Former Klan leader David Duke once famously urged his fellow Klansmen to “get out of the cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms” if they hoped to accomplish their goals.
The message was clear: A hate group with a mainstream veneer can get much further than a hate group that looks like one. It’s a lesson the radical right seems to have heeded as more hate groups monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center present a mainstream face to the public as they peddle academic racism, white nationalist immigration policy or other beliefs that are every bit as corrosive to our nation as the beliefs spouted by someone in Klan or neo-Nazi garb.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is one such hate group masquerading as a public policy think tank. Inspired by a recent resolution by the Republican National Committee that was aimed at giving the Trump administration cover for its racist and bigoted policies, FAIR decided to attack the SPLC’s hate group designations, claiming the SPLC is the “godfather” of “cancel culture” and is willing to attack any group that is not “woke” enough.
These allegations are nothing more than the latest fearmongering dog whistles that have been used by white supremacists to silence organizations and people – particularly people of color – when they speak out against injustice.
FAIR maintains that it “advocates mainstream immigration policy views.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the group has long advocated upending the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, a law that ended a decades-long, racist quota system limiting immigration to mostly northern Europeans. In 1994, FAIR President Dan Stein said supporters of the act wanted to “retaliate against Anglo-Saxon dominance.” In 2011, FAIR launched an effort to end birthright citizenship provisions of the 14th Amendment, which is how most Americans become citizens.
Kris Kobach, who worked for FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, helped write Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Known as the “papers, please” law, the anti-immigrant law forced police officers to detain people they suspected of being undocumented immigrants and made it a misdemeanor for noncitizen immigrants to fail to carry their immigration papers.
Kobach also helped other states and communities across the country enact nativist laws designed to punish those who aid and abet “illegal aliens.” Those laws often proved to be massive financial burdens to the governments that passed them and, in many cases, sparked racial strife.
FAIR’s demonization of immigrants was laid bare in April 1999 when the group attacked then-U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham, a Michigan Republican, for supporting more visas for foreign workers with technology skills. A FAIR newspaper ad placed a picture of Abraham, an Arab-American, alongside a photo of Osama bin Laden and asked, “Why is a U.S. Senator Trying to Make It Easier for Osama bin Laden to Export Terrorism to the U.S.?”
What’s more, Donald A. Collins Sr., a member of FAIR’s advisory board and board emeritus, has written for VDARE, an anti-immigrant hate site that has a long history of publishing the works of white nationalists and antisemites. The site is named after Virginia Dare, said to have been the first English child born in the New World. Joe Guzzardi, a FAIR advisory board member, has worked as a VDARE editor.
FAIR’s actions aren’t surprising given its origins.
The group was founded by the late John Tanton, who spent decades at the heart of the white nationalist movement. In a letter to a controversial ecology professor in 1996, he wrote: “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.”
Between 1985 and 1994, Tanton’s FAIR received about $1.2 million in funding from the Pioneer Fund, a eugenicist organization started in 1937 by men who wanted to pursue “race betterment” by promoting the genetic stock of American whites. When Tanton died in 2019, Stein, FAIR’s president, was quoted in a press release, calling him “a selfless giver of his time and talents in the interests of a better tomorrow.” He added: “For John, the big reward was to see a number of the organizations he helped conceive grow into tall oaks – guiding and shaping the public discourse in history-changing ways.”
And these organizations have certainly grown.
Three Tanton organizations – FAIR, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA – are among the most influential anti-immigrant organizations in the country. Their testimony and research have been frequently cited by their allies in Washington, including Stephen Miller, the White House senior adviser credited as the architect of Trump’s draconian immigration policies.
The Trump White House has also welcomed former members of FAIR into the administration. Julie Kirchner, former FAIR executive director, served as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ombudsman. Kobach, the former counsel for FAIR’s legal arm, was once considered for homeland security secretary. Leaked vetting documents noted a vulnerability for Kobach: Political opponents had accused him of having ties to white supremacy groups, according to news reports. Even so, Kobach served as vice chair of Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
Clearly, for FAIR, the concern isn’t “cancel culture” but rather the cancellation of its racist and xenophobic views from the mainstream. All Americans should be alarmed that FAIR, like other groups on the radical right, has not only made it into hotel conference rooms, but into the White House.
Photo by Reuters/Lucas Jackson