Meet Oregon’s anti-immigrant hate group: Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR)

Founded in 2000, the McMinnville-based Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR) is the most prominent anti-immigrant group in the state. 

OFIR presents itself as a group “advocating for an environmentally sustainable level of immigration,” but, for almost two decades OFIR has demonized immigrants while working closely with nationally recognized anti-immigrant groups and figures.  OFIR’s co-founders and current leadership also have longstanding ties to hate groups and a history of making racist statements. 

OFIR’s ties to the broader anti-immigrant movement 

The organized anti-immigrant movement in the United States was founded by white nationalist John Tanton, a Michigan-based ophthalmologist-turned-population-control-alarmist who saw non-white immigration as the biggest threat to the United States. Beginning in the late ‘70s, Tanton founded and provided seed money for organizations that today are key players in the national anti-immigrant movement, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). Tanton’s views are summed up in a 1993 letter he wrote to a friend where he said, "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." 

Despite its connections to white supremacist groups and funders, Tanton’s flagship group FAIR grew in size and influence. In the late 1990s it helped launch a network of state-based groups that would push its nativist agenda in legislatures and city halls. OFIR was one of these groups and was formed in 2000.A 2001 FAIR annual report included praise from OFIR’s co-founder Frank Brehm: “In speaking with a number of members over the past week, they, like me, felt re-energized in the cause of immigration reform by your presentation and use of dialogue to assist the group in formulating strategy.” 

OFIR went to work pushing back against pro-immigrant legislation at the state and local levels. In 2006, OFIR organized a rally in Salem where State Rep. Kim Thatcher, who remains a staunch OFIR ally, took to the stage and attacked Oregon’s undocumented community by accusing Oregon of giving “cover to too many people wreaking havoc on our society.” According to the Statesman Journal, signs at the rally included phrases like “Stop the Illegal Invasion.” 

Like many groups active in the mid-2000s, OFIR actively participated in protests outside of day labor centers across the state. OFIR partnered with the Oregon chapter of the nativist extremist Minutemen Civil Defense Corps (MCDC) on many of these protests.

Soon, OFIR began to tap into the “minutemen” national leadership. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “In 2007, OFIR leadership participated in an event with border vigilante leader Jim Gilchrist, the co-founder of another Minuteman group, the Minuteman Project. In the past, Gilchrist has referred to immigrants as the ‘Mexican Klan’ and ‘Mexican Nazis.’ OFIR participated in a rally with Gilchrist in Eugene, Oregon, as part of his visit to the state.” 

A 2009 OFIR newsletter praised Oregon Minuteman Ted Campbell for helping to organize protests for the group. The same newsletter indicated that Campbell was tapped by an OFIR nominating committee as their choice to become its vice-president. 

In 2014, OFIR organized an anti-immigrant rally on an overpass as part of a larger national day of protest. Members of the white nationalist political party American Freedom Party (AFP) attended the event. 

In 2015, OFIR participated in a large rally in Salem where Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, served as a keynote speaker. Prior to the event, OFIR issued a press release praising Arpaio and encouraging members to attend. OFIR’s president, Cynthia Kendoll, also spoke at the event and posed for a photo with Arpaio. A year later, the anti-immigrant sheriff  was convicted in U.S. District Court in Arizona in of criminal contempt-of-court for ignoring a federal judge's order in a long-simmering racial profiling case. 

In early 2017, OFIR invited Jessica Vaughan of the Tanton-founded hate group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) to address one of its meetings. Vaughan argued in the past that one of the lasting legacies of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) immigration policy for those fleeing violence and natural disasters in their home countries is “the burgeoning street gang problem in the United States.” 

OFIR’s co-founders and current leadership 

Elizabeth Van Staaveren: OFIR co-founder

Elizabeth Van Staaveren, an OFIR co-founder, does not currently hold a leadership position with the group but is a regular contributor to the group’s blog and a major financial supporter of the 2018 referendum effort. As documented by Right Wing Watch, Van Staaveren is also a major financier of the anti-immigrant hate group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) headed by North Carolina-based anti-immigrant extremist William Gheen. Gheen once said that Mexican-American immigrants “may smile at you as they serve you your cheeseburger” but what they really want is “for you and your whole family to die.” Since 2006, Van Staaveren has donated over $57,000 to Gheen’s ALIPAC. 

In a January 2016, op-ed in the Statesman-Journal, Van Staaveren described refugees as, “a mixed group, and may include genuine refugees, adventurists, economic migrants, terrorists, criminals and con artists.” Media Matters for America also reports that Van Staaveren has donated over $31,000 to the U.S. Immigration Reform PAC (USIRPAC). USIRPAC funds nativist candidates and is headed by John Tanton’s wife, Mary Lou. 

