The Southern Poverty Law Center, the nation’s civil-rights watchdog founded in 1971, has stepped forward and branded the 28-year-old Federation for American Immigration Reform as a hate group, tying it to white-supremacist and other such organizations — and reaction has been swift.
In 2006, SPLC counted 844 hate groups in the United States.
The Center charged during a Dec. 11 teleconference and in its quarterly Intelligence Report magazine that FAIR, which uses its large national influence to promote immigration reduction, accepted $1.2 million between 1985 and 1994 from the Pioneer Fund, which has funded studies that attempt to prove a connection between race and IQ.
“What we are hoping very much to accomplish is to marginalize FAIR,” said Mark Potok, director of the center’s intelligence project. “We don’t think they should be a part of the mainstream media.”
Since 2000, FAIR officials have been asked to testify on immigration by Congress 30 times. This year, FAIR has been quoted in mainstream media nearly 500 times and been on CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” at least 12 times, Potok noted.
Promptly endorsing SPLC’s action was the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Its campaign manager, Clarissa Martinez, followed up: “It is unacceptable for members of Congress and the media to legitimize a hate group bent on manipulating Americans’ concerns over our broken immigration system to advance its own goals and derail real solutions to this issue.”
Countered FAIR President Dan Stein, who has been working for the organization as its executive director since 1988, “I think (SPLC’s) statements are fraudulent and misleading. I think they owe us an apology.”
Potok wrote in a blog that identifying FAIR as a hate group is important because more than any other group it has contributed to the nasty turn the immigration debate has taken.
“(FAIR) is an organization that clearly has an agenda,” said Cristina Lopez, deputy executive director of the Center for Community Change. “There’s no difference between putting a member of FAIR on TV to talk about immigration and putting a member of the Ku Klux Klan to talk about race relations.”
SPLC described FAIR as grounded on racism since its beginnings in 1979. Its founder, John Tanton, runs The Social Contract Press, another group listed by the center as racist for white-supremacist and anti-Latino writings. Tanton is a member of FAIR’s board.
The SPLC article, “The Teflon Nativist,” also claims that several key FAIR members have ties to white-supremacist groups. It mentions Western field representative Joseph Turner, who created Save Our State, a nativist hate group, according to the SPLC. It was in one of the Save Our State electronic forums that Turner wrote, “I can make the argument that just because one believes in white separatism that that does not make them a racist.”
SPLC lists Turner’s predecessor, Rick Oltman, as formerly part of the hate group Council of Conservative Citizens, a direct descendent from the segregationist White Citizens Council.
Stein told Hispanic Link, “Nobody working for FAIR has ever been a member of the CCC that I’m aware of and they certainly haven’t been people in key positions.”
He said that for now they were not planning any legal action, but were expecting a retraction.
FAIR’s Eastern regional coordinator, Jim Stadenraus, participated in an anti-immigrant conference in September 2002 with Jared Taylor, a CCC member and founder of American Renaissance, a racist eugenics publication, the article claims.
“Our charitable mission is education. We go where we’re invited,” Stein said. “Does that mean you can impute to the FAIR staffers an agreement with all the principles of the organization we’re on a panel of?”
The report also claims Stein held a meeting with members of Vlaams Belang, a Belgian political party — to “seek advice” in February. The group was renamed after it was banned as a racist political body by the Belgium Supreme Court.
Stein responded that he had never heard of the group.
“(SPLC’s) assertions about a meeting with Belgium activists are fraudulent, their assertions about the staff are fraudulent, their assertions about virtually everything else are fraudulent,” Stein said.
However, FAIR’s director of special projects, John Martin, said he himself met with the group, but that it was Vlaams Belang that was seeking advice because of the current “civil war” in Belgium due to immigration. Martin said he regularly briefs foreign visitors.
“They insisted, when I asked specifically about that, they did not have a racist policy,” Martin said. “Having been a member of an organization that is attacked as being racist, which I know isn’t true, I’m willing to believe people when they say that is not true in their case.”
(Adolfo Flores is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington. E-mail him at adolfo.flores.98(at)csun.edu.)