From Know-Nothings to KKK to Tanton to Trump


From Know-Nothings[1] to KKK to Tanton to Trump

By Rick Swartz and Jocelyn McCalla[2]
October 15, 2015

[NOTE: CLICK on Primer on Anti-Immigrant Movement to download the document and Associated materials]

Anti-immigrant extremists are again pushing the GOP — and the country — towards zero-immigration policies. Their current standard-bearer, GOP presidential primary candidate Donald Trump, has significantly raised the bar by labeling Mexicans as rapists and violent people who bring crime and drugs to the United States. He has also ridiculed Asians and called for extreme and costly measures to control immigration: mass round-up of all undocumented immigrants followed by swift deportation, the construction of high walls the length of the Southern border with Mexico and ending birthright citizenship, among other things.

trump001Mr. Trump’s immigration policy proposals – which according to the Wall Street Journal emanate from his “brain trust at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)[3] – are neither novel nor different than those promoted stridently by France’s “Front National”, a racist, far-right political party founded in 1975 in opposition to immigration and led by Marine Le Pen.

“Migrants bring filth, crime, poverty and Islamic terrorism, Ms. Le Pen has suggested in recent weeks; a dead migrant child’s photo was simply a ploy to manipulate European feelings of guilt. France is about to be “submerged” in a “terrifying” wave of migrants who represent only a ‘burden.’”[4]

Nonetheless, Trump’s immigration proclamations have upended the GOP race for the presidential nomination. In spite of being roundly condemned by corporate America, Trump leads the pack of candidates vying to be the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2016. This is partly thanks to his populist appeals. In response, leading GOP primary candidates are wavering on legalization, retreating to the safety of a Borders-First stand, with many embracing some or all of Trump’s proposals or coming up with their own Trump-like proposals. Such stands put them in direct conflict with the GOP strategy for the 2016 elections which bets on peeling off enough Latino votes from Democrats to capture the White House and keep control of Congress.

One needs only look across the Atlantic to Hungary to get a flavor for what Trump’s policies would yield. Prime Minister Viktor Orban shut off the country’s border to refugees fleeing war and political persecution from the Middle East. He says that “he is acting to save Europe’s ‘Christian values’ by blocking the main overland route used by Muslim refugees, who travel through the Balkans and cross his country mainly to reach Germany or Sweden.”[5]

clip_image001Trump’s success in tapping into the GOP primary voters’ fear of the future by singling out immigration as a threat to their livelihood is surprising to many. However, considering that the ground for it has been seeded by groups and institutions that have promoted an anti-immigrant agenda for decades, it is no accident. Indeed, Trump’s immigration policy prescriptions derive almost verbatim from those posited by such groups. Guided by population-control ideology, they have consistently opposed and undermined reasonable attempts to reform immigration policy. They will keep doing it, whether or not Mr. Trump captures the GOP presidential nomination. Thus one must see and go beyond the Trump phenomenon in order to address immigration policy.

Which groups are driving the anti-immigrant agenda?

The groups driving the anti-immigrant agenda include the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), Numbers USA and their offshoots throughout the country. These groups seek nothing less than a zero-immigration policy and zero tolerance for immigrants. To cover their tracks, these groups deploy the rhetoric of “controlled immigration,” casting themselves as reasonable proponents of “common sense” immigration reform.

Virtually all of these organizations are connected to one man: John H. Tanton. Roy Beck, Executive Director of Numbers USA, is the former Washington editor of The Social Contract, a quarterly journal founded in 1990 by Tanton who retains the title of publisher. In 1979, Tanton founded FAIR which six years later, in 1985, gave birth to CIS as a so-called impartial think tank.

clip_image002According to Human Life Review, Tanton is “the father of the population-control wing of the modern anti-immigration movement. Born in 1934, Tanton became an avid environmentalist at a young age. From early on he believed that population growth was the great enemy of environmental conservation. [6]

In the 1970’s Tanton served on the board of Zero Population Growth (ZPG). “It was during that time that he concluded that controlling population growth required not only abortion, family planning, and other efforts to decrease fertility, but also required ending all immigration.”[7]

In 1975, John Tanton authored “The Case for Eugenics,” in which he advocated a “passive” form of Eugenics. He received early support from the Pioneer Fund, an organization created for the express purpose of promoting eugenics. Tanton used funds from the Pioneer Fund to develop FAIR.[8]


