By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Tanton’s words seemed, at the very least, prophetic. In 1997, a handful of Sierra Club members managed to get a measure on the ballot endorsing a reduction in immigration. In a 60-40 vote, the membership decided to remain neutral on immigration, favoring instead a “comprehensive approach” promoting international economic security, women’s rights and reproductive health.
But the assault by the immigration reformers, as they call themselves, had only just begun. In 2002, USC astrophysics professor Ben Zuckerman won a seat on the Sierra Club board of directors. The following year, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug LaFollette joined him there. Both were hardcore proponents of limiting immigration.
The third insurgent candidate was Paul Watson, the self-styled “master and commander” of the whale-ship-ramming marine protection group Sea Shepherd. Watson was on board with the anti-immigration zealots, but not exactly of them. Watson, who was kicked out of Greenpeace decades ago for his lack of Gandhian restraint, says he doesn’t dislike Hispanics or Chinese — he just dislikes people.
“I don’t give a damn if California’s 100 percent Mexican,” he said. “My position on population and immigration is motivated by purely ecological concerns. I don’t associate with any social groups. I don’t get involved with social-justice issues. I’m on the board to represent non-humans and to represent habitat.”
Though Watson claims “it’s pretty much useless” for anybody to try to influence his votes, Ben Zuckerman does hold a seat on Sea Shepherd’s board and presumably had a pretty good idea that he could count on support from Watson on the immigration issue. Although Watson, ironically, is a Canadian who spends much of his time in Santa Monica and Malibu courting celebrity supporters like Martin Sheen, Pierce Brosnan and Linda Blair.
Under pressure from Zuckerman, the Sierra Club’s board voted to consider placing another population question on the ballot in 2005 — after the presidential election. But Zuckerman’s fellow true believers were already recruiting anti-immigration candidates for the 2004 Sierra Club board election. One was Dick Lamm, whose name still carried weight with liberals unfamiliar with his more recent incarnation as the environmental movement’s Dr. Kevorkian. The others were David Pimentel, a professor of insect ecology and agricultural sciences at Cornell University, and Frank Morris, a former director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Each had impressive rÃ©sumÃ©s, but little or no track record with the Sierra Club.
To collect the 360 signatures necessary to get on the ballot for the board of directors, candidates counted on a new group that sounded like it was part of the Sierra Club — only it wasn’t. The Web site of Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization (SUSPS) is registered to Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform (CAIR). CAIR’s co-director, Fred Elbel, is also the Webmaster for a Proposition 187–style initiative called “Protect Arizona Now” that anti-immigrant groups are trying to get on the ballot in Arizona in 2004, according to Devin Burghart.
As the campaign heated up, white supremacist Web sites began to carry exhortations to join the Sierra Club and vote for Lamm, Pimentel and Morris. These included VDare, run by Brenda Walker, who once wrote in John Tanton’s journal The Social Contract: “That belief that all cultures are equal — the central tenet of multicultural society — does not bear even the most cursory examination.”
In January, Morris Dees, the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors these groups, announced his candidacy for the Sierra Club board. Like most of the anti-immigration candidates, Dees had no previous Sierra Club experience. Dees made it clear that he was running not to serve on the board but to use his marquee value to alert club members to what he viewed as the threat of a “hostile takeover” by racists.
By that time, the word chaos no longer seemed appropriate. Clusterfuck was more like it. Zuckerman, Pimentel and Lamm went into PR overdrive in an attempt to downplay their associations with white supremacist groups. Zuckerman, who many believe is the main organizer of the so-called hostile takeover, said he was running out of concern that the environmental movement was no longer an effective force in American politics.
“It would be one thing if the environmental movement in the United States was really doing great under establishment directors like Carl Pope but it’s not,” Zuckerman said. “In the past 10 years, we’ve gone into the toilet. We’ve got the worst Congress and president in the history of our country.
“If the club had been willing to try more courageous things, maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation now.”
What Zuckerman neglected to mention — or perhaps genuinely didn’t know — is that a group whose board of directors he had served on, Californians for Population Stabilization, was supported by the Pioneer Fund, a foundation that has funded race-based science dedicated to demonstrating white intellectual and moral superiority since the 1930s, when it was tied to Hitler’s eugenics program.
Still, Zuckerman and his colleagues are not insensitive to criticism. The insurgents have hired a PR firm. When asked if he felt uncomfortable being associated with racist groups, Zuckerman said, in scripted fashion, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”
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