Selling hate with a green message (Front Groups: Part Deux)

Turns out old dogs don’t learn new tricks, they just replay the old ones, in new(ish) ways.

As is the case with Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), an “organization” posing as an environmental group trying to convince young hipsters that to reduce America’s carbon footprint, America needs to restrict its immigration.

It is connected to John Tanton, widely recognized as the godfather of anti-immigration movement.

As Mother Jones reports.

The argument isn’t new: John Tanton…kicked off his efforts in the 1970s by presenting himself as an environmental conservationist who was “concerned about what an unstemmed tide of refugees will do to the nation’s resources.” Tanton helped launch a network of anti-immigration organizations that are now the core of the movement, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

And the American Prospect drills down even further on Tanton’s work.

According to the Center for New Community, which monitors the white nationalist movement, Tanton has fostered over a dozen groups that work to reduce immigration. Six of these organizations, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), have been cataloged as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, but Tanton doesn’t seem bothered by his critics. He even framed a copy of the center’s 2002 investigation of him (titled “The Puppeteer”) and hung it in his office.

PFIR has tried to downplay its ties to Tanton — I guess to lend itself a speck of credibility — but the head of the group is a former lawyer for FAIR, just one of many connections explored in the American Prospect piece.

Both stories explore why PFIR is having a hard time gaining traction.

The environmental argument for immigration controls failed to gain much traction the first time: the links between overpopulation and immigration were tenuous, and anti-immigrant activists found they got farther by presenting immigration as “an affront on American culture [that] contributes to rising crime rates, and steals jobs from American workers,” according to the American Prospect….

And PFIR activists are facing the same hard sell this time around, as environmentalists have accused them of finding a convenient scapegoat for environmental hazards when immigrants actually tend to consume and drive less than the average American citizen.

Adam Werack, the president of the Sierra Club in 1998, explains why the argument just doesn’t work.

Immigration control is a foolish way to create an environmental perspective. It attacks people who are suffering, it allows people who are rich to be unaccountable, it’s out of touch with the realities of changing demographics, and it’s terrifically unpopular.

According to Rachel Maddow, for years FAIR was supported by a dubious funding source.

The Pioneer Fund describes itself as based “in the Darwinian-Galtonian evolutionary tradition and eugenics movement.” For the last 70 years, the Pioneer Fund has funded controversial research about race and intelligence, essentially aimed at proving the racial superiority of white people. The group’s original mandate was to promote the genes of those “deemed to be descended predominantly from white persons who settled in the original 13 states prior to the adoption of the Constitution.”

And, for the cherry on top, FAIR claims credit for drafting Arizona’s anti-immigrant law.

What more can you ask for from a tired, racist, front group?


Naomi has built her career on transforming start-up advocacy organizations into powerhouses of opinion and social change. She has played a pivotal role in ending the careers of some of the most corrupt members of Congress, exposing front groups and the corporate interests behind them and systematically rooting out misinformation in the media. Naomi launched and directed the communications operations of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Media Matters for America. Naomi has taken on the most aggressive conservatives of our time. She was a scourge of the gun lobby, exposing deceptive industry tactics through her undercover work at NRA conventions and gun shows; confronted Bill O’Reilly face-to-face; and was instrumental in persuading MSNBC to drop Frank Luntz as a campaign commentator for the 2004 elections. Naomi has been a commentator on national media, including, CNN, NPR, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Roll Call, The Wall Street Journal, and the AP. Naomi is a partner with the Truman National Security Network and has worked extensively on Capitol Hill. She is President of Seligman Consulting in Santa Monica, CA.

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