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
Board candidate David Pimentel’s bedfellows are at least as strange as Zuckerman’s. According to “Hostile Takeover: Race, Immigration and the Sierra Club,” a report issued by the Center for New Community, Pimentel sits on the board of the Carrying Capacity Network. The board president is Virginia Abernethy, who also sits on the editorial board of The Citizens Informer, the house organ of the overtly racist group the Council of Conservative Citizens. One of the CCC’s founders, Robert Patterson, wrote in 2000, “Any effort to destroy the (white) race by a mixture of black blood is an effort to destroy Western civilization itself.”
Getting in bed with people who promote hate speech can’t be dismissed with a soundbite, says former Sierra Club board member Michael Dorsey. Dorsey was part of an earlier insurgency of rabble-rousing 20-somethings who managed to get the Sierra Club to endorse a visionary policy of banning logging on Forest Service land in the mid-’90s. Dorsey, who is African-American, went on to serve six years on the Sierra Club board of directors. Now a grizzled veteran of 33, he is a professor at Dartmouth College.
“Dick Lamm is the David Duke of the environmental movement,” Dorsey said. “This is not about immigration. This is about a threat to democracy, to humanity. These are proto-fascists. We know for a fact that they have ties to neo-Nazis. We know the neo-Nazis in this country are talking to neo-Nazis in Europe. The minute you start having conversations with fascists, you are completely outside the realm of political credibility.”
The attempted coup at the Sierra Club may not be part of a vast right-wing conspiracy to discredit the environmental movement in an election year, as one staff member joked. But it may be evidence of a resurgence of the anti-immigrant sentiment that has darkened (as it were) several chapters of American history. Successive waves of immigration seemed to bring up the same arguments: The new arrivals won’t assimilate, they breed too much, they’ll create divisions that will destabilize the country, and, in extreme cases, they’re genetically inferior. In March, Harvard professor Samuel Huntington recast many of these arguments in a controversial article published by the journal Foreign Policy attacking Hispanic immigration to the U.S., another sign that the resurgence of U.S. nativism may be reaching beyond small groups of right-wing nuts.
If well-educated, upper-middle-class anti-immigration zealots have joined forces with jackbooted thugs, they would argue it’s because they’ve become marginalized by the mainstream environmental movement. Carl Pope says, in effect, they’re just sore losers.
“Look,” Pope said, “global population growth, U.S. population growth and forced migration are all problems. But they have underlying causes. The U.S. putting up a fence or lifting the gangplanks is quite literally like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. U.S. immigration quotas are a tiny little symptom of the problem and a very divisive symptom. The Sierra Club would rather deal with the causes, not the symptoms.”
Pope ran down a long list of those causes, including lack of education and empowerment for women, lack of basic health care for poor and rural families, the U.S. domestic gag rule limiting financial assistance to family-planning programs, human rights abuses, civil wars, violence, ecological collapse in various parts of the world, and unfair global trade and economic policies.
Pope’s beliefs were formed in a small village in India called Barhi Barhi, where he worked as a Peace Corps volunteer. “Let me tell you a story,” he said. “I was bicycling along the road one day. I wore local clothes and I could speak Hindustani, which was the local language. There was an old man, about 65, which was old for rural people in that part of India. He waved me down and he said to me, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m in the Peace Corps, I’m working for the state health department, and I’m working in the family-planning program. Do you know what family planning is?’
“He said to me, ‘Oh. I know what a family is. Mothers and fathers and sons and daughters.’
“Then he said in Hindustani: ‘But that English word, what’s that?’”
In village Hindustani, Pope says, there was no word for planning.
Many see Tanton as the godfather of the activists behind the so-called hostile takeover of the club. Tanton, who is at home in Michigan and far away from the action, denies that he is directly involved. But, he allowed, “A sympathetic friend called me the master gardener, selecting, fertilizing, watering, harvesting, planting. I’m a fairly well-organized person.”
When asked if he felt comfortable working with groups that advocate white supremacy, Tanton said, “It’s hard to be holier than thou and get anything done in the world. You try to put together a coalition that’s diverse.”
As the interview wound down, Tanton became slightly less guarded. He talked about the excitement of seeing an elegant trogon, a rare bronze-and-scarlet bird rarely spotted in the U.S. He sounded like any other conservation-minded guy in his 60s.
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