Who Really Stalled the Voting Rights Act Renewal

Duke Falconer, with Intranets
12 July 2006

In June, using the bilingual provisions of the Voting Rights Act as a proxy for the current immigration debate, 79 Representatives prevented the House from reauthorizing the bill. But they were not working alone. They had powerful allies in the anti-immigration lobby, allies with some rather disturbing skeletons in the closet.

Lady Liberty at DuskThe Voting Rights Act (VRA) never was intended to have anything to do with immigration. Passed in 1965 after years of struggle, the bill was intended to make sure that African-Americans in the South could register and vote without fear of intimidation. Like many pieces of legislation, the VRA is a living document, and has been modified over the years to reflect societal change. By 1975, with the increasing numbers of new minorities entering the U.S. from Asia and Latin America who were disenfranchised from voting because of their inability to understand English language ballots, the bill was modified to provide bilingual voting materials. Periodically, portions of the bill have come up for renewal. In what perhaps is a sign of the times, partisan interests used this opportunity to stall that process.

It should have been just another procedural vote allowing for one of those rare bipartisan moments when legislators gather on the Capitol steps to celebrate a piece of historic legislation. To the humiliation of party leaders, this time around it didn’t quite turn out that way. On Wednesday morning, June 21st, in an increasingly common display of Republican disunity, 79 Representatives presented Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) with a letter stating that they would not support the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Voicing opposition to the provisions for bilingual ballots contained in the forty–one year old landmark civil rights legislation, the rebellious Republican Representatives refused to lend their votes until the requirements were removed. In spite of the fact that the House Judiciary Committee approved the measure last May by 33–1 vote, Representatives from nine mostly Southern states joined them on the grounds that they believed many of the other protections afforded in the bill no longer were called for. Only hours before floor debate was scheduled to begin, Sensenbrenner, wishing not to end up in a protracted and embarrassing floor fight, removed the bill from consideration.

Certainly this action raises many questions, not the least of which being: Why in an election year would anyone in their right mind want to block something named the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006? What gain could be had threatening a piece of landmark civil rights legislation that was the culmination of years of struggle?

Obviously these Republican renegades weighed their options and figured they could make more political hay in their home districts touting a tough anti-immigrant/English-only line than they could with a photo on page 25 of the local paper of them shaking hands with civil rights leaders. Facing waning public approval for many of the majority party’s policies, particularly in Iraq, House Republicans have been increasingly worried about their prospects in November. In response, many have latched on to the “get tough” approach toward immigration reform put forth by Tom Tancredo’s (R-CO) Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, hoping to parlay the issue into this yearís divisive cultural cause, a replacement for 2004 elections “gay marriage” debate. At the very least, they probably figured they always could claim that the bill is not in “real” jeopardy since the current provisions won’t expire until 2007.

Authored by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and sponsored with Peter King (R-NY), the letter first appeared on February 3, 2006 and was signed by 56 members of Congress (55 R, 1 D). Stating that, “…we believe these ballot provisions encourage the linguistic division of our nation and contradict the ’Melting Pot‘ ideal that has made us the most successful multi-ethnic nation on earth,” the letter basically lays out some major points of contention with Sec. 203 & 4(f)(4) of the VRA:

Major Points of the King Letter

Proficiency in English is a requirement for citizenship: "It contradicts the requirement that immigrants need to demonstrate the ability to read and understand English in order to become naturalized citizens."

The existence of multilingual ballots also increases the risk of election errors and fraud: "To cite one example, in 2000 six voting sites in Flushing, New York printed ballots in Chinese with the names of the political parties reversed. Several thousand voters cast their votes using these erroneous ballots"

The requirement for multilingual ballots is a costly unfunded mandate: "In the 2004 election, officials in Los Angeles County, California were required to provide more than 2,200 interpreters and spent more than $2.1 million to provide translations and ballots in seven different languages"

They are a waste of taxpayer funds and are rarely used: "two GAO reports found evidence that in many cases these materials are hardly used. For example, in 1996 Yuba County, California was required to spend $30,000 for election materials in Spanish. But according to its registrar of voters there had only been one request for Spanish language materials there in 16 years"

Federal law already protects the right of all citizens to bring an interpreter into the voting booth: "All citizens have the right to cast an informed ballot, and this is the right approach for dealing with the voters who have difficulty understanding election materials in English"

The letter floated around Congress for the next few months and picked up an additional 23 signatures before it was presented to Chairman Sensenbrenner on June 21st.

Who’s Really Behind the King Letter

It now appears some questions have come to light about exactly who is behind both the King letter and the effort to shelve the renewal of the VRA. The official copy of the letter that appears on the Web site of the U.S. House of Representatives (www.house.gov) apparently was not generated by a House member or their staff, but rather by one of the leading anti-immigration/English only advocacy groups.

