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This week the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a hate group, held their “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” (HTFTTF) event for the 13th year in a row. This year’s event comes in the aftermath of the tragic mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Gilroy, California, which were carried out in the name of white supremacy, with the shooters echoing rhetoric spread by FAIR and their allies. Nevertheless, top Trump Administration officials and members of Congress attended FAIR’s events, amplifying and legitimizing the xenophobia and nativism spread at this event.
FAIR’s two-day event featured dozens of right-wing talk shows from across the nation broadcasting from the Phoenix Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. The annual event is a reunion of anti-immigrant members of Congress, white nationalists, anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists, and activist law enforcement officers. Attendees in the past have included Peter Brimelow, who runs the white nationalist website VDARE, and Roan Garcia-Quintana, a board member of the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), and many more individuals with ties to various forms of bigotry.
Fortunately, FAIR’s event did not go unchallenged. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents El Paso who knows firsthand the deadly consequences of dehumanizing anti-immigrant rhetoric, forcefully urged her colleagues not to attend FAIR’s event. As she said on a press call this week:
El Paso has long been one of the safest cities in the U.S. and for decades, we’ve been telling the country that immigrant communities are a point of opportunity, not a point to be feared. Unfortunately, FAIR and the Trump administration continue to inflame the dangerous bigotry, racism and xenophobia that has been so deeply rooted in our country. This rhetoric places targets on the backs of vulnerable people and for communities like mine has become a matter of life and death.
Escobar wasn’t alone in standing in standing against FAIR and HTFTTF; she was joined by other immigration experts and advocates who detailed the racism of FAIR and its similarly extremist sibling groups. Additionally, over 80 national and local organizations sent a letter to members of Congress urging them not to attend the event or legitimize its dangerous anti-immigrant rhetoric. And on the first night of HTFTTF, the Western States Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center projected the names of some of the recent victims of white supremacy, onto the side of the Phoenix Park Hotel. The display was a stark reminder to those inside and outside the Hotel of the deadly consequences of the dehumanizing rhetoric being spread inside the building.
As anti-immigrant zealots gather in Washington, D.C. to further their hateful agenda, we stopped by their conference to remember the people who lost their lives due to anti-immigrant violence. Watch our tribute here: pic.twitter.com/vobWlr91Ny
— Western States Center (@WStatesCenter) September 26, 2019
Unsurprisingly, attendance at this year’s FAIR event included far-right bomb-throwers like Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Kansas Senate candidate Kris Kobach, and leading Islamophobe Brigitte Gabriel of ACT for America. Staff from FAIR’s sibling groups — the other anti-immigrant organizations created by FAIR founder and white nationalist John Tanton — were also all over radio row, including Mark Kirkorian who runs the hate group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and staff from NumbersUSA and ProEnglish.
More troubling, however, was the presence of top Trump Administration officials and members of Congress. Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli played a prominent role at FAIR’s conference. He did multiple interviews with the radio hosts at FAIR’s conference and was a featured speaker at their “Badges and Angels” rally. He followed HTFTTF attendance by with another hate group event, this one hosted by CIS.
Assistant House Speaker Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) took a stand against the CIS event, drafting an urgent request for Cuccinelli to cancel his appearance before the hate group. As he wrote in his letter:
Your willingness to engage with such a group lends dangerous legitimacy to nativist and xenophobic ideologies of hate. This is unfitting of a senior official of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and I urge you to immediately cancel your planned appearance. At a time when the Administration is targeting immigrants and separating families seeking refuge and a better life, your participation in this event threatens to further embolden extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric and sentiment. This sends a chilling message to vulnerable communities across the country and further endangers our national security and community trust in our government.
The @CIS_org was founded by a proponent of eugenics who has espoused white nationalist rhetoric.
The group shared white nationalist content more than 2,000 times.
They are a known hate group.
And, tomorrow, @USCISCuccinelli is headlining their event.
— Ben Ray Luján (@repbenraylujan) September 25, 2019
Cuccinelli, displaying a lack of common sense, attended anyway, where he made headlines by slamming reporters, and saying that “there are just some really, really, really lazy reporters. And then there are the ones that aren’t very smart, either.”
