The Austin chapter of the Sierra Club has pulled out of this week’s Austin Earth Day event citing the presence of anti-immigrant groups at the upcoming Dallas Earth Day event, the largest in the world.
“We cannot, in good conscience, support an event nor its main funder if it encourages anti-immigrant and racist sentiments,” Austin’s Sierra Club chair Damien Brockman told the Austin American-Statesman.
The three anti-immigrant groups participating in the Dallas Earth Day event –– the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA and Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) –– are three key cogs in the broader anti-immigrant movement. The Austin chapter raised their concerns to the organizers of the Dallas event over a year ago to no avail, prompting their decision.
FAIR leaders have ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements. Its founder, white nationalist John Tanton, has expressed a wish that America remain a majority-white population: a goal to be achieved by limiting the number of non-whites who enter the country. Longtime FAIR president, Dan Stein, told the Wall Street Journal in 1997, "Should we be subsidizing people with low IQs to have as many children as possible, and not subsidizing those with high ones?"
NumbersUSA serves as the anti-immigrant movement’s grassroots mobilization group. Founded by Roy Beck, a Tanton disciple, NumbersUSA also has a history steeped in racism. Beck has twice addressed the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the group Charleston shooter Dylann Roof cited as his gateway into the white nationalist world. The CCC has referred to African-Americans as a “retrograde species of humanity,” and NumbersUSA featured white nationalist Roan Garcia-Quintana, a CCC board member, in two videos on immigration produced in the late 2000’s.
PFIR, one of the anti-immigrant movement’s “front groups” started with the help of the bigger organizations including NumbersUSA, attempts to lend a veneer of legitimacy to the movement by arguing that “progressives” are in opposition to immigration reform.
Leah Durant, PFIR’s executive director, gave an interview in 2009 to Peter Gemma, a white nationalist writing for the Social Contract Press (TSCP). Apart from his role leading a racist tabloid for the CCC, Gemma is part of the American Holocaust denial movement, reviewing a book by David Irving for the racist Occidental Quarterly journal, organizing a 2005 speaking event for Irving, and giving a speech at the Institute for Historical Review. Gemma has been photographed with Leah Durant and another anti-Semite, Wayne Lutton at anti-immigrant events.
Real estate magnate Trammell S. Crow, is the founder of the Dallas event and chief patron of the smaller Austin event is also a good friend of the anti-immigrant movement. In 2012, the Dallas Morning News revealed that Crow had donated a whopping $500,000 to help cover the costs of legal fees to defend an anti-immigrant ordinance in the town of Farmers Branch, a suburb of Dallas.
So why are three anti-immigrant groups with long, racist histories participating in the largest Earth Day event in the world? The answer lies in a key tactic used by the anti-immigrant movement, something called “greenwashing.”
Greenwashing is an attempt by immigration opponents to convince environmentalists that they, too, must oppose immigration if they are to save the environment from the ravages of population growth. Many of the anti-immigrant movement’s founders, including Tanton, considered themselves environmentalists. (Tanton, for one, was very active in the Sierra Club before he turned to nativism.)
The Sierra Club also has a history of battling with the anti-immigrant movement. In 1998, following the Club’s decision to take a neutral stance on the issue of immigration, a number of anti-immigrant activists attempted a hostile takeover of the organization’s national board. In 2004, nativists mounted a more serious effort to take over the Sierra Club's board of directors, an attempt that was beaten back only after a strenuous campaign by club members and groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The three anti-immigrant activists who ran unsuccessfully for the Sierra Club board in 2004 — Dick Lamm, former Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Executive Director Frank Morris and Cornell University entomology professor David Pimentel — joined PFIR's board when it formed in 2009. The attempt was a classic case of "greenwashing" — a cynical effort by nativist activists to seduce environmentalists to join their cause for purely strategic reasons.
The Austin chapter of the Sierra Club’s move to pull out of the Austin Earth Day event is a positive one and should serve as a warning to other environmental groups. The anti-immigrant movement is hell-bent on coaxing environmentalists to join its cause, and events like the Dallas Earth Day are exactly the venue and opportunity they are looking for.
Editors' Note (4/21/16): This post has been updated to correct that the event boycotted by the Austin chapter of the Sierra Club is the Austin Earth Day event, not the Dallas Earth Day event.