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How Racist Anti-Immigrant Groups Are Trying to Recruit Environmentalists

Xenophobes have launched a cynical campaign to recruit environmentalists to their cause by blaming immigrants for urban sprawl and other environmental problems.

In January 2010, national leaders in ecology, sustainable business, and the larger environmental movement gathered in Washington to grapple with the problem of building "The New Green Economy." Hosted by the government-funded National Council for Science and the Environment, the event was a prestigious one.

But one of the invited speakers was hardly an environmentalist.

Roy Beck, who participated in a panel entitled "Perverse Incentives, Subsidies, and Tax Code Impediments to a Sustainable Economy," is the head of NumbersUSA, an anti-immigration group that was largely responsible for sinking a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2007. Beck has spent nearly 20 years relentlessly attacking American immigration policies, even editing tracts like The Immigration Invasion, a book so raw in its nativism that Canadian authorities banned it as hate literature. More to the point, perhaps, purported environmentalist Beck's group not long ago paid nearly half a million dollars to a far-right news service— an outfit that has described global warming as a "religion" that is "impervious to evidence" and has pilloried conservationists as "anti-mankind."

So what was Beck doing talking about "greening the tax code"?

Roy Beck is part of a sweeping, renewed attempt by immigration restrictionists in America to convince environmentalists that they, too, must oppose immigration if they are to save the environment from the ravages of a growing population. Because such efforts typically have been organized by anti-immigration activists whose leading concern is not the environment — men and women who attempt to recruit conservationists and other "progressives" to their cause, sometimes even while simultaneously working with nakedly anti-environmental forces — this strategy has come to be known as "greenwashing."

In the last few years, key nativist groups have increasingly been taking up this strategy. They have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to run full-page advertisements appealing to liberals in an array of publications and have started a new group, Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR). They've built a series of websites aimed at "progressive" environmentalists — and many of those sites are run by people who are also principals of right-wing nativist groups.

Time and again, the hypocrisy of their claims comes to the surface. PFIR was originally registered by a Republican activist who was also involved in efforts to denounce overly liberal professors — hardly a "progressive" position. Its leader is a former attorney for one of the country's leading nativist organizations and agreed to be interviewed for a cover story in a far-right nativist journal. A nativist political action committee controlled by Mary Lou Tanton, who is married to the primary architect of the strategy of appealing to environmentalists, has given money to an array of politicians whose environmental voting records are miserable.

 "The nativist movement is clearly attempting to split the environmental movement in order to advance its own white nationalist agenda," said the Rev. David Ostendorf, who heads the Center for New Community, a Chicago-based interfaith group dedicated to "building community, justice and equality." "The greening of hate is not about the environment, conservation or population. It is about preserving the dominance of European Americans."

Early Efforts
Nativists have been working since the late 1960s to enlist environmentalists as allies in their struggle to drastically limit or end immigration. And, in fact, a great many early environmental leaders, including the powerhouse Sierra Club, did endorse the argument that population had to be stabilized and that immigration had to be reduced. Following that logic, some who started on the environmental left went even further, becoming critical not only of the numbers of immigrants but also of their impact on a "European" culture. A handful, including former Democratic Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, ended up attacking multiculturalism.

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