Besides Cuccinelli, White House Deputy Director of Communications Adam Kennedy and Director of Strategic Communications for Trump 2020 Campaign Marc Lotter also attended FAIR’s event. Former ICE director Thomas Homan was a ubiquitous presence throughout, doing numerous interviews as part of the conference and rallying the crowd at “Badges and Angels.” There, Homan heaped praise on Tom Hodgson, a board member at FAIR and the Sheriff of Bristol County, Massachusetts.
Having apparently worked himself up into an anti-immigrant fervor, Homan later testified at a detention hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee, where he acted out and had to be gaveled down by Chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). “If this is the way the ICE Director disrespects rules and Congressional oversight of his agency, it is no wonder that ICE has become a rogue agency,” said Jayapal about Homan’s disorderly conduct.
Over a dozen members of Congress, all Republicans, attended Hold Their Feet to the Fire. They were Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Jeff Duncan (SC-03), Bill Johnson (OH-06), Gary Palmer (AL-06), Mo Brooks (AL-05), Buddy Carter (GA-01), Russ Fulcher (ID-01), Andy Biggs (AZ-05), Steve King (IA -04), Matt Gaetz (FL-01), Bradley Byrne (Al-01), Louie Gohmert (TX-01), Mike Rogers (AL-03), John Curtis (UT-03), and Scott Des Jarlais (TN-04). Their presence helped to legitimize and amplify FAIR’s anti-immigrant message.
Rep. Rogers, especially, went out of his way to use the invasion rhetoric that has come under extra scrutiny in recent days, after the El Paso shooter cited racist motives as the reason for his anti-immigrant killing spree. Rogers went on the Jeff Poor Show to talk about immigration, said that migrants are “an invasion”, and even went on to call for the implementation of martial law in order to stop immigration.
FAIR’s event underscored the deep ties between xenophobic extremists and Republican elected officials and candidates. This event occurred as we head into an election year where opponents of immigration — from the president on down — are already making race, xenophobia, and demographic change central campaign themes. And the attendance of so many members of Congress and top Trump Administration staff only further underscores the evidence of these deep ties and this shared election ideology.
This year FAIR also paid for 191 Sheriffs to come to Washington, D.C. and participate in HTFTTF. This sponsorship represents a continuation of the relationship between anti-immigrant groups, the Trump Administration, and Sheriffs across the nation. Attending sheriffs included Tom Hodgson, a board member at FAIR and Sheriff of Bristol County, Massachusetts; Sheriff Mark Lamb from Pinal County, Arizona; Sheriff Bob Songer from Klickitat County, Washington; Sheriff Harold Eavenson from Rockwall County, Texas; Sheriff Jeff Gahler from Harford County, Maryland; Sheriff Mike Lewis from Wicomico County, Maryland; Sheriff Wayne Ivey from Brevard County, Florida; Sheriff Chuck Jenkins from Frederick County, Maryland; Sheriff Andy Louderback from Jackson County, Texas; and Jonathan Thompson, the Executive Director of the National Sheriffs’ Association. These sheriffs either spoke at the “Badges and Angels” event or participated in a show on FAIR’s radio row. Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer and Morrow County Sheriff Ken Matlack, both from Oregon, also attended FAIR events.
During HTFTTF, the President met and posed for a picture with the sheriffs outside the White House, as he has done during previous radio rows in the past. FAIR board member Tom Hodgson stood immediately next to the President and gave him a plaque commemorating the anti-immigrant “Badges and Angels” rally FAIR organized the day before.
After the event, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network called on other sheriffs to speak out about their colleagues’ collusion with hate groups. “Nothing makes a better case for the dangers of ICE’s conflation with hate groups than seeing ICE director Albence and pro-deportation sheriffs hosting an anti-sanctuary press conference while echoing FAIR’s talking points,” said SG Sarmiento from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). Lindsay Schubiner, Momentum Program Director for the Western States Center, added that too “many lives have already been lost to anti-immigrant violence, and yet FAIR continues to spread hate and bigotry. No sheriff or member of law enforcement should be associating with a hate group like this.”