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Is Discovery Gunman the First Crack in the Far-Right?

Is Discovery Gunman the First Crack in the Far-Right?

Wednesday’s confrontation between police and a gunman with a history of protesting against the Discovery Channel has brought to light a disturbing confluence of political ideologies first reported on by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  The gunman, James J. Lee ran the website where he complained about both the Discovery Channel’s programming as well as the “disgusting filth” of illegal immigrants and their “pollution babies”.

As first reported by SPLC, anti-immigration activists have launched a campaign to recruit environmentalists to their cause by blaming immigrants for urban sprawl, over-consumption and a host of other environmental problems as part of an effort to deflect charges that the anti-immigration movement is really another form of racist nativism.  One look at Lee’s website is proof positive of those results.

But scratch below the surface and you’ll see the tactics and their sponsors.  Right-wing nativists have targeted the more mainstream elements of the environmental movement with advertisements, websites and even “progressive” organizations that promote the belief that the key to preserving the environment is to radically curtail immigration.  The efforts are both cynical and savvy.

Take for example Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), an organization that purports to represent liberal environmentalists but is in reality headed by Leah Durant, an attorney whose resume includes such gems as working for the nativist Immigration Reform Law Institute.  IRF is the legal arm of FAIR- the Federation for American Immigration Reform- a key nativist group that is not shy about its ties to white nationalists.  PFIR board member John Tanton also serves on the board of directors for FAIR and has written specifically about the need to use progressive or liberal environmental organizations as a means of insulating nativists against charges of racism.

Thankfully the mainstream environmental movement has largely rejected the central argument of this “greenwashing” campaign, refusing to embrace the idea that immigration leads to environmental degradation.  Perhaps that’s because environmental degradation continues at an alarming rate while overall immigration, particularly illegal immigration, has dropped significantly.  Perhaps it’s because despite the efforts of PFIR and related shadow groups show a savviness that still cannot mask their racist roots.

These efforts though could actually split elements of the far-right.  Anti-abortion groups have been quick to paint Lee as an abortion zealot espousing a population-control theory that would mandate abortions or restrict the number of children per-families.  Some groups, like The Discovery Institute went so far as to blast the media for failing to report on Lee’s “radicalized Darwinian agenda”.

So what to make of all this?  As we saw with yesterday’s standout and the ultimate death of Lee, there’s a dangerous and combustible effect when one stokes racialized fear with catastrophic environmental change.  Yesterday’s standoff resulted in only one death–Lee’s–but begs the question of, thanks to the efforts by the nativist right, are there other Lee’s in the wings? 

And just what is the right to do now that it has spent so much time courting and mainstreaming the anti-immigrant fringe now that those factions have found themselves squarely at odds with it’s previous fringe-base of anti-choice activists?  Is this what the right had in mind when it decided to take immigration as its new wedge issue over gay rights?  I can’t imagine so.

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photo courtesy of Anyalogic via Flickr

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5:08AM PST on Feb 5, 2011

It's a classic strategy for far right activists to either engage in existing radical groups (like the animal rights groups) or create their own on popular topics, as in this case glomal warming and immigration. Be very cautious when signing petitions or financially support groups with similar names as those of well reckognized organisations! Thanks for the enlightened posting!

3:59PM PDT on Sep 8, 2010

The recent drop in immigration only occurred during the last two years and thus it is ridiculous to link any recent drop in immigration to environmental degradation. The Pew Hispanic Center demonstrated that prior to this recent drop, illegal immigration into the US had been on a steady incline during the past two decades.

Studies presented on our website (
look at the long-term consequences of high levels of immigration and the booming populations they foster. A booming American population over the course of next generation or two will put unsustainable demands on America’s finite resources and continue our unfortunate carbon legacy. It is simply a reality that Americans consume at a much higher rate than any other nationality in the world and when immigrants assimilate into our culture they consume at much higher rates than they would normally do otherwise. In the big picture, the recent 900,000 number decrease of immigrant residents will not substantially help our ecosystem unless it is followed by a more reasonable immigration policy that weighs both the environmental and economic consequences of mass migration.

Leah Durant, Executive Director, PFIR

3:57PM PDT on Sep 8, 2010

This article completely distorts both the significance of James Lee’s crimes and the mission of legitimate organizations such as Progressives for Immigration Reform. We are not a white supremacist or racist organization and instead actually have a very diverse staff. I am the executive director of PFIR and am actually an African-American woman. We do not advocate hate or immigrant bashing, we simply present evidence of how massive immigration into America is harming the US’s ecology. We abhor the actions of extremists like Lee. Lee should be properly viewed as one deranged individual, not as a symbol for either right or left ideology.

Many of the conclusions you make in the article are specious and groundless. You argued that the environmental movement has not taken an anti-immigrant agenda because, “environmental degradation continues at an alarming rate while overall immigration, particularly illegal immigration, has dropped significantly. “ Such a statement is so hazy as to rendered meaningless, as you provide no context to the time frame you are commenting upon. Pundits from both the right and left have opined that the horrible economy caused the recent drop in undocumented immigration. Many pundits from both sides of the spectrum also agree that once the economy improves the US will once again likely experience high levels of undocumented immigration. The recent drop in immigration only occurred during the last two years and thus it

9:14AM PDT on Sep 5, 2010

As I only clicked the submit button once, I do think that Care2 may have some problems today.

9:13AM PDT on Sep 5, 2010

Correction:**Please make an effort to be cohesive in your writing style.

9:12AM PDT on Sep 5, 2010

Correction:**Please make an effort to be cohesive in your writing style.

9:12AM PDT on Sep 5, 2010

Correction:**Please make an effort to be cohesive in your writing style.

9:10AM PDT on Sep 5, 2010

Correction: ***Please make an effort to be cohesive in your writing style.

9:06AM PDT on Sep 5, 2010

In my opinion this is a poorly written article, jumping erratically from one topic to another in an effort to state what exactly? Sympathy, support or condemnation. Please can an effort to be cohesive in your writing style.

9:01AM PDT on Sep 5, 2010

Seems that any thing that happens can be turned into and agenda for negative statements against the left or right. This man, James Lee, took one step too far, a step that one who is in balance with the frustrations of not getting a message across, would not take. To use him as a political tool after the fact; is as wrong and contemptible as his own actions.

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