Hate groups like Center for Immigration Studies want you to believe they’re mainstream

In the nearly 30 years since the Southern Poverty Law Center has been monitoring the American radical right we’ve seen a major shift in the nature of organized groups that specialize in vilifying certain people because of their race, ethnicity or other characteristic.

In the beginning, they were the usual suspects: Klan factions, neo-Nazi groups, black separatists, racist skinheads and the like.

We’re in a different world today. Hate has gone mainstream. Today, the purveyors of hate don’t always burn crosses or use racial slurs. They might wear suits and ties. They might have sophisticated public relations operations. They might even testify before Congress.

They’re also more likely to be animated by a nativist or white nationalist ideology that sees the “white race” as being under siege by immigrants of color across the Western world. Reflecting this trend, our annual list of hate groups has evolved to include more groups closely linked to white nationalism.

This year, for the first time, we listed the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a nativist think tank that churns out a constant stream of fear-mongering misinformation about Latino immigrants. Predictably, the hate group designation provoked an attack by the group’s executive director, Mark Krikorian, whose March 17 commentary in The Washington Post accused the SPLC of conflating groups like the Klan with groups, like his, that “simply do not share” our political beliefs.

It’s understandable that Krikorian would recoil from being labeled a “hate group.” But the CIS has earned it – and not only because of statements by Krikorian, such as his suggestion after the devastating earthquake in Haiti that the country is so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough.”

CIS is the brainchild of John Tanton, the father of the modern nativist movement, and part of a network of closely related anti-immigrant groups that Tanton founded. These groups have been responsible for much of the hysteria about immigrants that dominates conservative politics.

Tanton, a retired Michigan ophthalmologist, spent decades at the heart of the white nationalist movement. In addition to his flagship organization, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), he founded and operated the Social Contract Press, which has published numerous overtly racist tracts, including the rancid novel Camp of the Saints.

Tanton’s worldview can be summed up in a letter he wrote to a friend in 1993: “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” It was a New York Times expose of Tanton’s history of working with racists and Holocaust deniers that finally forced him off the board of FAIR in 2011.

Krikorian doesn’t defend Tanton’s views but dismisses his involvement with CIS as “irrelevant.” But the fact is, CIS and FAIR are branches of the same family tree.

In a 1985 memo, Tanton describes establishing CIS as a project of FAIR, and the two groups shared board members for years.

But the association with Tanton was not enough to earn the hate group label. There’s more.

In recent years, CIS has routinely disseminated the works of white nationalist writers, including Jared Taylor of American Renaissance. Taylor has written that “[w]hen blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization – any kind of civilization – disappears.”

In January, CIS promoted an article by Kevin MacDonald, the anti-Semitic editor of the journal Occidental Quarterly, that first appeared on VDARE, a website run by white nationalist Peter Brimelow and named for Virginia Dare, supposedly the first white child born in the New World. In the article, MacDonald asks why “Jewish organizations” are promoting “the refugee invasion of Europe.”

In the past year, CIS also has circulated six articles from VDARE by John Derbyshire, who was fired from the conservative National Review after writing a racist essay.

In June 2016, CIS distributed an article from John Friend, a contributing editor of the anti-Semitic The Barnes Review, claiming that “so-called refugees are committing rape and other horrific crimes against European women and men in increasing numbers.” Friend once described the Holocaust as a “manufactured narrative, chock full of a wide variety of ridiculous claims and impossible events, all to advance the Jewish agenda of world domination and subjugation.”

Krikorian incredulously suggests that CIS’ promotion of white nationalists was merely an accident – that the group’s newsletters “occasionally included pieces by writers who turned out to be cranks.”

He does, however, defend the work of Jason Richwine, who now blogs and writes reports for CIS. Richwine resigned from the conservative Heritage Foundation after his Harvard dissertation asserting that Latino immigrants are less intelligent than “native whites” came to light. Richwine has also been a contributor to white nationalist leader Richard Spencer’s website Alternative Right.

Krikorian argues that our hate group list is intended to shut down debate about issues such as immigration. Again, not true. Our purpose is to help the public understand just who’s doing the talking.