Swans Commentary » swans.com October 4, 2010  



Special Issue on Immigration


Anti-Immigration's Malthusian Knights In Green Armour


by Michael Barker



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"Overpopulation is perhaps the biggest problem facing us, and immigration is part of the problem. It has to be addressed."
—David Brower, 2000.


(Swans - October 4, 2010)   The simple idea that the United States is overpopulated has proven to be an extremely useful ideological weapon for the anti-immigration lobby, and so it is unfortunate that some environmentalists (of both liberal and deep ecological persuasions) have been spreading vicious propaganda on just this issue. The late David Brower (1912-2000) was but one leading environmentalist who propounded such neo-Malthusian myths. Indeed, in the 1960s, while acting as head of the Sierra Club he published Paul Ehrlich's neo-Malthusian best-seller, The Population Bomb, even taking the time to write the book's foreword. (For a detailed critique of the Ehrlich-environmental nexus, see "Environmental Populationism, A Dangerous Obsession.")

Yet even in death Brower's name is still being harnessed to Malthusian lobbying, and along with many other conservationists, he is listed as a figurative leader of a recently formed group called Apply the Brakes (ATB) -- a group that aims to counter "the decade-long retreat of U.S. environmental organizations from addressing domestic population growth as a key issue in both domestic and global sustainability." This sorry revival in environmental racism has not gone unrecognized, and in July this year the Center for New Community responded by publishing a useful report titled "Apply the Brakes: Anti-Immigrant Co-optation of the Environmental Movement" (pdf). As this short pamphlet makes clear on its opening page:

ATB arguments on immigrants and population pull directly from the neo-Malthusian stance -- displacing blame from the negative influence of economic globalization onto populations that are the worst impacted. This push by ATB to distort "cause and effect" serves to intentionally transform a holistic environmental philosophy based on greater care towards the world and each other, into misanthropy. Ecological thinking based on dynamic and interconnected natural systems turns into a philosophy that treats national and state borders as unchallengeable nature. People become pollutants, with all the racial overtones of such a social construction. (p.1)

The report goes on to observe that ATB's primary organizer, William Elder, had previously "served as the Population Coordinator for the Sierra Club's Cascade Washington State Chapter during the late 1990s and into the new millennium." The report added that Elder then become involved in "a controversial national network named SUSPS, originally referred to as Sierrans for US Population Stabilization." Primarily concerned with immigration restriction, SUSPS was thought to have formed in 1996 to challenge the Sierra Club's decision to adopt a policy of neutrality on US immigration.

It is at this stage that we are introduced to the infamous anti-immigrant operative, John Tanton, who formerly headed the Sierra Club's population committee during the early 1970s, and whose activism is closely linked to that of "the nebulous" SUSPS. Population obsessed anti-immigrant activists working under the remit of SUSPS then sought to take control of the Sierra Club's board of directors, and in 2002-03 period they managed to get three of their candidates elected to the Club's 15-member board of directors, these being Ben Zuckerman ("board member of the racially-tinged Californians for Population Stabilization"), Captain Paul Watson, and Doug LaFollette. As the report continues:

By the 2004 Sierra Club elections, SUSPS needed to elect only three additional candidates to the board in order to control the organization and impose its anti-immigration plank. Its three main candidates were Richard D. Lamm, national advisor to Tanton's Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR); Frank Morris, board member of Tanton's Center for Immigration Studies; and David Pimental, board member of the Carrying Capacity Network whose president, Virginia Abernethy, described herself as a "white separatist." (p.2)

As it turned out this hostile takeover bid was defeated by the Sierra Club's membership, as were similar SUSPS generated board room high jinks that eventuated in 2005. However, most interesting of all are the aforementioned connections between Tanton's anti-immigration work and the environmental movement. And it is here that closer scrutiny reveals that it would be more accurate to describe the Apply the Brakes focus on overpopulation as simply owing to a revival and extension of longstanding green values, and not as exemplifying their co-optation by the anti-immigrant movement. I say this because many of the environmental leaders fixated on US overpopulation are, albeit for different reasons, just as opposed to immigration as are the anti-immigrant activists themselves, which makes it hard to separate the racist undertones of the environmental position from the overt racism exhibited by Tanton's anti-immigrant network. For instance, Alexandra Minna Sterns writes that,

Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, published in 1968 by the Sierra Club through Ballantine Books, reiterated many of [Farirfeld] Osborn's jeremiads and made population growth "a major focus for groups interested in linking the problem of resource limits to the growing concern about 'quality of life.'" ...This book had an enormous impact, selling more than one million copies in less than two years and going through twenty-two printings. It also catalyzed the formation of Zero Population Growth (ZPG), a group based at Stanford University, where Ehrlich was a professor of biology. ZPG mushroomed to more than thirty-three thousand members and 380 chapters by the early 1970s. It strove to attain replacement-level fertility rates in the United States, a goal shared by allies in the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and the Audubon Society. With a strong presence in California, ZPG relied on decades-old stereotypes of Mexicans and Mexican Americans as diseased hyperbreeders and demonized Spanish speakers and undocumented immigrants. This animus intensified in 1978 when John Tanton, a Sierra Clubber and "English only" advocate, founded the Federation for American Immigration Reform to press for stricter immigration laws and border control. By the late 1970s, population control, particularly in the Southwest and California, had fused with "efforts to control the flow of Mexican migrants." (1)

Both Paul Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich, were former board members of the racist Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), only "part[ing] ways" with this group when it was revealed that they obtained funding from a white supremacist group known as the Pioneer Fund. (The Ehrlichs left FAIR around the time that Paul renamed his nonprofit group Zero Population Growth to the more politically acceptable Population Connection -- a change that occurred in 2002.) Despite this parting of ways, other environmental groups remain closely linked to FAIR. Thus SUSPS activist, Ben Zuckerman, is the vice president of Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and a member of FAIR's advisory board; while the current president of CAPS and former member of the Sierra Club's population committee, Diana Hull, also serves alongside Zuckerman on FAIR's advisory board. (2) Here one might add that the late David Brower is listed on CAPS's emeriti advisory board, as is SUSPS representative and former Democratic governor Richard D. Lamm. Lamm, of course, is a member of FAIR's national advisory board (he is in fact the co-chair of the board), and he also serves on the advisory board of the similar sounding group, Progressives for Immigration Reform. Not surprisingly, the two groups have a similar modus operandi and the Progressives for Immigration Reform's executive director formerly worked as a legal analyst for FAIR. Important members of Progressives for Immigration Reform's advisory board include CAPS advisor Leon Kolankiewicz, Apply the Brakes conservation leader Philip Cafaro, and two SUSPS representatives -- Ben Zuckerman and David Pimental. In addition, another former SUSPS candidate and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Frank Morris, is currently the vice president of Progressives for Immigration Reform -- while both Morris and fellow PIR board member Vernon Briggs Jr. are board members of the Center for Immigration Studies, which was founded by Tanton in 1985. (3)

The Center for Immigration Studies is yet another important Tanton front-group whose political tack is aligned with the conservative magazine National Review. (4) The chair of this Center, Peter Nunez, was the assistant secretary for enforcement in the US Department of the Treasury under President George H.W. Bush (1990-93), and he is supported in his war on immigration by fellow board member General Harry Soyster, who was the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (1988-91) and from 1991 until 2004 served as the vice president of the mercenary outfitter Military Professional Resources Inc. In keeping with the focus of this article, current Center board members with "environmental" connections include Anita Winsor-Edwards, who is a board member of Fauna & Flora International and is a former ambassador for the neoliberal African Wildlife Foundation; while another green-tinged board member is the private investor Thomas C.T. Brokaw, who is a former board member of the big green outfit Defenders of Wildlife -- a group whose current chair (Victor Sher) is the former president of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. (5) Finally, it is significant that the Center for Immigration Studies former chair, David Simcox, used to be the director of Mexican affairs at the US State Department (from 1977 to 1979), and then served as the US Ambassador to the People's Republic of Mozambique, and has since worked as a senior advisor for Negative Population Growth -- an organization whose former head (Sharon McCloe Stein) is married to FAIR's executive director, Dan Stein.

Another significant group, which background it is important to explore, is the Carrying Capacity Network, of which SUSPS representative David Pimental (professor emeritus of entomology at Cornell University) is a board member. This network ostensibly focuses its work "on achieving national revitalization, population stabilization, immigration reduction, economic sustainability, and resource conservation" and is headed by the vocal white supremacist Virginia Abernethy. Professor Abernethy currently serves on the editorial advisory board of the vile publication The Occidental Quarterly, where she serves alongside Professor Richard Lynn who is a board member of the notorious Pioneer Fund. Of equal importance to these racist connections is Professor Abernethy's prior engagement as the editor (from 1989 until 1999) of the academic journal Population and Environment. This is because the advisory board of this journal includes Robert Engelman, the vice president for programs at the Worldwatch Institute -- a group whose best-known representative, Lester Brown, is an Apply the Brakes leader. Englelman is the former vice president for research at Population Action International (see footnote #2), and is a board member of the Center for a New American Dream -- a capitalist dream that "helps Americans consume responsibly" (6) -- a connection that is noteworthy because until recently the best-selling author and former executive director of the Carrying Capacity Network, Monique Tilford, has been the deputy director of the Center for a New American Dream. In the past, Tilford had also acted as the head of Wild Earth magazine which had been cofounded by one of Apply the Brakes' most famous conservation leaders, Dave Foreman. (For a detailed investigation of the close ties that exist between Foreman and SUSPS representative Captain Paul Watson, see "Saving Trees and Capitalism Too.")

