Even before the recent controversy about the CPAC and the white nationalist directing the English-Only outfit ProEnglish, organizations pushing English-Only legislation have had a long history of employing bigots.
As early as the 1980s, national anti-immigrant groups established English-Only organizations and pumped money into ballot initiative campaigns (also known then as “English as official language”). These organizations considered English-Only initiatives to be a “safe” barometer of the political climate, and a way to gauge state-level anti-immigrant sentiment. Campaigns helped identify a pool of supporters and organizers. English-Only measures also tended to immobilize the opposition—as public opinion polls have generally shown overwhelming initial support for these laws.
There are currently three English-Only organizations operating at the national level. This super-abundance came about through a series of fractures linked to various public scandals. The first such organization to form, US English, was founded by John Tanton and former Senator S.I. Hayakawa in 1983. A key figure in the anti-immigration movement, Tanton was also the founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and a number of other important nativist organizations. In the early years of its existence US English was understandably close to FAIR, sharing office space with its sibling group. In fact US English was legally connected to US Inc., which was another Tanton project until 1988.
The 1988 split between US English and US Inc. came about as the result of a set of internal strategy memos known as the WITAN documents in which Tanton made openly derogatory remarks about immigrants of color. The high-profile scandal that followed resulted not only in US English legally distancing itself from US Inc., but also in Tanton’s resignation from the English-Only group and the protest resignations of prominent members of the US English board.
Following the split, US English went on to become one of the largest organizations in the nativist scene. US English led an offensive against multi-lingualism. They pursued their campaign in Congress, in state legislatures, and through ballot measure campaigns. US English measures and proposals have been considered in forty-eight of the fifty states.
Given the efforts that US English went to in 1988 to distance itself from racism, it is somewhat ironic that the organization ran into similar troubles again in 2003, when it was uncovered that a key staff position was filled by a white nationalist. At that time, the US English director of communications, Jim Lubinskas, was forced to resign after a year and a half on the job when it came to light that he was also working as an assistant editor of American Renaissance, the flagship publication of American white nationalism.
The second of the national English-Only groups, English First, was formed on US English’s right flank in 1986. Led by gun radical Larry Pratt, English First has myriad connections to extreme positions. An advocate of so-called citizen militias, Pratt attended a 1992 round-table of hard-core racists, including leaders of the Aryan Nations, Christian Identity adherents, and former, but hardly reformed, Klansmen. Given Pratt’s background it comes as little surprise that English First publications feature racist and anti-Latino innuendo.
Unwilling to remain on the sidelines of the English-Only fight, Tanton created the third organization, ProEnglish, in 1994 as a project of US Inc. For years, the executive director was K.C. McAlpin—a one-time deputy director of FAIR, and a direct mail marketer for the US Immigration Reform PAC, and treasurer of Rep. Tom Tancredo’s 2008 presidential exploratory committee.
McAlpin has argued for using English-Only legislation as a way to introduce the anti-immigrant political agenda to a broader audience. Speaking to a writers’ group of the flagship nativist journal, The Social Contract, McAlpin put it thus:
Americans sense that their culture is under siege and they don’t like it. Language is the fault line where this battle will be fought and the official English movement gives us the rare opportunity to play offense. We can capitalize on this to force the issue wherever we can – through initiatives and laws to scrap bilingual education, declare English our official language, and overturn executive actions via the courts. In the process we will expose our enemy – the multiculturalists, gain allies, and create a platform to educate the public about the threat to the American way of life that mass immigration represents. In the end, I believe, we will accomplish our goals sooner, and with less difficulty.
After the Tanton-founded English-Only group ProEnglish organization lost three other executive directors in less than a year, Robert Vandervoort was hired during the autumn of 2011. Before that, Vandervoort was the organizer of the white nationalist group, Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance. During that period, he was at the center of much of the white nationalist activity in the region. While he was in charge, Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance often held joint meetings with the local chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization descended directly from the Jim Crow-era white Citizens Councils. He also made appearances at white nationalist events outside Illinois, for instance participating in the 2009 Preserving Western Civilization Conference.
Shortly after Vandervoort took the job, ProEnglish hired Phil Tignino as the group’s web master and social media coordinator. Tignino was the former head of the Washington State University chapter of the white nationalist college group, Youth for Western Civilization.
IREHR will be watching closely to see what ProEnglish does in the future.
. Leonard Zeskind, “The New Nativism: The alarming overlap between white nationalists and mainstream anti-immigrant forces,” The American Prospect, November 2005, sec. A. For examples of English First racially-charged remarks, see James Crawford, “English First Founder Linked to White Supremacists,” Hispanic Link Weekly Report, 4 March 1996. http://www.humnet.ucla.edu/humnet/linguistics/people/grads/macswan/update3.htm