It’s become almost a late-summer ritual on the anti-immigration front: The hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) bringing together a group of conservative talk radio hosts to bash immigrants and cheer on President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric.
The “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” gathering, to be held this year at the Phoenix Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and Thursday, is expected to draw more than 60 radio hosts as well as nativist politicians, activists and law enforcement officials to make a push for more anti-immigration rhetoric before the mid-term elections.
The radio host gathering comes as part of a week of anti-immigration activities in Washington, D.C., including sheriffs rallying at the White House to discuss the impact of illegal immigration on their communities.
This year’s meetup comes on the heels of the death of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. The 20-year-old disappeared in July while jogging. Her body was found a month later. Police say a 24-year-old migrant farm worker, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, led investigators to her remains.
Tibbetts’ death and Rivera’s immigration status have become talking points on the far right. That’s despite Tibbetts’ family asking racists not to use her death to advance their ideology.
Past participants in and guests at FAIR’s radio host gathering have also sought to politicize the student’s death. U.S. Rep. Steve King, a nativist Republican from Iowa who used a picture of Tibbetts on an anti-immigration tweet in August, has been a frequent participant at the FAIR event.
“Every victim below would be alive today if we enforced our immigration laws,” King tweeted, above a picture of Tibbetts and other victims. "Leftists sacrificed thousands, including their own, on the altar of Political Correctness.”
But the event also comes at an awkward time for FAIR. The group’s former press secretary, Joe Gomez, a Mexican American and African American, is pursuing a discrimination and harassment complaint against FAIR with Washington, D.C.’s Office of Human Rights alleging that his colleagues there used racial slurs, mocked his heritage and exacerbated a medical condition that caused him to shake from anxiety, then taunted him about it.
“I feel awful about some of the things I was a part of,” he said. Of the organization itself he said: “I don’t know that they’re that policy-oriented...Does the policy go anywhere? There was no real movement at all. It was kind of a joke between [the Center for Immigration Studies] CIS and Numbers USA that FAIR was this beast, feeding off its own largesse.”
It is unclear how much Gomez’s July resignation will come up at the gathering this week. In a statement, FAIR President and anti-immigrant extremist Dan Stein dismissed Gomez’s allegations, saying he was treated “like a prince.”
With the bent of this year’s gathering aimed at November’s elections — FAIR is calling it an “Immigration and Midterms Special Event” — the political hot button of Tibbetts’ death and any links to immigration will surely be on the agenda.
FAIR has exercised significant political influence in recent years, with a number of former employees jumping over to the Trump administration.
Julie Kirchner, former FAIR director, left the organization in 2015 to act as an immigration adviser to the Trump campaign. She is now the Citizenship and Immigration Services ombudsman. John Zadrozny, also formerly of FAIR, has moved to the State Department following his stint on the Domestic Policy Council.
Ian Smith, who was previously employed by FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), resigned his position as policy analyst on immigration issues at Homeland Security on August 28, 2018, after emails leaked to and shared by The Atlantic appeared to tie him to white nationalists Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor.
The event in the past has drawn a number of politicians and activists, including white nationalist Peter Brimelow, who runs the website VDARE , a gathering point for white nationalists and antisemites. Racist former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan is also a regular attendee.
FAIR’s gathering also draws heavily from the world of law enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol. Multiple sheriffs, including Tom Hodgson of Bristol County, Massachusetts, Chuck Jenkins of Frederick County, Maryland, and Sam Page of Rockingham County, North Carolina, have taken part in FAIR’s talkathon. They have all been publicly outspoken against undocumented immigrants.
Current and former Trump administration officials have also taken part in the event in recent years. Current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions attended while a senator from Alabama. Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, who left the White House in August 2017, attended the event last year before leaving the government. In his remarks, Gorka criticized so-called “sanctuary cities” and threatened to pull federal grants from those locales, a common threat from the Trump administration.
Columnist and provocateur Michelle Malkin praised FAIR’s work and Trump’s nativist advisers during the gathering in the past.
“I like the fact that we have him in the White House,” Malkin said, adding, “and with brilliant policy advisers and analysts and strategists like [senior policy adviser] Stephen Miller, we know we’ve got a voice in the White House like we’ve never had before.”
Swathi Shanmugasundaram contributed reporting.