Moving back to the Center for New Community's critique of Apply the Brakes, it is essential to observe who ATM's main financial beneficiaries were, as it turns out that the Weeden Foundation "provided seed money for ATB," and the Foundation not coincidentally "share[s] the same mailing address and phone number" as ATB. As the report continues:

Created in 1963 by the late Frank Weeden, The Weeden Foundation provides grants "used to address the adverse impact of growing human populations and overuse of natural resources on the biological fabric of the planet." Its funding is significant; for the financial years 2001-2008, total annual grants from the Foundation exceeded a million dollars in all but two years. Alongside its funding for national and international "biodiversity" projects, the Foundation also has a "Population/Consumption Program" whose domestic grants often go to fuel anti-immigrant bigotry. From 2001-2008, the Weeden Foundation disbursed nearly $700,000 in grants to controversial Tanton organizations with ties to white nationalists, such as Californians for Population Stabilization, the Center for Immigration Studies, and NumbersUSA. (p.3)

The report adds that the Weeden family has taken a close personal interest in many of the groups they sponsor, and it points out that the foundation's executive director, Don Weeden, is a board member of the Tanton-created NumbersUSA, while his father, Alan Weeden, serves on FAIR's board of directors. It also notes that in 1990 Alan Weeden was a member of the Sierra Club Foundation's board of trustees, as well as being a member of the Club's national population committee; and so it is not much surprising that in 1990 the Weeden Foundation "gave a grant of $275,000 to the Sierra Club, earmarked for population work."

Yet, while not emphasized in the Center for New Community's write-up of ATB's history, the Weedens are much more firmly embedded in the environmental movement than their connection to the Sierra Club suggests. Thus, prior to becoming the head of the Weeden Foundation (six years ago), Don Weeden "had a nearly 25-year career in the international population and economic development field" working in Asia for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and acting as the founder and Director of the National Semiconductor Corporation (until 2000). He is also the former chair of Weeden & Company, where he worked alongside leading capitalists like "environmental" timber giant Rick Weyerhaeuser, who is the former state director of the Massachusetts chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and had previously worked for ten years as the Director of the World Wildlife Fund's Africa program. In addition, at present Don sits on the steering committee of the Environmental Grantmakers Association's working group on sustainable production and consumption, and is the co-chair of the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity's land and freshwater conservation working group. His father likewise maintains equally impressive green credentials, serving on the advisory council of the American Bird Conservancy and as an emeritus board member of Conservation International. In the case of the latter group, one might add that in 1987 the Weeden Foundation provided the funding that enabled Conservation International to set-up the ever first debt-for-nature swap in Bolivia (see "When Environmentalists Legitimize Plunder"). Finally, Weeden Foundation board member Barbara Daugherty is the treasurer of the California Wilderness Coalition that works closely with leading eco-baron Douglas Tompkins (who is aptly an Apply the Brakes conservation leader), and the Coalition works with various environmental organizations that include the Sierra Club.

Last but not least, the only SUSPS electoral candidate whose background has not yet been examined is Wisconsin's Secretary of State, Doug LaFollette. Having formerly served as a board member of Friends of the Earth US, LaFollette presently acts as an environmental advisor to NumbersUSA (along with fellow SUSPS's Ben Zuckerman and David Pimentel), a group whose stated goals are to "examine numerical levels of annual legal and illegal immigration" and to "educate the public about the immigration-reduction recommendations."

