In Southern California, once-prominent nativist Joseph Turner has returned to anti-immigrant activism, forming a new organization in 2017 that announced ballot initiatives in several local jurisdictions targeting undocumented children and so-called sanctuary cities.
American Children First, introduced by Turner last March, declares on its website, “Activism is a Contact Sport,” and Turner writes, “You can read the news and share it on Facebook. Or you can make the news. If you want to make the news then you need to join American Children First and get in the game.”
Turner managed to make the news with a proposed ballot initiative intended to keep undocumented children out of a public school district, and two proposed city initiatives targeting taxpayer funding for cities friendly to undocumented immigrants, but beyond the initial flurries of press coverage for each venture, his proposals have gone nowhere.
Even dating back to high school, Turner was an immigration opponent, giving a speech in the school cafeteria in support of Proposition 187, a California ballot initiative to keep undocumented immigrants out of public schools and hospitals. Proposition 187 was found unconstitutional when challenged in court.
In late 2004, Turner launched his first anti-immigration group, Save Our State (SOS), in Southern California. Save Our State organized protests against day laborers and regularly held anti-immigrant rallies, which routinely attracted neo-Nazis and racist skinheads. SOS events were also promoted by racists on the white supremacist Stormfront website.
Turner denied being a racist himself, but wrote on Save Our State’s web forum in 2005, “I can make the argument that just because one believes in white separatism that does not make them a racist,” and “I can make the argument that someone who proclaims to be a white nationalist isn’t necessarily a white supremacist. I don’t think that standing up for your ‘kind’ or ‘your race’ makes you a bad person.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center listed Save Our State as a hate group in 2005.
In 2006, Turner spearheaded a campaign in San Bernardino for “The San Bernardino Illegal Immigrant Relief Act,” which would have barred landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants and closed day labor centers. The ordinance failed in a city council vote and Turner failed to get enough signatures to put the legislation on the ballot.
In November 2006, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), another anti-immigrant hate group, hired Turner as its western region representative. But Turner’s history with Save Our State may have proved even too radical for FAIR, as he was let go from the organization 13 months later.
Turner was largely quiet and missing from the anti-immigrant activist scene after his dismissal from FAIR until the formation of American Children First in March 2017.
He told anti-immigrant activist Ruthie Hendrycks that Donald Trump’s election reinvigorated his activism, saying in an interview, “With the election of Donald Trump I was reenergized and I felt this was a narrow opportunity to save our country from the illegal immigration crisis.”
Calling its members “proud, unapologetic nationalists,” Turner employed the language of the racist “alt-right” to declare on the American Children First website, “Momentum is a very fragile thing and we must fight like hell to ensure that ‘America First’ policies are enacted before GOP establishment c---servatives work in concert with the radical leftists to sabotage President Trump and subvert the will of the American people.”
Turner’s first project with American Children First was announcing a proposed ballot initiative to prohibit undocumented children from attending public schools in the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District near San Bernardino. The initiative would also have prevented children who are citizens but whose parents are undocumented from attending school without paying a “non-resident” tuition fee.
The initiative was meant to challenge a 1982 Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, which struck down a Texas law restricting free public school to citizens.
Turner submitted the notice for the measure to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters on April 3, 2017 in order to begin soliciting signatures in order to get the initiative on the ballot. Though Turner’s proposal received plenty of media attention locally, and Turner whined about threats of violence and “racist comments about his Asian girlfriend” in the wake of the publicity to the local paper, there was little press coverage when the San Bernardino Registrar of Voters, Michael J. Scarpello, sent a letter to Turner explaining that his proposals fell under the authority of the state legislature and “the request and notice of intent cannot be processed.”
Reached for comment by Hatewatch, Scarpello said of Turner’s initiative proposal, “It’s a distant memory now, I remember it vaguely. There have been no further efforts through our office since then.”
Nonetheless, the American Children First website still touts “The American Children First Initiative” as one of its primary projects, with no mention of the effort’s failure before it ever got off the ground.
Turner’s next project, announced in June 2017, was an effort to defund so-called sanctuary cities. He began with the city of Cudahy, the second smallest city in Los Angeles County. Cudahy’s city council declared itself a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants on January 6, 2015.
This initiative would have targeted a tax on utility bills that provides around 13.5 percent of the city’s general fund revenue. Turner based the legality of the initiative to repeal the tax on a 1996 California law that gives residents the power to vote down certain local taxes.
Again, Turner’s “Operation Defund Sanctuary Cities” received plenty of press attention, and Turner launched a GoFundMe site to raise money to expand the effort to other sanctuary cities (the page has received $1,270 of its $30,000 goal).
Later in June, American Children First and Turner targeted the city of Huntington Park, another small municipality in Los Angeles County, with an identical initiative to defund part of its revenue. Turner held a press conference at City Hall announcing the effort. Huntington Park has never declared itself a sanctuary city, a spokesperson confirmed to Hatewatch, but in 2015 a city council member appointed two non-citizens to advisory commissions, sparking the ire of anti-immigrant activists like Turner, as well as the virulent Southern California anti-immigrant group We the People Rising.
In both Cudahy and Huntington Park, Turner submitted notices stating he intended to circulate petitions to get the initiatives on the ballot. But again, though the American Children First website trumpets Turner’s legislative attempts, there’s no mention that both efforts failed, due to what seems to be a lack of follow-through by Turner.
“They turned in their intent to circulate but they never continued from there,” Richard Iglesias, the deputy city clerk for Cudahy, told Hatewatch. “Their next step was to turn in signatures. They never turned in the signatures. The deadline for that was December 23, and the deadline passed.”
Donna Schwartz, the city clerk for Huntington Park, told Hatewatch in a statement, “No further submittal by the America’s Children First group has been presented to my office. This includes no proof of posting or publication or signatures to their proposed initiative.”
Hatewatch asked Turner what happened to the initiatives in Cudahy and Huntington Park via telephone, but he responded, “I have no interest in talking to the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
Since the summer, Turner seems to have focused on exposing alleged sexual misconduct by California legislators, but since the inception of American Children First, he’s kept a steady stream of racist content on the group’s Facebook page.
In April, Turner posted on Facebook about befriending white nationalist James Allsup, calling him “an incredibly talented young man,” and writing “when I see talent and youth like this, it lifts my spirits.” A few days later he promoted a video on the American Children First Facebook page of white nationalist Nathan Damigo punching a female antifa protester in the face at the so-called “Battle of Berkeley.”
Turner posted a photo of himself marching with a contingent of Proud Boys in Los Angeles on May Day. He’s also used the American Children First Facebook page to state “Leftist hate and animus towards Jewish people is well documented,” and “La Reqonquista de Aztlan is real. I would make the argument that the DACA dreamers who are being brainwashed in our K-12 and universities are in fact the greater threat to America’s future.”
In recent weeks, Turner — described in an author’s bio as “a nationalist hard-liner on illegal immigration issues” — has been writing about immigration and sexual misconduct by legislators for the website of Pizzagate promoter and rape apologist Mike Cernovich.