Anti-Immigrant Hard-liners Try to Co-Opt Environmental Movement

Apply the Brakes is perhaps the stealthiest part of the restrictionist movement.

Who would have thought that the renowned Lester Brown of Worldwatch Institute or Roderick Nash, author of the classic Wilderness and the American Mind, would involve themselves in a portion of the environmental movement that dallies with nativists and white nationalists?  Or that the Weeden Foundation, a mainstay funder of numerous environmental groups, might “steer the environmental movement toward a course fueled by bigotry and racism?”

With the release today of “Apply the Brakes: Anti-Immigrant Co-optation of the Environmental Movement,” the Center for New Community has laid these unseemly realities bare, and exposed yet another effort by anti-immigrant forces to corrupt the dialogue on the relationship of immigration to population growth to environmental degradation.  As well, the report maps the ties between anti-immigrant interests and environmental groups nationwide.

Apply the Brakes (ATB) is a rather innocuous-sounding gathering of “long-time conservationists” committed to stopping “unsustainable U.S. population growth.”  Having met in 2006 “to discuss the decade-long retreat of U.S. environmental organizations from addressing domestic population growth as a key issue in both domestic and global sustainability,“ the group determined to fill the population gap left by traditional environmental organizations.  Flying low over the environment-population-immigration landscape ever since, Apply the Brakes is perhaps the most stealthy of anti-immigrant configurations, with long roots in The John Tanton Network and the contemporary nativist movement in the U.S.

Anti-immigrant efforts to co-opt the environmental movement go back decades and were most brazen in the infamous battle of 2004 to take over the Board of the Sierra Club.  One of the primary players in that affair, Bill Elder, is in the thick of Apply the Brakes, serving as its website coordinator.  Elder’s “green” ties to the anti-immigrant movement are deep and despicable, and reach into its white nationalist core via Brenda Walker, a regular contributor to the white nationalist website V-DARE, and Virginia Abernethy, an avowed white separatist.  Newer anti-immigrant players like Philip Cafaro—who has ludicrously tied the Gulf oil spill to immigrants—help flesh out Tanton Network tentacles into ATB.

The Weeden Foundation itself shares its address and phone with ATB, and provided it “modest seed money,” according to Earth Island Journal.  Foundation director Alan Weeden also services as a Board member of theFederation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), at the heart of the anti-immigrant, John Tanton Network.  The Tanton tentacles reach far and wide.

As they have before, ATB leaders will likely try to slide through their “controversial” views.  They will pro forma disavow any ties to the nativist movement, and will screech vociferously about links to white nationalism outlined in the Center’s report.  They will play their liberal politics.  In this regard, they echo their first cousins at Progressives for Immigration Reform(PFIR), the FAIR front group that disingenuously portrays itself as “environmentally friendly” and politically progressive.

Such responses just don’t cut it any more.  In recent years the anti-immigrant movement in the U.S. has been and continues to be revealed for what it is—the contemporary face of white nationalism.  These and other efforts by anti-immigrant forces to co-opt the environmental movement are now standard fare; they must be and are being rejected by environmentalists and true progressives who give no quarter to the shams perpetrated by these elements of the white nationalist matrix.

If Apply the Brakes leaders truly seek to disavow their relationship to this movement, they should break their ties to it completely, renounce it, and condemn its sordid history and contemporary manifestations, even in their own ranks.  Anything less is unacceptable.


Rev. David Ostendorf is a United Church of Christ Minister currently serving as Executive Director of the Chicago-based Center for New Community.
Stay Ahead of the Rest
Sign Up for AlterNet's Daily Newsletter
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Rights & Liberties
Personal Health