White Supremacy and the Anti-Immigrant Movement

Trent Lott’s controversial praise of Strom Thurmond is kicking up a lot of dirt about the Senator’s unsavory past. This includes Lott’s association with the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, heir to the White Citizens Councils which formed to fight integration during the civil rights period. Just recently, the Council’s website claimed that blacks are “a retrograde species of humanity.”

Lott, who has spoken in Council-sponsored fora and published regularly in its newsletter Citizens Informer, reportedly stated in 1992 that the group’s members “stand for the right principles and right philosophy.”

As the Republican Party tries to spin Lott as a lone racist renegade, it is important not to lose sight of the connections between white supremacy and the U.S. political mainstream, not only in Congress but in other policy venues. A particularly salient example is the anti-immigrant movement. While the racism of border control vigilantes is easily visible to the naked eye, the links between white supremacy and more ‘acceptable’ anti-immigrant organizations have been more obscured from public view. This is partly due to their skillful manipulation of classic liberal issues, such as the environment.

In the early 1990s, I attended a large public interest environmental conference at the University of Oregon where I spoke on a panel on population with Virginia Abernethy, a professor (now emeritus) at Vanderbilt University and a leader of Carrying Capacity Network and Population-Environment Balance.

These are two Washington-based ‘environmental’ groups whose main mission is to drastically curb immigration because immigrants (especially poor, dark-skinned ones) are supposedly destroying our natural and cultural heritage by over-populating the country. While Abernethy’s views smacked of racism to me and a number of people in the audience, others found her arguments convincing and she was invited to speak to a plenary session as a respected woman environmentalist. This experience led a group of us to begin researching the links between the anti-immigrant movement and the Far Right, including eugenics funders such as the Pioneer Fund.

I wasn’t too surprised, then, to find out recently that Abernethy, like Lott, is associated with the Council of Conservative Citizens. According to an expose in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report (Summer 2002), Abernethy is on the editorial board of Citizens Informer and has spoken on the “immigration invasion” at the Council’s national conference. “What is the point of a society that pushes [racial] mixing?” she told the Intelligence Report. “Our society pushes mixing. I think this is probably not a good thing for the society.”

Abernethy is part of a broader right-wing, anti-immigrant network, directed to a large extent by John Tanton, the Michigan opthamologist whose money and connections have spawned multiple organizations, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), U.S. English, Center for Immigration Studies, the Social Contract Press, and more recently, NumbersUSA. The Intelligence Report documents how Tanton and his associates are developing ever closer ties with white supremacist organizations, the Council of Conservative Citizens chief among them.

Increasingly tied to the racist right on one side, the anti-immigrant movement is also tied to mainstream government, media and academic circles on the other. It provides a practical and ideological conduit for racist ideas and interests to influence politics as usual. In this sense it is a mistake to view it as just about immigration; it is about protecting and reinforcing white power in the U.S. Among its strategies are:

1) Getting its people into positions of power. Anti-immigrant organizations have developed strong ties to conservative Congressmen like Lamar Smith of Texas and Tom Tancredo of Colorado which have allowed them to penetrate key government offices. For example, after joining Lamar Smith’s staff, FAIR’s former legal director, Cordia Strom, moved on to work for the House Immigration Subcommittee. She was the subcommittee’s chief counsel during the harsh 1996 immigration ‘reform,’ after which she joined the INS as counsel to the director and coordinator of congressional affairs.

2) Projecting a respectable face to the mainstream media. The Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. purports to be a serious think tank which has a “pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision.” The Center regularly gets its anti-immigration research and analysis into the press and before Congressional committees. It enhances its respectability by renting the National Press Club for symposia such as “The Open Door: How Militant IslamicTerrorists Entered and Remained in the U.S.,” and succeeds in getting material broadcast on C-Span. Last year it was awarded a research contract with the U.S. Census Bureau.

3) Cultivating academic legitimacy. Abernethy is the former editor of the academic journal Population and Environment published by the respectable Kluwer press. This journal is a strange combination of more conventional environmental articles and eugenic and anti-immigration ones. Its current editor is anti-Semitic evolutionary psychologist Kevin MacDonald who has testified on behalf of Holocaust denier David Irving and who blames liberal American immigration policies on a Jewish conspiracy. On the editorial board respected environmentalists like Vaclav Smil sit side by side with infamous eugenicists such as J. Philippe Rushton at the University of Western Ontario who promotes a theory of racial difference based on an inverse relationship between sex organs and brain size. Abernethy’s Carrying Capacity Network has also attracted mainstream academics to its advisory board such as the well-known environmental economist Herman Daly.

The post-September 11 crackdown on immigrants serves to reinforce the power of these anti-immigrant organizations who are more than willing to exploit the fear of the terrorist threat. Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies has written that “immigrant communities act as the sea within which, as Mao might have said, terrorists can swim like fish.” He also claims that immigrant enclaves are fertile recruiting grounds for new terrorists. As the assault on immigrants intensifies – witness the recent arrests of over 500 Middle Eastern men in Southern California – it is important for progressives to monitor and challenge not only the government’s policies, but the activities of anti-immigrant organizations and their growing ties to the Far Right and white supremacy.

Betsy Hartmann is the Director of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College and the author of The Truth about Fire, a political thriller about the Far Right. For more information on the anti-immigrant movement, see the Intelligence Report (Summer 2002) and Defending Immigrant Rights: An Activist Resource Kit, published by Political Research Associates.

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