The copy of the letter (now available only in HTML cache) that originally appeared on the House of Representatives web site; http://www.house.gov/pence/rsc/doc/121205_King_Bilingual_Ballot.doc

This fact raises questions as to the identity of KC McAlpin, this personís affiliation with Numbers USA, how this particular file ended up on the Web site of the House of Representatives, and who is behind the letter?

Certainly, only the most naive would be shocked to find out that special interests and lobbying groups play a role in formulating legislation and policy. The current administration has been particularly guilty of this practice. But this case appears that it might be slightly different. It is quite possible that the actual letter that 79 Representatives put their names on was not, in fact, authored by one of their own, but rather by outside interests, interests with some rather disturbing skeletons in the closet.

Who is KC McAlpin and did he write the letter?

KC McAlpin is the Executive Director of an organization called ProEnglish. According to their Website, they are “the nation’s leading advocate(s) of official English. (They) work through the courts and in the court of public opinion to defend English’s historic role as the common, unifying language of the United States of America, and to persuade lawmakers to adopt English as the official language at all levels of government.”

The group is one of thirteen like-minded organizations founded by anti-immigrant advocate . Tanton’s multi-million dollar web of groups includes not only ProEnglish and NumbersUSA, but also the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

Obviously, as Executive Director of ProEnglish, McAlpin is part of Tanton’s network, but the question remains as to whether he is the author of King’s letter. A look at the similarities between the language used in the letter and that of McAlpin’s written testimony before Congress in November of 2005 sheds some light on the question.

At a hearing of the Constitutional Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday November 10, 2005, McAlpin testified on behalf of ProEnglish in opposition to renewal of Sec. 203 & 4(f)(4) of the VRA. From his written statement, it’s obvious that the King letter has striking similarities to McAlpin’s talking points.

Major Points of McAlpin's Congressional Testimony

On Proficiency in English is a requirement for citizenship: "the United States has required immigrants to learn English in order to naturalize and acquire the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote in federal elections."

On multilingual ballots increasing the risk of election errors and fraud: "Introducing multiple languages into the voting booth increases the likelihood of errors and election fraud....In the 2000 general election six polling places located in heavily Chinese populated areas of Queens, New York had "Democratic" translated in Chinese as "Republican" for party labels and vice versa on election day ballots."

On why multilingual ballots is a costly unfunded mandate: "And the cost of providing bilingual voting materials continues to escalate. The same GAO report found that Los Angeles County taxpayers spent $1.1 million to provide election materials in five languages in 1996. (14) But by March 2002, the County was spending $3.3 million out of a total of $22.6 million to provide voting materials in seven languages."

On why bilingual ballots are a waste of taxpayer funds and are rarely used: "Yuba County, California spent $17,411 for Spanish language ballot materials for a 1996 primary election despite the fact that the county's registrar of voters reported receiving only one request for voter information in Spanish during his 16 years on the job"

On how Federal law already protects the right of all citizens to bring an interpreter into the voting booth: "They also have the right to bring an interpreter into the poll with them: "Any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter's choice."

Given that the King letter posted at House.gov was authored by McAlpin on software registered to NumbersUSA, coupled with its striking similarities to McAlpin’s testimony, only one of two possible causes seem plausible. Either King copied his letter from ProEnglish literature almost word for word, and then asked McAlpin, or someone using his computer, to type up a copy to post at the House of Representatives Web site, or McAlpin authored the letter himself. Either way, the letter that 79 Representatives signed to force the cancellation of the renewal of the VRA came from ProEnglish.

In fact, in the weeks and months leading up to the vote on the VRA, ProEnglish had been advocating the defeat of the bill.

This leaves us with one question unanswered.

Who is John Tanton, the man behind this organization?

John Tanton has been credited for single-handedly creating the modern anti-immigration, English-only and Nativist political movements in the United States. Over the course of thirty years he has managed to create a network of think tanks, advocacy groups and fund-raising organizations that not only shape public opinion, but public policy. His experts testify before Congress and reports and studies by his various groups are used to formulate legislation. His pundits appear in all forms of media to pontificate and propagandize. By his own admission he says, “I would certainly have no reservations about claiming credit for being the guy secretly manipulating U.S. immigration policy.”

Although he claims to do so only because he believes that “the overwhelming majority of Americans …want to see immigration levels reduced,” his motivations seem to stem from a firm belief that America is in peril due to a worldwide trend of third-world populations taking over the wealthy first-world nations. His philosophy contains a strange mix of environmentalism, protectionism, xenophobia, eugenics and racism; a philosophy he has been able turn into a political movement though his network of organizations. This network includes both organizations founded by Tanton himself and those started by others that he takes under his wing and then integrates into his network and funds.