Thus, he labored to develop “a network of radical anti-immigrant groups (including those mentioned above), all of which receive a significant portion of their funding from foundations such as the Colcom Foundation founded in 1996 by Cordelia Scaife May who, like Tanton (who undoubtedly influenced her views on immigration), had concluded that “the well-intended actions of most environmental organizations are doomed to failure unless and until they recognize that the degradation of our natural world ultimately results from the press of human numbers.”[9] Translation: control populations, and restrict or end immigration altogether. Ms May died in 2005, but left the Colcom Foundation with a war chest of $400 million.[10] We note that Colcom’s Vice-President of Philanthropy, John H. Rohe, published several articles in Tanton’s Social Contract from 1991 to 2006. He is the author of a biography on Tanton and his wife entitled clip_image003 “Attacking individuals based on their religion or ethnicity appears to be a specialty of FAIR. The Miami Herald has reported that FAIR’s founder, expressed the concern that ‘too many new American immigrants are Roman Catholic.’ The Wall Street Journal wrote of an active FAIR member who is engaged in an effort to sterilize women in the Third World, in part to limit the potential pool of future immigrants. The Executive Director of FAIR [Dan Stein] has made anti-Catholic statements of his own, telling a reporter, ‘Certainly we would encourage people in other countries to have smaller families. Otherwise they’ll all be coming here, because there’s no room at the Vatican.’”[11]

A 2011 New York Times profile of Dr. Tanton notes that:

“The immigration-control movement surged to new influence in last fall’s elections [2010] and now holds near veto power over efforts to legalize any of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

One group that Dr. Tanton nurtured, Numbers USA, doomed President George W. Bush’s legalization plan four years ago [2007] by overwhelming Congress with protest calls. Another, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, helped draft the Arizona law last year [2010] to give the police new power to identify and detain illegal immigrants.

A third organization, the Center for Immigration Studies, (CIS) joined the others in December [2010] in defeating the Dream Act, which sought to legalize some people brought to the United States illegally as children.”[12]

FAIR recently appointed its Communications Director, Mr. Bob Dane, as its Executive Director. Mr. Stein became its President. The change in leadership does not signal a change of policy or philosophy. Mr. Dane has served as FAIR spokesperson since 2006 and is on record as praising Trump’s immigration policy proposals as the “American Workers’ Bill of Rights.”[13]

The anti-immigration champions in congress

clip_image004In the current debate, Donald Trump is simply the standard-bearer of a nativist agenda that extends far and beyond him. The two most prominent nativists in Congress are Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Representative Steve King (R-IA). Both are staunchly opposed to even the slightest immigration reform measures, except sealing of the borders. Many credit Sen. Sessions with shaping Trump’s immigration policy proposals.

Rep. King who takes great pride in deriding immigrants from Latin America, is a member of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus (IRC) which champions causes and legislation in tune with FAIR’s aims. The HRIC was established in 1999. At its height it claimed a membership of more than 100 House Representatives. Its ranks dwindled in 2013 to about 58 members, among them Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) who serves on the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, along with Reps. King and Raul Labrador (R-ID).

Their approaches are out-of-line with mainline Republican thinking on immigration. However they resonate with the House Freedom Caucus, a loose group of about 40 conservative extremists, which appears dead set on torpedoing any pro-immigration reform measures and those in the GOP who lean in favor of such measures. Sessions, King and the Freedom Caucus have turned their backs on the immigration principles laid out by the late President Ronald Reagan who famously said in his 1989 farewell address to the American People:

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. [I]n my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.”

Costs to the American Economy of Implementing the Nativists’ Immigration Proposals

Trump, Sessions, King and their supporters boldly claim that their proposals will “improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans.” Most economists disagree.

According to the American Action Forum, “the federal government would have to spend roughly $400 billion to $600 billion to address the 11.2 million undocumented immigrants and prevent future unlawful entry into the United States. In order to remove all undocumented immigrants, each immigrant would have to be apprehended, detained, legally processed, and transported to his or her home country [over a twenty year period]. In turn, this would shrink the labor force by 11 million workers and reduce real GDP by $1.6 trillion.”[14]

The National Journal estimates the cost of building an immigrant-proof wall along the Southern border at $6.4 billion. According to Stephen Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, undocumented immigrants contribute $15 billion annually to Social Security. This sum would vanish along with the deported.[15]

In short, far from enhancing the average American worker’s prospects of a better living standards once undocumented immigrants disappeared, these proposals would increase their burden of shouldering the economy.

