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Mark Potok

Mark Potok

Posted: April 30, 2010 05:00 PM

Razing Arizona: Given Its Authors, New Law Is No Surprise

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Given the author of Arizona's new law to legalize racial profiling, no one should be surprised about its draconian nature - or its intended targets.

The legislation was drafted by Kris Kobach of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR's founder, John Tanton, has longstanding ties to white supremacists and is perhaps the person most responsible for launching the contemporary immigration-restriction movement in this country.

Tanton has warned of a "Latin onslaught," complained about Latinos' allegedly low "educability" and suggested that maintaining American culture requires a clear "European-American majority." For its part, FAIR has accepted $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation established in 1937 to encourage "race betterment"; employed key staffers who have also joined white supremacist groups; had board members who write regularly for hate publications; promoted racist conspiracy theories about Latino immigrants; and produced television programming featuring white nationalists.

Tanton, a retired Michigan ophthalmologist who remains on FAIR's board of directors today, once wrote that John Trevor Sr. should serve as FAIR's "guidepost to what we must follow again this time." For those who've never heard of Trevor, he was the founder of the racist American Coalition of Patriotic Societies and a key architect of the racially restrictive Immigration Act of 1924. He also distributed pro-Nazi propaganda and warned shrilly of "diabolical Jewish control" of America.

Tanton's own papers at the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library show clearly that he has been at the heart of the white nationalist scene for decades. During this time, he has corresponded with Holocaust deniers, former Klan lawyers and the leading white nationalist thinkers of the era.

My organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), has written extensively over the years about Tanton's history and FAIR, which has yet to refute anything of substance that we've reported. Last night, FAIR president Dan Stein was interviewed by Rachel Maddow, who cited information we've uncovered. As he has in the past, Stein attacked the SPLC rather than deal with any of the inconvenient facts about his organization and its web of questionable associations. He denied only one allegation by Maddow, who said that FAIR had financially supported a group called Protect Arizona Now (PAN), which was advised by self-described "white separatist" Virginia Abernethy. Maddow's blog later found old language from FAIR's own website that confirmed that the group committed $150,000 to PAN's efforts to get an anti-immigrant initiative on the ballot.

Kobach, meanwhile, has been the prime mover behind numerous city ordinances that seek to punish undocumented immigrants and those who help them. Before joining FAIR, he served as U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's top immigration adviser. After the 9/11 attacks, he developed the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which called for close monitoring of men from Arab and Muslim nations, even legal U.S. residents. The program collapsed due to complaints of racial profiling and discrimination.

State Sen. Russell Pearce, the principal sponsor of the Arizona legislation, has his own history of hate. In 2006, he forwarded an email to his supporters with a screed taken from the website of the neo-Nazi National Alliance titled "Who Rules America?" (answer: the Jews). The article concluded, "If our race fails to destroy it ['Jewish media control'], it certainly will destroy our race." More recently, Pearce has been photographed hugging J.T. Ready, a Phoenix-area resident who is a member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement.

It's not much of a surprise that this was the cast of characters behind the mean-spirited new law in Arizona, which will have the effect of making citizens with brown skin second-class in every way. What's truly shocking is that an entire state legislature would enact such an un-American law and that a governor pandering to far-right elements in her base would sign it.