Groups Founded by Tanton Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) - which specializes in immigrations effects on diminishing resources and jobs. (founded 1979)

US Inc. - The fundraising wing for the Tanton empire. (founded 1982)

Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) - which presents itself as an impartial think tank and supplies "experts" to various media outlets and government hearings (founded 1985)

NumbersUSA - Which does immigration statistical analysis (founded 1996)

U.S. English - Which promotes the idea that English will become a dead language in the US without intervention. (founded 1983)

ProEnglish - Which advocates an English Only agenda (founded 1994)

[+]The Social Contract Press - the publishing wing, putting out newsletters and publishing books touting anti-immigration philosophy (founded 1990)

Groups Funded by Tanton

ProjectUSA

Population-Environment Balance

[+] American Immigration Control Foundation

[+] American Patrol/ Voices of Citizens Together

California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR)

Californians for Population Stabilization

Immigration Reform Law Institute - Now used as the legal wing for FAIR to set up legal challenges to current anti-discrimination and pro immigration laws

Organizations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center are marked with a [+]

(source: Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC)

Starting his career in the sixties as an ardent environmentalist, Tanton was a leading member in groups like the National Audubon Society and Sierra Club. Through his environmentalist activities, he became interested in the relationship between population growth and environmental degradation, and by the early 1970s, his focus shifted to zero population growth. By the late 70s, Tanton’s concern for population growth evolved into a preoccupation with increased immigration into the U.S., particularly by those coming from the Caribbean and Latin America. In 1979, unable to find support for his anti-immigration ideas in the environmentalist movement, Tanton formed the first and most influential of his advocacy groups the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Tanton wrote on the formation of FAIR:

Having observed what I believe to be a problem, I acted. Having failed to convince some of the people in the environmental movement that immigration was an issue that ought to feature prominently on their agendas, I did exactly what everyone else who is involved in issue advocacy has done: I formed an organization of like-minded people.

Tanton went on to build his network, finding more “like-minded people” along the way to join his one-man crusade. Today his multi-million dollar empire of advocacy groups helps to insure that he and his allies not only have their opinions heard, but manage to shape the opinions of others. While some of his groups, such as CIS, have presented themselves as purveyors of mainstream thinking, the roots of Tanton’s philosophy never lay far from the surface.

Tanton’s philosophical roots

On numerous occasions throughout his advocacy career, Tanton has managed to tip his hand, revealing his belief in the inferiority of certain races and ethnic groups and his fear that they will destroy what he sees as America’s European-based, superior society. The first instance to gain national attention occurred when, in 1988, the media uncovered what was termed the “WITAN Memo.”

Along with a few other FAIR board members, in the early 1980s Tanton founded a nationalist organization called WITAN — short for the Old English term ‘witenagemot,’ meaning ‘council of wise men.’. In 1986, Tanton signed a memo that went to WITAN members that highlighted the supremacist bent of Tanton and FAIR. (7)(8) The memo implied that Latin American immigrants brought a culture of political corruption with them to the United States and that they were unlikely to involve themselves in civil life. He raised the alarm that they could become the majority group in U.S. society. What’s more, he asked: ‘Can homo contraceptivus compete with homo progenitiva?’† Answering his own rhetorical question, Tanton wrote that ‘perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!’ According to Tanton, ‘In California 2030, the non-Hispanic Whites and Asians will own the property, have the good jobs and education, speak one language and be mostly Protestant and ‘other.’ The Blacks and Hispanics will have the poor jobs, will lack education, own little property, speak another language and will be mainly [C]atholic.’ Furthermore, Tanton raised concerns about the ‘educability’ of Hispanics.(10)

International Relations Center/ Right Web: Profile of John Tanton

The resulting fallout from the release of the WITAN memo caused many of Tanton’s more mainstream allies to leave his organizations.

That same year an even more damaging revelation about some of FAIR’s funding came to light. FAIR had been accepting grants from a group called the Pioneer Fund.

"Pioneer is a nonprofit foundation that supports scientific studies in the areas of heredity, human differences, behavioral genetics, intelligence, social demography, and group differences by sex, social class, and race. (16) Some of the most controversial research funded by the Pioneer Fund has explored the IQ differences between the races. This research was published in the now widely discredited book The Bell Curve. In addition to its efforts to document the IQ gaps between races, the Pioneer Fund also has been deeply involved in funding eugenics research and in building political support for eugenics. Harry H. Laughlin, its first president, advocated the establishment of a uniform sterilization law that would allow the routine sterilization of ‘the feeble minded, insane, criminals (including the delinquent and wayward), the epileptic, the inebriate, the diseased, the blind, the deaf, the deformed, and the dependent (including orphans, ne’er-do-wells, the homeless, tramps and paupers).’ …Laughlin edited Eugenics News during the 1920s and 1930s, which featured a 1932 article ‘Hitler and Race Pride.’ Laughlin also was a supporter of limiting immigration to the United States

(16) About Us. Pioneer Fund

International Relations Center/ Right Web: Profile of FAIR

In 1988 when the story first came out, Tanton, the President of FAIR’s board, denied any knowledge of the connections to Pioneer Fund. FAIR continued to accept the funds for nine more years. Between 1985 and 1994, FAIR accepted $1.2 million from Pioneer.

