Monday :: Feb 23, 2004

Sierra Club Targeted for Takeover by Anti-Immigrant Forces


by Mary

Posted by Mary
Soon, Sierra Club members will be asked to vote for new board members. If these were normal times, the next board members would reflect the interests and environmental focus of its members. Yet, these are not normal times for the Club as there is a significant under-the-radar screen attempt to take over the organization and change it radically from the environmental organization we know today.

What is upsetting about this is that Sierra Club members were asked if they wanted to have a zero-population focus for the USA in 1998 and the members soundly defeated this initiative in preference of dealing with the population issue globally. So why is it being discussed again? The people behind this effort have come up with a new and highly despicable method to ram their agenda through. What they have done is to let white supremacists “back” their effort by not only providing funds to back their campaign but also by having hate group websites urge their supporters to join the Sierra Club in order to vote for these candidates. (David Neiwert has a couple of links to the hate group sites in this post.)

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been monitoring this situation ever since they saw that back in 1986, John Tanton, a white supremacist, expressed the intent to take over the Sierra Club for his anti-immigration purposes.

Tolerance.org: How long has anti-immigration activist John Tanton been targeting the Sierra Club with his anti-immigration campaign?

Mark Potok: At least since 1986. That's when Tanton — who is probably the leading anti-immigration activist in the United States — first wrote about infiltrating the Sierra Club in a secret memo leaked to the press two years later. In the memo, Tanton wrote, "The Sierra Club may not want to touch the immigration issue, but the immigration issue is going to touch the Sierra Club."

And it's quite possible that the idea came to Tanton earlier, since he headed up the Club's National Population Committee between 1971 and 1975 and established his first immigration restriction organization, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), in 1979. (Read The Puppeteer, an Intelligence Report story on John Tanton.)

Last fall, the journal that Tanton publishes — The Social Contract, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group — called for immigration restrictionists to join the Club in time to vote in the board elections in early 2004. Tanton is a friend and ally of Ben Zuckerman, who is a current Club board member and a key leader in the battle to get the Club to adopt a platform calling for reduced immigration.

... snip ...

Mark Potok: Groundswell Sierrahas already pointed out the remarkable fact that the three prominent candidates now backed by SUSPS — Lamm, Morris and Pimentel — have all sat on the boards of immigration restriction groups that have collectively received millions of dollars from foundations controlled by hard-right billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. Scaife, of course, is the same man who bankrolled a whole series of anti-Clinton initiatives like "The Arkansas Project."

At the same time, hate groups are urging their members to join the Sierra Club by the end of January, so they can vote for the anti-immigration candidates. For instance, a hate site that carries links to sites like those controlled by former Klan kingpin Don Black recently called for readers to join the Club and vote. Members of the neo-Nazi National Alliance have done the same. So has a popular neo-Nazi website.

Why this might work. The Sierra Club is a national environmental organization and as such has lots of members who contribute to the organization, yet rarely bother to vote in the yearly election for new board members. It is also a very democratic group and allows all members to vote without regard for how long they have been members or why they’ve joined. Unfortunately, this means that those who are joining in order to throw the elections have a good chance of taking control of the organization, thus changing the face and spirit of the Club in the most radical and unfortunate way. To me, it looks very much like the way the radical Christian Right captured school boards throughout the nation because most people didn’t vote, or if they did, didn’t really know the positions of the candidates. Once the right had control they disrupted the progressive educational focus with their pet theories like, no sex education in schools, no discussion of evolution, etc. The only thing that can stop this type of takeover is for informed and committed members who know that this is a serious threat to speak out on this matter, to inform their friends, and to vote against these candidates.

The Sierra Club realizes that population is a concern for the world, not the least because we have diminishing supplies of potable water and a world stressed by over-utilization of our natural resources, but the fact that the anti-immigrant candidates focus on immigration in the USA rather than birth control is one of the things that tells me that those backing this effort are not environmentalists. There is no way the United States can live in its own little bubble while the rest of the world burns. We live on this planet together and our future relies on our ability to solve these problems globally. Americans can do a lot to improve the outcome for the entire world, but much of that is by changing our own consumption habits and starting to live on this earth more lightly. Simply putting up a fence and telling the rest of the world to go blow is not going to work.

It seems that these anti-immigrant forces are trying to hijack this organization because they haven’t been able to get enough credibility through other means. And they are not willing to do the hard work of honestly working with the club members to make this a truly informed and democratic vote. Otherwise, why haven’t they gone through the multitude of individual local clubs to come up with good and reasonable proposals? Furthermore, why are they not denouncing the white supremacist support? And why do they think they can just take over the organization at the top and disregard the members who have made this club and what they believe are the issues the club should address?