Frank Brehm: OFIR co-founder 

Co-founder Frank Brehm, formerly headed another nativist group also called Oregonians for Immigration Reform but with the acronym OIR. For a time the OIR website was hosted in a section of NewNation.org, a vile white nationalist website full of racist headlines such as, “(White) Woman assaulted in restroom at Memorial City Mall (by vicious black jungle beast rapist),” and “New York Fire Department lowers standards to recruit Negroes, minorities and Lesbian women - Nigro wants more Negroes.” 

Brehm’s OIR website also linked to The Spotlight,a virulently antisemitic publication founded by Willis Carto, who was active on the radical right for over five decades before his death in 2015. In a 2014 email to the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, Brehm admitted that he had been “given a free platform,” by NewNation.org to host the OIR site. 

Brehm went on to cofound OFIR and was involved with the group in differing capacities for a total of 11 years, according to a 2011 post on the group’s Facebook page thanking him for his work. 

Cynthia Kendoll: OFIR president 

In October 2014, following OFIR’s successful effort to get the driver’s license initiative on the ballot, Cynthia Kendoll accepted an invitation to speak at The Social Contract Press (TSCP), another anti-immigrant organization founded by John Tanton and a home for white nationalists like Wayne Lutton. At the event, K.C. McAlpin, who has described Islam as a “hostile, intolerant, and totalitarian ideology masquerading as a religion,” introduced Kendoll who thanked McAlpin for donating to the ballot initiative. "[McAlpin’s group U.S. Inc] very generously helped us out with the referendum and our expenses and we appreciated that. We couldn't have done it without them." Kendoll also praised VDARE contributor Paul Nachman for supporting the effort. In recent posts for VDARE, Nachman questioned the existence of “moderate Muslims” and called refugees “good liars.”

A transcript of Kendoll’s speech was republished on VDARE, with its founder, the white nationalist Peter Brimelow, singing Kendoll’s praises. According to the Center for New Community, Kendall attended the event again in 2015. She has also attended FAIR’s annual “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” event on multiple occasions and FAIR’s border tours in 2012 and 2014. Kendoll also attended tours organized by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in 20122015 and 2016

In an interview with the Willamette Weeklyin 2014, Kendoll demonstrated her grasp of white nationalist rhetoric by stating, “We are told all the time that people come here and want to become Americans. I don't think they're interested in becoming U.S. citizens. It's just an organized assault on our culture."

Richard LaMountain: OFIR vice president 

OFIR’s vice president Richard LaMountain has a record of contributing to extremist publications. He has been published in the nativist Middle American News (MAN), on multiple occasions. MAN featured regular commentaries from anti-immigrant leaders and white nationalists such as John Vinson from the hate group Americans for Immigration Control Foundation (AICF). Sam Francis, a highly influential white nationalist had a regular column in MAN until his death in 2005.  LaMountain has also written three pieces for VDARE— an online hub for white nationalists and antisemites — most recently in 2016. 

In 2007, LaMountain wrote a letter to the antisemitic publication American Free Press (AFP). AFP, like The Spotlight was founded by Carto. The letter, published in AFP’s May 2007 issue, argued that if Iraqi refugees of the American war were allowed to resettle in the U.S., they “will resist assimilation to American society” and that some “may even be inclined toward anti-American armed attacks.” 

In 2016, Portland Community College (PCC) organized a “White History Month” to examine the concept of white privilege. LaMountain was outraged, according to the Portland Tribune, asserting the event would invoke "shame and guilt in white Americans." In a letter to the Tribunein 2017 that was subsequently published on the OFIR website, LaMountain echoed white nationalist rhetoric in another attack on the university, writing, “Over the past half-century, American governments, colleges and businesses have instituted aggressive ‘diversity,’ affirmative-action and minority set-aside policies. These give citizens and even non-citizens of color preferences for educations, jobs and promotions over the very citizens PCC alleged are ‘privileged’ by ‘whiteness.’”

Lyneil Vandermolen: OFIR secretary 

Lyneil Vandermolen currently serves as OFIR’s secretary. In a 2009 interview with The Oregonian, Vandermolen stated, "Europeans worked hard to be American, to learn English. Latinos, they're the biggest group, but also the Muslims. These cultures," she continued, "are interested in assimilating us."

On Martin Luther King, Jr., Day in 2017, the city of Wilsonville, Oregon, issued a proclamation declaring that the city was both inclusive and welcoming. The Portland Tribune interviewed Vandermolen who disagreed."I think that it carries a subtext that most Americans are a bunch of closet racists, bigots, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes and now there's even a pregnancy phobia, because you mentioned it there. I don't think that we need the shaming. That's bad subtext to give to people who live in this town. I'm tired as a citizen of being harangued, belittled and constantly lectured about how I'm some sort of a closet phobic. I don't think that we need that here because it's just another form of narrow mindedness," she said.

Despite an almost two-decade-long track record of racism, OFIR has fostered relationships with Oregon legislators and has been successful in combatting pro-immigrant legislation.