Serving alongside Don Weeden on NumbersUSA's four-person-strong board of directors are two members of the advisory council of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration (NumbersUSA's president Roy Beck and their chair Gary Gerst). (7) While most of the members of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration's advisory council have already been introduced in this article, the most interesting one who has yet to be mentioned is Wayne Lutton, the editor of John Tanton's "journal" The Social Contact. In 1985, Lutton coauthored the Ehrlich-esque hate tract The Immigration Time Bomb. The forth member of NumberUSA's board of directors is former Center for Immigration Studies fellow Marti Dinerstein, who, like her former colleagues at the Center for Immigration Studies, is well connected to the military establishment as she sits on the advisory board of a shadowy neoconservative outfit known as the 9/11-inspired Coalition for a Secure Driver's License, which was co-founded by Alan Weeden and FAIR board member Henry Buhl. (8) Furthermore, Marti's husband, venture capitalist and "humanitarian" activist Robert Dinerstein, bolsters their elite familial connections by serving on the advisory board of the investment advisory firm, Veracity Worldwide. Three of the five other members of Veracity's advisory board include the former head of the British Secret Intelligent Service, Sir Richard Dearlove, former US Ambassador to NATO and trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, R. Nicholas Burns, and the former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs turned gold miner/"environmentalist" Walter Kansteiner III.

Thankfully, radical environmental theorists like the late Murray Bookchin (1921-2006) have long rallied against the racist elements of the US environmental movement. Writing in the early 1990s with regard to the work of one of Apply the Brakes' best-known conservation leaders, Bookchin wrote:

Lester R. Brown of Worldwatch Institute divides the world "into countries where population growth is slow or nonexistent and where living conditions are improving, and those where population growth is rapid and living conditions are deteriorating or in imminent danger of doing so." One might easily conclude by the mere juxtaposition of Brown's phrases that declining living conditions are due solely to increasing population. Not so -- if one looks closely at Brown's data as well as other sources. Much of the disparity between population growth and bad living conditions in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, for example, is due to patterns of land ownership. In southern Asia, some 30 million rural households own no land or very little, a figure that represents 40 percent of nearly all rural households in the subcontinent. Similar figures are emerging from Africa and Latin America. Land distribution is now so lopsided in the Third World in favor of commercial farming and a handful of elite landowners that one can no longer talk of a "population problem" without relating it to a class and social problem. (9)

Yet unfortunately the problem of identifying the capitalist co-optation of environmentalism has to date seemingly passed many well-meaning people by. To help explain this failure Bookchin highlights the immense differences between today's world and the era of the robber barons some one hundred years ago.

In those days capitalism had a very distinct face, to an extent that it doesn't today. It was still highly personified. J.P. Morgan was still alive; the original old Rockefeller was still pontificating on MovieTone News about how he got rich and why children should go to Sunday school. Andrew Mellon and Henry Ford were continual presences, and we identified capitalism with these very real people, not with anonymous corporations or trade names. Being ruled was felt as a personal experience. Evil did not seem to be an impersonal phenomenon, as it does in our corporate world today; it had a recognizable visage, which made it possible for the oppressed to single out and identify "it" clearly as a tangible and recognizable object of opposition. (10)

So while it is more difficult to respond to the diffuse power of for-profit corporations today than to the highly visible individual power brokers of yesteryear, it is evidently harder still to recognize the insidious influence of not-for-profit corporations (that is, philanthropic foundations) over the political realm. But this is not to say that people have not begun to organize to challenge such manipulative power. In July of this year a vibrant progressive protest took place outside the Manhattan office of the Weeden Foundation (see short video here). All environmental activists must now engage in such inspiring activities in seeking to understand the reasons why leading parts of the environmental movement are working hand-in-hand with anti-immigrant groups. Only then can we be more certain that we are engaging in the type of green activism that is sustaining the environment and not just white supremacy and capitalism.


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Jump to the next article by Maxwell Clark.


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[Ed. note dated November 19, 2010: The article states that Ben Zuckerman is "a member of FAIR's advisory board." He is not. Zuckerman is an advisor to the Progressives for Immigration Reform. Accordingly, the text should read: "Thus SUSPS activist, Ben Zuckerman, is the vice president of Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS); while the current president of CAPS and former member of the Sierra Club's population committee, Diana Hull, also happens to serve on FAIR's advisory board."

And the footnote #2 should read: "The vice president of Californians for Population Stabilization, Ben Zuckerman, in addition to being an advisor to Progressives for Immigration Reform and NumbersUSA, is a board member of the deep ecology-inspired Sea Shepherd Conservation Society."

We apologize for the error.]


