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 SaveThePlanetProtest.com 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.
photo courtesy of Anyalogic via Flickr
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