The Intellectual Roots of Nativism
By Tucker Carlson
Wall Street Journal
October 2, 1997
When the US Commission on Immigration Reform issued its final report on Tuesday, Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for Immigration Reform, stood ready to comment. Responding to a recommendation that the US citizenship oath be ‘modifies to strike antiquated words like “potentate,” Mr. Stein told the Los Angeles Times, “If the oath of [allegiance] is too hard for immigrants to understand… we’re admitting the wrong immigrants.”
In the debate over immigration policy, no single group has received more attention than FAIR, a Washington-based non-profit that claims a membership of 70,000. For close to 20 years, in books, monographs, op-eds and thousands of newspaper stories, FAIR has made the case for tighter national borders. And while the group’s goal seems clear enough – to curtail immigration into the US – its ideology is harder to pin down. FAIR’s supporters include both the conservative magazine National Review and former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, a Democrat; Pat Buchanan as well as Eugene McCarthy. Where does FAIR stand politically? It’s hard to say, says Mr. Stein: “Immigration’s weird. It has weird politics.”
In Favor of Infanticide
Certainly FAIR does. Consider the group’s connection to Garrett Hardin, a University of California biologist who became moderately famous in the 1960’s for his essay “The Tragedy of the Commons,” a polemic against population growth and Americans’ “freedom to breed.” Mr. Hardin, now in his 80’s, was for many years one of the more active members of FAIR’s board of directors, writing and speaking extensively under the group’s auspices. He is now a board member emeritus, and his ideas are still influential at FAIR; just this spring, Mr. Stein quoted “noted immigration scholar and thinker Garrett Hardin” in testimony before the Senate.
What are Garrett Hardin’s ideas? “Sending food to Ethiopia does more harm than good,” he explained in a 1992 interview with Omni magazine. Giving starving Africans enough to eat, Mr. Hardin argued, will only “encourage population growth.” His views got less savory from there. In the same interview, the “noted immigration scholar” went on to criticize China’s notoriously coercive population control programs on the grounds they are not strict enough. He also argued against reducing infant mortality in undeveloped nations and came out foursquare in favor of infanticide (“in the historical context,” as the Omni reporter put it), which he declared an effective population control.”
“In all societies practicing infanticide,” Mr. Hardin explained to the reporter, who happened to be five months pregnant at the time, “the child is killed within minutes after birth, before bonding can occur.” Not surprisingly, Mr. Hardin wasn’t shy about his enthusiastically pro-choice views: “A fetus is of so little value, there’s no point in worrying about it.”
What does eliminating children have to do with immigration? According to Mr. Hardin, just about everything. “Because widespread disease and famine no longer exist, we have to find another means to stop population increases,” he explained. “The quickest, easiest and most effective form of population control in the US, that I support wholeheartedly, is to end immigration.”
At FAIR, Mr. Hardin’s views are considered well within the pale. Founded in 1979 by a Michigan opthamologist named John Tanton, FAIR has from its inception been heavily influenced by the now-discredited theories of Thomas Malthus, an 18th-Century clergyman who predicted the world’s food supply would soon fail to keep pace with its rising population. During the 1970’s, Dr. Tanton, now FAIR’s chairman, did his part to reduce world population by founding a local Planned Parenthood chapter and running the group Zero Population Growth. With the birthrate of native-born Americans declining, however, Dr. Tanton says he soon realized that the key to population control was reducing immigration. Unless America’s borders are sealed, Dr. Tanton explained to the Detroit Free Press this March, the country will be overrun with people “defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs.” To this day, FAIR’s “guiding principles” state that “the United States should make greater efforts to encourage population control.” Several months ago, the group organized a “bicentennial event” to commemorate Malthus’s “Essay on the Principle of Poulation.”
Mr. Stein, the organization’s current executive director, doesn’t deny that Malthusian fears of overpopulation are “central” to FAIR’s mission. Nor does he flinch when confronted with Mr. Hardin’s views on killing newborns. Instead, Mr. Stein defends Mr. Hardin by pointing out that his colleague has never supported “involuntary, coercive infanticide.” (As opposed to the voluntary kind?) As for the Chinese government’s well-documented campaign of forced abortions and sterilization, Mr. Stein describes it as an “international family-planning program.”
Perhaps most telling, Mr. Stein appears to embrace Mr. Hardin’s long-standing support of eugenics. In his interview with Omni, Mr. Hardin expressed alarm about “the next generation of breeders” now reproducing uncontrollably “in Third World countries.” The problem, according to Mr. Hardin, is not simply that there are too many people in the world, but that there are too many of the wrong kind of people in the world. As he put it: “It would be better to encourage the breeding of more intelligent people rather than the less intelligent.” Asked to comment on Mr. Hardin’s statement, Mr. Stein doesn’t even pause. “Yeah, so what?” he replies. “What is your problem with that? Should we be subsidizing people with low IQ’s to have as many children as possible, and not subsidizing those with high ones?”
Several years ago FAIR was forced to defend itself against charges of racism when it was revealed that the organization had received more than $600,000 from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation established in 1947 to support “research in heredity and eugenics.” Mr. Stein did his best at the time to downplay Pioneer’s nasty reputation. “My job is to get every dime of Pioneer’s money,” he told a reporter in 1993. But an unpleasant odor remains.
FAIR also has repeatedly been accused of hostility toward Hispanics and the Catholic Church. Mr. Stein claims the charges are nothing more than “orchestrated attacks from some of the fervent out-of-control zealots on the so-called religious right.” (And he warned me, I had better not imply otherwise: “I will call you at home and I will give your wife my opinion of the article if I don’t like it,” he said heatedly.) But Mr. Stein does little to disprove his critics. In one widely quoted outburst, he suggested that certain immigrant groups are engaged in “competitive breeding.” He told me: “Certainly we would encourage people in other countries to have small families. Otherwise they’ll all be coming here, because there’s no room at the Vatican.”
There are reasonable critics of immigration, but Dan Stein is not one of them. Which makes it all the more puzzling that a number of otherwise sober-minded conservatives seem to be making common cause with Mr. Stein and FAIR. According to National Review editor John o’Sullivan, FAIR, “until very recently, never saw the political right as sympathetic to the cause. That was an obvious error.” An error Mr. O’Sullivan has done his best to correct: Over the past several years, National Review has touted FAIR’s positions in its editorials and published several articles by FAIR employees.
‘These Central Americans’
FAIR itself has made a conscious play for support of social conservatives, running ads that blame immigration for “multiculturalism,” “multilingualism,” “increasing ethnic tension” and “middle class flight.” Mr. Stein claims that many immigrants are left-wing ideologues, making conservatives FAIR’s logical allies. “Immigrants don’t come all church-loving, freedom-loving, God-fearing,” he says. “Some of them firmly believe in socialist or redistributionist ideas. Many of them hate America, hate everything that the United States stands for. Talk to some of these Central Americans.”
Two years ago Insight, a magazine published by the conservative Washington Times, referred to “the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform.” And last year Republican strategist Paul Weyrich allowed FAIR to co-produce more than 50 hour-long programs dealing with immigration for National Empowerment Television, his conservative network. Clearly, FAIR’s overtures to the right are paying off. But do conservatives who embrace FAIR know all they should about the object of their affections?