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Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008, 2009, and 2010 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com. Please help fund his work.   (back)


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1.  Alexandra Minna Stern, Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America (University of California Press, 2005), p.127.  (back)

2.  The chair of Californians for Population Stabilization, Marilyn Brant Chandler DeYoung, is a central player in the population control community having served as a member of President Nixon's Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (1970-72). Formerly she spent twenty-three years as a board member of the Population Crisis Committee (now known as Population Action International), a group which was co-founded in 1965 by General William Draper, Jr. (see "Planned Parenthood For Capitalists"). Marilyn Brant Chandler DeYoung is also a former board member of Population Communication, a non-profit which "seek[s] to develop and implement a strategy for global population stabilization and provide population information to national leaders in developing countries." The founding president of Population Communication, Robert Gillespie, had until recently served on CAP's advisory board, but does currently reside on FAIR's advisory board.

The vice president of Californians for Population Stabilization, Ben Zuckerman, in addition to being an advisor to FAIR and NumbersUSA, is a board member of the deep ecology-inspired Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. This connection is worth highlighting as deep ecology has been closely wedded to the Malthusian population control agenda, and Captain Paul Watson, the founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, was also an endorsed candidate of SUSPS.  (back)

3.  The president and chairman of Progressives for Immigration Reform, William Ryerson, is another long-serving population control activist, who as a graduate student became the founder and first chairperson of the Yale Chapter of Zero Population Growth. Ryerson is additionally the president of both the Population Institute and the Population Media Center, has worked in various senior capacities for Planned Parenthood and Population Communications International, and he serves on the advisory board for CAPS and for the equally controversial Optimum Population Trust. The secretary of FAIR's board of directors, Sarah Epstein, is a former board member of Ryerson's Population Institute, and a current board member of Population Services International. The latter population group is chaired by Frank Loy, the former under secretary of state for global affairs in the US Department of State (1998-2001), an individual whose current "environmental" affiliations include his being a board member of The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, The Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and Resources for the Future.  (back)

4.  In 2003, the Center for Immigration Studies gave their Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration to National Review hack Joel Mowbray. Mowbray's receipt of this award is particularly interesting because he is also a consultant for David Horowitz's infamous DiscoverTheNetworks project, and is a adjunct fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. At the latter Orwellian organization, SUSPS representative Richard D. Lamm served on their advisory board (alongside the likes of Richard Perle and Bill Kristol); although one might add that he had long mingled in neoconservative circles, having acted as a co-founder (in 1995) of Lynne Cheney's American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Lamm also maintains outstanding connections to the neoliberal environmental movement as in the 1970s he was a trustee of the Conservation Foundation (see "The Philanthropic Roots Of Corporate Environmentalism").

It is critical to observe that the same liberal foundations that have played a central role in manipulating the environmental movement and in harnessing Malthusian ideologies to anti-immigration propaganda also support liberal think tanks focused on migration issues. For example, the Migration Policy Institute, which grew out of the International Migration Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 2001, was formerly chaired by Mary McClymont who is now the executive director of Global Rights, and previously served in various executive positions at the Ford Foundation, including as vice president of the Peace and Social Justice Program. In addition, the director of research at the Center for Migration Studies, Joseph Chamie, is the former director of the Population Division in the Department for Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat (having served as the deputy secretary-general for the 1994 International Conference for Population and Development); while another Center for Migration Studies board member, Antonio Maciel, is the director of the US Justice Fund at George Soros's Open Society Institute.  (back)

5.  Another notable Center for Immigration Studies board member is Otis Graham, who is a board member of CAPS.  (back)

6.  The Center for a New American Dream's executive director, Wendy Philleo, has been a board member and donor of the Center for the last ten years, but prior to this she worked as a program officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (focusing on environmental issues), before this as a program officer at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (working on their $25 million budget cross-cutting initiative on population, health and environment), and prior to this she had been a program officer at the World Wildlife Fund.  (back)

7.  Other members of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration advisory council already introduced in this article include David Simcox, Peter Nunez, Richard D. Lamm, and Vernon Briggs, Jr.  (back)

8.  The Coalition or a Secure Driver's License's president, Amanda Bowman, recently served as the New York Director of the neoconservative Zionist stronghold, the Center for Security Policy. One interesting "environmental" board member of the Coalition is the former CEO of PepsiCo, Donald Kendall, who is a board member of the military-linked Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation (see "Jane Goodall's Elite Monkey Business").  (back)

9.  Murray Bookchin, Which Way for the Ecology Movement? (AK Press, 1994), p.36.  (back)

10.  Murray Bookchin, Anarchism, Marxism, and the Future of the Left: Interviews and Essays, 1993-1998 (AK Press, 1999), p.22.  (back)


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Published October 4, 2010