The problem is not just the anti-immigrant candidates. Animal rights activists are colluding with the anti-immigrant board members in this takeover. But they bring their own baggage because one of the best mechanisms that environmentalists have leveraged is the partnership with hunters and fishermen who are also dedicated to preserving habitat for wild species. Unfortunately, too many animal rights activists have the same “moral clarity” that the anti-abortionists activists hold (all abortion is evil) and they would shatter the alliance with hunters and fishermen who are the natural allies of the environmentalists. This would certainly make it much harder to fend off the corporate take over of our natural places. And in my opinion, by backing this shady takeover, they have lost my respect – just like Ralph Nader did when he took Republican funds during the 2000 election. You can be a true believer, but when you align yourself with the devil you have forfeited your moral standing.

Many Sierra Club members will not know who is backing this issue and would be very unhappy to know the agenda they are supporting. As the Williamette Week story shows, knowing the facts will change the way people view these candidates and this issue.

Greg Jacob is a nice guy. He isn't considered mean-spirited, racist or foolish--even by fellow Sierra Club members who say the Portland State University English professor is being duped by fearmongering subversives.

"I think Greg is a very good-hearted person," says Ross Williams. "He's always been fair in his dealings with me. I don't think he quite understands what he's involved in."

…Other anti-immigration groups have encouraged people to join the Sierra Club in order to vote. Jacob says he's heard that pro-immigration forces have done the same. In any case, Sierra Club membership, which had been sliding in recent years, has jumped by more than 25,000 during the past few months.
What's disturbing to many environmentalists--particularly those who'd like to work more closely with minority communities--are signs of bigotry in the anti-immigration forces trying to influence the Sierra Club vote.

In a 1988 memo in support of immigration control (never intended to be made public), FAIR founder John Tanton wrote, "As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night?" Garrett Hardin, a member of FAIR's board of directors, has been quoted as saying that sending food to Africa encourages people to overpopulate, and that infanticide is a valid population-control method.

Jacob is mystified by such reports. Even though he quoted Hardin to WW, he says he was unaware of Hardin's extreme views. He believes many members of the Sierra Club support immigration limits for environmental reasons, and he's angry at reports of outsiders stuffing the membership. "That's too damn political," he says. "I don't like the idea of people doing that. That goes against what I believe.

For more information:

To find out more about what current club members are doing to fight back visit the Groundswell Sierra site.

Listen to KQED’s Forum program from Friday, February 20, 2004, titled Population Control to hear Frank Morris, chairman of the National Board of Directors of the Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America (one of the anti-immigrant candidates) debate this with ex-Sierra Club President, Adam Werbach.

As noted before, the Southern Poverty Law Center was very concerned when they saw the forces that were gathering for this take over and in response Morris Dees, head of the Center, has put his name in as a board director to bring attention to this problem.

NPR’s Living On Earth had a section on this issue and provided an interview with Paul Ehrlich, the author of The Population Bomb. Paul Ehrlich does not support the take over of Sierra Club and, in fact, believes that it will destroy the Club.

CURWOOD: Joining me now from the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, is Professor Paul Ehrlich, author of the groundbreaking book “The Population Bomb.” He’s also co-authored, with his wife Anne Ehrlich, “The Population Explosion” and “Human Natures.”

Paul, how helpful is it for the people of the United States to discuss the questions of population and immigration? Is it a valuable debate or is it destructive to an organization like the Sierra Club, since it’s an issue with no easy solutions?

EHRLICH: Well, I think it would be excellent if the United States as a whole had a reasoned debate over immigration. But that would mean that you would have to have people who are actually knowledgeable about the issue introducing it to people in general. Whereas within one single organization, I think it tends to be destructive to the organization because, among other things, it’s a know-nothing debate.

There is no organization that I know in the United States at the moment that has looked broadly and carefully at the immigration issue – at all of its dimensions, at its environmental dimensions, at its consumption dimensions, at its ethical dimensions, at how it interacts with family size and so on – and drawn sensible conclusions. And that includes the United States Congress.

So, until we can organize that kind of debate, I think having a know-nothing debate, basically by people who are trying to disrupt an important organization, I think that’s a very bad idea.

If you are a Sierra Club member, don’t take this lightly. Please let your friends who are also Sierra Club members know what is at stake and tell them that their vote matters this time. It is not a time to sit this election out. Don’t let the racists take over this environmental organization.

Author’s note: I do not make it a habit to cross-post my posts, yet I think it is important to get this information disseminated as far and wide as I can, so I’m cross-posting this to all sites for which I write. (The American Street, Pacific Views, The Left Coaster, dKos Diary)

Mary :: 12:14 AM :: Comments (8) :: Digg It!