White nationalist John Tanton is dead, but the hateful organizations he founded live on like racist zombies. Once called the “most influential unknown man in America,” immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice notes, Tanton, an ophthalmologist by training and a racist by heart, founded the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, two anti-immigrant hate groups whose ideology, through the Trump administration, has now become official immigration policy.
“Trump action items like ending DACA and curtailing both legal and undocumented immigration have been on FAIR and CIS’ wish list for years,” America’s Voice continued, and while Tanton’s reach into the White House was new, his festering in the background was not. Tanton’s groups championed then-Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s successful effort to derail a comprehensive immigration reform package in 2007, with another Tanton group, NumbersUSA, awarding him a “Defender of the Rule of Law” award.
Staffers from Tanton’s groups have frequently been invited by anti-immigrant members of Congress to testify at their hearings, because “Center for Immigration Studies” sounds pretty innocuous, right? Except CIS has distributed writings from anti-Semites and Holocaust-deniers, one of whom called Jewish people “truly subversive,” “manipulative,” and “evil.” Tanton himself said that “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,” immigration historian Carly Goodman writes.
Media has been complicit in spreading Tanton’s messages, because even through today, immigration reports commonly quote officials from CIS and FAIR as if they offer a legitimate stance on policy, in large part because they don’t throw around outright racist slurs like Trump, and their “neutral names” really do fool many. “This has allowed these groups to shift the terms of the debate far to the right,” Goodman also said. “Without proper context, readers and viewers don’t understand how outside the mainstream these groups’ views really are.”
Outside of the mainstream indeed, but it’s now the wretched stance of the federal government. Ron Vitiello, who served as Trump’s acting Customs and Border Protection acting deputy commissioner, Border Patrol chief, and acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, attended a FAIR event in his official capacity, while L. Francis Cissna, ousted from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for not being fringy enough, attended a CIS event in his official capacity.
Tanton is dead, but as immigration reported Tina Vasquez tweeted, “his legacy lives on. So much of what the Tanton groups advocated for has come to fruition under Trump, and many leaders of anti-immigrant hate groups now hold positions in federal immigration agencies.” With Stephen Miller there, they’ll continue to have an open ear in the White House. Remember the next election isn’t just about defeating one man, it’s also about pulling the rot out by the root.