It is perhaps the work done by Tanton’s publishing organization, The Social Contract Press (TSCP) that has had drawn the most attention, due to its ties to extremist movements and organizations. The most popular book in the SCP catalog, and a personal favorite of Tanton’s, is Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints, a French fantasy novel about an invasion of the Western world by hordes of starving, dark-skinned refugees from India. It depicts non-whites as “uncivilized monsters” whose goal is to violently seize the riches of the white man. The depiction of the ensuing race war has been compared to that in The Turner Diaries, a perennial favorite of American white supremacists like Timothy McVeigh. In the Winter 1994 Issue of Social Contract, Tanton wrote; “We are indebted to Jean Raspail for his insights into the human condition, and for being 20 years ahead of his time. History will judge him more kindly than have some of his contemporaries.”

TSCP has gone on to feature the writings of some of the anti-immigration movement’s most extreme elements, garnering the dubious distinction of being listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of recognized “Hate Groups.”

Typical of the type of opinions found in Social Contract journal was an essay written in 1998 by John Vinson, who directed the American Immigration Control Foundation, another organization in the Tanton network of restrictionist groups. In an essay titled “Europhobia: The Racism of Anti-racists” Vinson wrote:

In a climate of Euro-phobia, we have every legitimate reason to fear and resist a substantial racial/ethnic shift. Assimilating non-European immigrants into America’s traditional Euro-culture is difficult. Europhobia makes it nearly impossible. As many of the newcomers absorb this hostility, European-Americans will face increasing tension, discrimination, and perhaps physical danger. We are under no moral obligation to accept these risks either for ourselves or our children.

Over the years, Tanton’s network increasingly has been intertwined with ever more extreme elements of the Nativist/White Supremacist movement, and has in fact acted as a liaison between them and both the media and Washington. They have helped groups like Barbara Coe’s, California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) and Glenn Spencer⁏s American Patrol to work with like minded groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) and American Renaissance, allowing them to reach out to anti-immigration legislators and the media.

The Nexus of the Tanton’s two worlds:

Flag Caught in Barbed Wire, Lower ManhattanIn the conference room of the House Judiciary Committee on June 21st, the nexus of Tanton’s two worlds converged. The philosophies of Jean Raspail and John Vinson met with the political realities of Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and Steve King (R-IA). In one fell swoop, more than 40 years of civil rights legislation was jeopardized in the name of protecting America from hordes of foreign-speaking invaders intent on destroying American culture. Although wrapped in the popular rhetoric of the Republican right, the letter presented to Judiciary Chairman Sensenbrenner had its roots in the philosophies of the WITAN letter and the Pioneer Fund. Reframed and sanitized by groups like FAIR and CIS, these philosophies have been pushed to the forefront of political discourse. The House Republicans, eager to shift the public’s focus away from war and deficits, have been more than willing to crawl in bed with the most extreme fringes of American society.

The 79 signatories of McAlpin’s letter, like many Americans, have come to embrace a form of covert racism and xenophobia that passes for patriotism these days. Using statistics gleaned from NumbersUSA and CIS, and talking points formulated by ProEnglish and FAIR, anti-immigration hardliners like Pete King, Tom Tancredo as well as other vocal anti-immigration spokesmen J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), and Dana Rohrabacher, have managed to move their party further to the extreme, and with it much of the nation. With each passing day, polls show they are slowly but surely gaining support from the American people. But this would come as no surprise to Tanton; he’s been working his entire life to assure an America where, as Max Blumenthal wrote in The Nation, “most of the ultra-right’s signature issues have been co-opted by pseudo-populist media personalities and Republican politicians.”

Ironically, it might end up that their attempts to dismantle a cornerstone of the civil rights movement, and its culminating achievement, might be the one thing that brings America to its senses. Even with all the sophisticated spin and media manipulation available to them, it will be hard for this group to hide the stench of their actions. Sometimes, even with all the lipstick you can apply, a pig still stinks like a pig.

(1) to view the meta data on this file, open the .doc link, save the file to your hard drive, open it in Msword, than go to your file menu and click properties/summary.

About the writer and researcher

Duke Falconer is editor and founding member of Migra Matters: Progressive Immigration Reform; a researcher-writer for DowningStreetMemo.com and founding member of IraqFact Working Group.

Intranets is an ePluribus Media investigator and Community Moderator.

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