The Public Eye - Summer 2010 Edition
Apply the Brakes
A report from the Center for New Community, July 2010
The Center for New Community’s report on a newly hatched organization, Apply the Brakes, shows how this supposedly environmental group disguises its true anti-immigrant agenda, snaring moderate environmental leaders and their organizations in the anti-immigrant organizing web. A basic tenet of environmental thinking holds that humanity must become increasingly united in its efforts to survive with the limited quantities of food, water, and land available on the planet. This idea, however, is being perverted by a White nationalist philosophy called Neo-Malthusianism.
Neo-Malthusianism links immigration and environmentalism using a theory first proposed in the eighteenth century by the political economist Thomas Malthus. Malthus noted the difference between the rate of population growth and the rate of agricultural growth, which he concluded would ultimately lead to chronic, worldwide food shortages. This led him to the idea that population control was the major factor in environmental health. Extrapolating from Malthus’s ideas, ATB maintains that immigration into this country creates undesirable population growth, leading to urban sprawl, congestion, pollution, waste generation, and increased water and food consumption.
While ATB openly advertises its concern over “domestic population growth,” its racist, anti-immigrant ideology may be more difficult to discern. The Center for New Community exposes the backgrounds of ATB’s leaders to demonstrate that this group is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing . ATB identifies William G. (Bill) Elder as the content editor of its website. His past includes links to numerous prominent white nationalists. Before he joined ATB, Elder served as a chairperson and spokesperson of Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization (SUSPS), which was dedicated to attempting to shift the Sierra Club’s platform on immigration from neutral to one of advocating strict restrictions. [See the review of the Greenwash report in this issue.] It supported candidates for the Sierra Club board who were involved with racist organizations, including John Tanton’s Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), Virginia Abernethy’s Carrying Capacity Network, and Californians for Population Stabilization. Other SUSPS leaders include Brenda Walker, a regular contributor to the white nationalist website VDARE, and Fred Ebel, the founder of Defend Colorado Now. Ebel has been quoted blaming environmental degradation on poor people of color.
The study identifies Don Weeden as the driving force behind ATB, funding ATB through his Weeden Family Foundation. The financial connections between the Weeden Family Foundation and other white nationalists are extensive: the group provided close to $700,000 in grants to John Tanton’s organizations, all of which have well-documented links to white nationalist movements. Moreover, the foundation’s leadership occupies high-level positions within the anti-immigrant groups NumbersUSA and FAIR.
The information presented by the Center for New Community is especially useful in exposing the troublesome connections between seemingly legitimate environmental activists and white nationalism. The report emphasizes a need for caution within the environmentalist movement, because prejudice and discriminatory ideologies can easily be obscured by subtle distortions of well-known theories regarding human society and the environment.
The report includes profiles of sixteen environmental leaders who have direct or indirect ties to ATB, a reminder that it is important to investigate the past involvement and associations of an organization’s leadership thoroughly before granting that group any authority or influence within the larger movement.
Many of us have come to rely on the research that regularly emerges from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) investigative magazine, Intelligence Report. Greenwash is the latest addition to this important service, and the report provides useful information for both activists and the public.
“Greenwashing” is the strategy that hard-line
anti-immigrant activists use to lure environmentalists to their cause.
These nativists, who mask their race-based hatred with environmentally
friendly language, argue that the “carrying capacity” of the U.S.
ecosystem is threatened by a deluge of immigrants who contribute to
environmental degradation by overpopulating the country—adding to urban
sprawl, traffic congestion, and a general overconsumption of resources.
Greenwashers correctly assess that overtly racist rhetoric would not
work with a liberal audience. Instead they use language familiar to
environmental advocates to scapegoat immigrants for complex problems and
to gain environmentalists’ support for racist, anti-immigrant policies.
A longtime Sierra Club member, Tanton privately circulated memos in 1986, which suggested to his organizations that a carefully constructed approach to environmental groups could help build the anti-immigrant movement. For the next two decades, debates about “overpopulation” and the proper response to it raged within mainstream groups such as the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, although ultimately the nativists lost. The report includes a narrative chronicling this history and a useful timeline that clarifies the involvement of more than two dozen organizations in the greenwashing strategy.
As the current debate about immigration reform takes shape, Tanton’s groups are at it again. Greenwash author Heidi Beirich reports on three new developments. In 2008 a series of expensive full page ads appeared in liberal publications warning “progressive thinkers” that the future of American natural resources depends on blocking further immigration. In the pipeline is a Tanton-inspired film series, “Tomorrow’s America,” which will expose the “negative impacts” of immigration. But perhaps most troublesome is the emergence of a new organization, Progressives for Immigration Reform, which examines what it calls the “unintended consequences of mass migration,” highlighting environmental issues. Sensitive to the racist history of Tanton’s brand of anti-immigrant organizing, this group is headed by an African American woman, Leah Durant, who is trying to distance herself from Tanton despite SPLC-documented connections.
A particularly useful part of the report is Hampshire College Professor Betsy Hartmann’s analysis of race in the population control movement and her response to their anti-immigrant claims. Activists should check out
Reports such as Greenwash remind us that “once
silenced” does not guarantee “always silenced.” Nativist hate groups’
strategies continue to proliferate, but with the help of groups like
SPLC, we can identify and challenge them early, before they get a chance
to cause lasting damage.
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