The former press secretary of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) filed an official complaint Tuesday against his ex-employer, alleging discrimination and harassment, even at the hands of leaders at the organization.
In the complaint filed with the Washington, D.C., Office of Human Rights, Joe Gomez described being subjected to harassment based on race, national origin and disability. He said colleagues used racial slurs, mocked his heritage and exacerbated a medical condition that caused him to shake from anxiety, then taunted him about it.
FAIR is part of a network of organizations founded by John Tanton, the architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement. Tanton’s racist sympathies have been reported on since the 1980s, when a series of memos he wrote for employees of FAIR became public. They were full of derogatory stereotypes about people from Latin America and fretted about a coming “Latin onslaught.”
Gomez, a former correspondent for NBC News Radio, said he took the communications role at FAIR last November because he wanted a job with a normal work schedule. Years of doing radio in the wee hours of the morning had taken a toll.
“I wanted to have regular hours and be a regular person,” he said. “That was what appealed to me about the job — I honestly wasn’t too specific.”
He said he had an interest in immigration reform after doing work at the border as a reporter, and FAIR billed themselves as an organization “tough on border security.” He perceived their policy positions as more middle-of-the-road than their designation as a hate group would suggest. But the maltreatment Gomez said he experienced at the organization has caused him to reconsider.
“It’s totally changed,” he said. “Based on my experience anyways, I believe that they do discriminate based on race and national origin.”
Shortly after he began work at FAIR, Gomez said, troubling encounters caused him to wonder if he’d made a mistake. In particular, he said he was rattled by an incident he described in the complaint: He alleges FAIR executive director Bob Dane called him into his office and berated him for ten minutes about a comment Gomez had made that referenced former FAIR executive director Julie Kirchner’s involvement with the Trump campaign. According to the complaint, Dane “verbally accosted [Gomez] with more expletives and put-downs than he had ever heard before.”
“After that I was like, ‘Oh, boy,’” Gomez said. “It struck me that possibly a mistake had been made.” The encounter happened only a week into his tenure, he explained, and he decided to stick it out. But according to Gomez, disquieting things kept happening. Communications director Dave Ray would frequently reference his ethnicity in an unprofessional manner, Gomez said. Gomez, who is not fluent in Spanish, said Ray would often address him with phrases like, “Hola hombre,” or “Que paso?”, and he said he heard other colleagues use a mocking Hispanic accent.
“I’ve worked in a lot of newsrooms in my career, and I’ve never been treated that way, ever,” Gomez said.
Gomez also alleges in his complaint that one FAIR employee, Jennifer Hickey, used the word “spic” twice to his knowledge, once when she described characters in a FAIR-produced cartoon Gomez was narrating as “a bunch of spics jumping all over each other,” and another time in reference to Gomez himself. He appeared in a Facebook Live video alongside the research director, a white man, and Hickey called the pair, “the spic and the hick,” according to a white videographer who was present. Both incidents occurred in the presence of leadership, Gomez said, but nothing was done. On another occasion, the complaint says, FAIR digital director Gabriela Trainor “offered to pretend to be an ‘illegal alien from Mexico’ and smear herself with mud.”
FAIR president Dan Stein, who has said immigration is a political tool “to retaliate against Anglo-Saxon dominance and hubris,” would also ridicule Gomez for not being able to speak Spanish, according to the complaint. He also allegedly chided Gomez for the map of Latin America he had kept in his office, asking, “Why the hell do you have that on your wall?” (Stein once told Tucker Carlson in an interview, “Many [immigrants] hate America, hate everything that the United States stands for. Talk to some of these Central Americans.”)
Other things about Gomez’s employment at FAIR and the organization’s approach to immigration policy made him feel ill at ease. He said Dane “browbeat” him when he said he would prefer to say “illegal immigrant” instead of “illegal alien” and explained he found the “alien” term offensive. Dane insisted, Gomez said, and he eventually acquiesced, but continued to feel uncomfortable. “It would sting when it rolled off the tongue,” he said.
“I feel awful about some of the things I was a part of,” he said. “I regret not trusting my gut, and not looking behind the curtain.”
Gomez said working at FAIR was the first time he knew experienced true discrimination. “It’s a horrible feeling,” he said. “You feel helplessness, and you know — you just know — that no one is going to come to your defense.”
The months he spent at FAIR, Gomez said, caused stress that exacerbated an anxiety problem that caused him to shake. He takes medication to manage the condition. According to Gomez, Dane “took a special joy” in watching him shake. One day in July, Gomez said, Dane asked him to raise his arm up in the air so he could see it. “It shook and he was laughing,” Gomez said. “It was sick.” It was his last day in the office. The next morning Gomez resigned.
Gomez said he decided to come forward because he didn’t want anyone else to suffer the same treatment. “It’s a painful process getting over it,” he said. “You leave and you still feel like you’ve done something wrong.”
FAIR has deep influence in the Trump administration. As Gomez was allegedly reprimanded for pointing out, former FAIR executive director Julie Kirchner was an advisor to the Trump campaign. She is now the Citizenship and Immigration Services ombudsman within the Department of Homeland Security. John Zadrozny, another ex-FAIR employee, worked on the White House Domestic Policy Council and is now with the State Department.Ian Smith, formerly employed with FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, has just resigned his position at Homeland Security. Leaked emails, obtained and shared by the Atlantic, appeared to tie him to white nationalists Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor.
If Gomez’s complaint results in any remuneration, he said, he plans to donate a portion of it to benefit migrants.
“I turned a blind eye to some things I probably should not have, and I feel badly about that,” he said. “If there’s anything I can do going forward to make up for that, I will.”
Photo: screenshot from YouTube