Moreover, these proposals ignore the key role that remittances play in sustaining livelihood in Latin America and other parts of the world. The World Bank estimates that remittances from the USA totaled some $123 billion in 2012. “Mexico had almost $23 billion in remittances, and migrants from each of India, China, and the Philippines sent over $10 billion home.”[16]

The way forward

By casting immigration in the worse possible light and by riding it for all it’s worth, perhaps all the way to the nomination, Donald Trump has brought the debate on immigration policy and reform to the forefront. Unwittingly, he is forcing people and corporations to take sides. Some companies – Macy’s, NBC, Serta, and Univision, among others – have distanced themselves from him. The Club for Growth has launched a multimillion dollar campaign against Trump, claiming that he is “the worst Republican candidate on economic issues.” The National Immigration Forum Action Fund has also launched an ad campaign focused on “the idea that when we focus on freedom, not fear, America is better.”[17]

clip_image005Polls after polls, surveys after surveys say that the majority of the American people do not subscribe to Trump’s nativism. CBS News/New York Times surveys over the last two years through September 2015 consistently show that Americans overwhelmingly agree that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to legalize and eventually gain citizenship.[18] A Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll, conducted in late July 2015 at the height of the anti-immigrant frenzy stirred up by Trump’s campaign, found that the majority of Republicans favored legalization over deportation for undocumented immigrants.

“Building a nation,” said Pope Francis on the occasion of his recent visit to the United States, “calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best.”  He added: “Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction: Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security. If we want life, let us give life. If we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”[19]

Let us then resolutely seize the opportunities at hand to engage the greater public accordingly. We believe that it’s in the best interest of immigration reformers, corporate America and the country to step up efforts to expose the nativist groups’ influence on policy formation, on the media, on the political process and on the government. Sunshine is, after all, the best disinfectant.

It is especially important that the larger public know about the links these groups have to population control groups, in particular to proponents of eugenics. Only by exposing them can the process of marginalizing and ultimately defeating them take root. We hope that this report will deepen understanding of the politics of immigration reform and galvanize anew commitments to an inclusive, fair-minded and welcoming America. Feel free to share widely: we welcome your ideas, critique and suggestions.

Rick Swartz,

Jocelyn McCalla,

October 15, 2015

[1] The “Know-Nothings” developed as a secretive nativist movement that was pro-slavery and opposed to the immigration and naturalization of German and Irish Catholic immigrants as well as Chinese immigration. In 1854, they successfully captured seats in Massachusetts and influenced elections in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Emboldened by their victories, they formed the Native American Party but remained a secretive organization: when asked about party activities, members were told to reply “I know nothing.” Outsiders simply called them “Know-Nothings.” The American Party faded into oblivion starting in 1856. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) emerged 10 years later in 1866 and orchestrated a campaign of terror and intimidation to maintain or restore white supremacy in the southern states.

[2] Rick Swartz is the President of Strategic Solutions, a public policy firm based in Washington, DC. He founded the National Immigration Forum in 1982. Mr. Swartz can be reached at Mr. Jocelyn McCalla served as the Executive Director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. He can be reached at

[3] Wall Street Journal, Those Assimilating Immigrants, Opinion October 7, 2015

[4] Adam Nossiter, The New York Times, For Marine Le Pen, Migration Is a Ready-Made Issue, October 5, 2015

[5]Krisztina Than and Ivana Sekularac, Reuters, Hungary locks down EU border, taking migrant crisis into its own hands, September 15, 2015

[6]Mario Lopez, Hijacking Immigration, Human Life Review October 28, 2012


[8] See

[9] Colcom foundation, History,

[10] See more at:

[11]Robert F. Bennett, Dear Colleague Letter on FAIR, April 19, 2000.

[12]Jason DeParle, NY Times, The Anti-Immigration Crusader, April 17, 2011

[13] Alan Gomez, USA Today, Much of Trump immigration plan not ‘radical’ in GOP circles, August 18, 2015

[14] The Budgetary and Economic Costs of Addressing Unauthorized Immigration: Alternative StrategiesBy Ben Gitis, Laura Collins, March 6, 2015

[15] Read more:

[16] Andy Kiersz, Business Insider, Here’s Where Migrant Workers In America Send Their Money, Apr. 7, 2014, 5:02

[17] Ali Noorani, Executive Director, National Immigration Forum, September 13, 2015.


[19] Pope Francis, Address to Congress, September 24, 2015

This post originally appeared on JMC Strategies. Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Jocelyn McCalla CEO of JMC STRATEGIES LLC. Mr. McCalla served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Immigration Policy Network (NJIPN) and the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR). He is an international human rights expert who specializes on human rights and political affairs in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the United States.

Rick Swartz is the President of Strategic Solutions, a public policy firm based in Washington, DC. He founded the National Immigration Forum in 1982. Mr. Swartz can be reached at Mr. Jocelyn McCalla served as the Executive Director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. He can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.