Hate-based, anti-immigrant propaganda has poisoned not only the health care debate but is also distorting the public discussion about immigration reform, charged a group of civil rights, immigration reform advocacy and media watchdog organizations this week.

Statements by these groups were prompted by the planned Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) conference scheduled for this week in Washington. The FAIR conference will host a number of right-wing media personalities, including CNN’s Lou Dobbs.

Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice, described FAIR’s goal as to “intimidate” members of Congress who understand the need to reform immigration policy. They accomplish this goal in alignment with right-wing media personalities like Lou Dobbs who use anti-immigrant rhetoric to divide Americans and “poison the debate” over reform.

Despite its name FAIR opposes immigration reform. In fact, the positions of a number of its founders and board members have pushed the Southern Policy Law Center, a human rights organization that monitors the activities of extremist hate groups, to label FAIR a hate group since 2007.

“When we put somebody on our hate group list, it’s a very, very serious matter for us,” Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center told reporters. “The reason that we finally added FAIR to this list is that the track record of FAIR is so massive.”

Beirich explained that FAIR founder John Tanton has personally financed white supremacist groups, associates with Holocaust deniers, has handed out anti-Semitic materials to other FAIR board members and has made numerous racist statements about Latinos and other people of color, implying they are racially or culturally inferior to Americans of European descent. Tanton is known to hold well-known Nazi sympathizers as his personal heroes.

She further added that when other FAIR leaders are asked to denounce Tanton’s remarks and activities they have failed to do so. FAIR’s Executive Director Dan Stein described Tanton as a “renaissance man” to one major media outlet just this week.

Other FAIR leaders have written for explicitly hate and white supremacist websites. The group has accepted funds from the Pioneer Fund, which was founded by Nazi sympathizers who supported racist eugenics policies, Beirich stated. The group pushes the idea that immigrants from Latin America come as part of a plot to take over the Southwest, and another board member predicted that continued immigration will incite a “race war.”

With such an obviously racist and extremist outlook, why would CNN allow one of its employees, Lou Dobbs, to associate so closely with FAIR, wondered Eric Burns, president of media watchdog group Media Matters.

Because of the close relationship between a hate group like FAIR and Lou Dobbs, CNN’s brand as the “most trusted name in news” gives a measure of legitimacy to the hate and divisiveness spewed by FAIR, Burns suggested.

“The CNN name allows [Dobbs] to mainstream the hatred and fear, the racially charged conspiracy theories that you normally only find on Fox News and on the right-wing fringe,” Burns pointed out. Dobbs has on numerous occasions repeated false and hate-based claims often promoted by FAIR, for example, that undocumented immigrants are spreading leprosy, are disproportionately violent, are trying to take over the Southwest, or are draining social services without paying taxes, Burns charged.

Burns called on CNN to at least ask Dobbs to not participate in the FAIR conference. So far CNN has only defended Dobbs as a “responsible journalist.”

Lisa Navarette of the National Council of La Raza told reporters that anti-immigrant groups like FAIR are growing in number. Hysterical and hate-filled rhetoric by these groups and repeated by media personalities like Dobbs have also led to a growth by 40 percent of the benumbed of hate crimes against Latino people in recent years, she added.

FAIR’s close association with a notorious figure like FAIR board member John Tanton “speaks volumes as to what the organization’s actual agenda is,” Navarette said.

Navarette also described CNN’s refusal to address Dobb’s relationship to this hate group as “deafening” and said the company should at the very least stop calling what Dobbs does “news.”

Citing growing hate-motivated violence against Latinos, Navarette added, “The antics of Dobbs and FAIR and other groups would be something we could possibly dismiss if it didn’t have such real world consequences particularly for immigrants or the Latino community.”




Joel Wendland
Joel Wendland

Joel Wendland works in higher education. He was previously editor of Political Affairs magazine. He is a union member and a US Army veteran. He is working on a collection of essays for a book, writing a new collection of poetry and tries to find environmentally-friendly alternatives to everyday living. Become his friend on Facebook. Follow Political Affairs on Twitter.