group sounds a lot like 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 nationalist group that 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. In fact, the NAAWP trafficked heavily in false stereotypes about the alleged evils of black people, focusing especially on accusing them of innate criminality. While FAIR is more careful in the language it uses, many of its principals, including Tanton, have often denigrated Latinos, Catholics and other immigrants in similar ways.

Attempts to contact FAIR President Dan Stein for comment about the LEADERs proposal and Tanton, who remains on FAIR’s board, were not answered. But Stein has always fiercely defended Tanton, despite Tanton’s history. In September 2009, Stein told The Washington Post that he saw Tanton as a “Renaissance man” of wide-ranging “intellect.”

The explosive contents of many of Tanton’s private memos and correspondence — which are stored at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and which have been made public by the Southern Poverty Law Center over the last couple of years — has not helped the reputation of FAIR or its founder. So it’s not much of a surprise to learn that, when Tanton recently added several folders including his 2002-2007 correspondence to the Bentley Library, he restricted access to the new documents until April 2025.