The name of John Tanton, which quietly disappeared from the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s (FAIR) list of its board of directors in the days following a major April 17 New York Times story outlining Tanton’s racist views, has just as quietly returned. This time, the 77-year-old FAIR founder and architect of the modern anti-immigration movement is listed as a member of FAIR’s national board of advisors.
The Times story had described Tanton as a currently serving member of FAIR’s board – a reasonable claim, given that the group’s website listed him as such and that the Times reporter had been speaking to FAIR officials about Tanton for months and they never mentioned that Tanton had left. Speaking with the Times for an April 27 follow-up piece about the disappearance of Tanton’s name from the list, FAIR President Dan Stein said that Tanton left the board two months before the article came out. He backed up his claim by forwarding reporter Jason DeParle, the Times reporter who wrote both articles, a Feb. 3 E-mail in which Tanton announced to the board that he would not seek re-election after his current term expired.
In his comments for DeParle’s first story, Stein described Tanton as a “relatively inactive” board member – but did not say that he was about to depart. That fact was also not included in FAIR’s press release from the day after the Times story appeared, in which Stein reviled the front-page feature as “recycling decades-old baseless allegations, quoting out-of-context statements, and implying guilt by association.” The release claimed FAIR does not discriminate on the basis of “race, creed, color, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”
What it didn’t do is mention Tanton, who Stein in 2009 called a “Renaissance man” of wide-ranging “intellect,” or Tanton’s longstanding white nationalism. That may well be because Stein and FAIR clearly share many of Tanton’s views.
Stein told DeParle that he had not mentioned Tanton’s retirement from the board because he didn’t consider it newsworthy — even though DeParle’s entire front-page piece was about Tanton, as Stein clearly knew well in advance. “I would certainly object strenuously if you characterized this somehow as a byproduct of external pressures,” Stein added in his remarks to DeParle.
It is no secret that Tanton, elderly and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, has been retreating from public life in the past couple of years – and it’s entirely plausible that he chose not to seek re-election to the board for this reason. But given the brouhaha over its disappearance, the unannounced return of his name to FAIR’s website (albeit as a member of a different advisory body) is as mystifying as its original removal.