As Republican politicians and news outlets stoke fear over a crisis at the southern U.S. border, Facebook, Google, and Twitter are taking money from a notorious anti-immigrant hate group to help it spread its message and recruit new members.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, was founded in 1979 by the influential eugenicist and white nationalist John Tanton, who also founded other anti-immigrant groups including the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and ProEnglish, and a pro-eugenics organization Society for Genetic Education.
FAIR has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-immigrant hate group. “FAIR is the flagship organization of this country’s organized anti-immigrant movement, and Tanton was its chief architect,” Southern Poverty Law Center Research Analyst Eddie Bejarano told Sludge.
The organization recently boosted its social media and web search advertising in an apparent attempt to capitalize on the uptick in public attention to the topic of immigration. The hate group’s renewed ad push also comes amid growing hate crimes against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
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Google users who search for immigration-related terms including “illegals” are currently being shown ads to “join FAIRs activist network” and to sign up to receive the group’s updates, while Facebook users are shown variety of content and encouraged to “like” the group’s page, signing them up to receive future posts in their feeds. Twitter recently shut down its ad transparency center, but ads on the site screenshotted by users ask people to follow the group’s account.
The tech companies each have ad policies that prohibit hate, but when asked by Sludge why they allow FAIR’s ads, the groups largely deflected.
A Twitter spokesperson told Sludge in an email that FAIR had not violated its advertising policies in 2021. The company’s hate content policy says examples of hateful content it prohibits includes “organizations, groups, or individuals associated with promoting hate.” When Sludge followed up to ask how FAIR’s ads are not representative of that example in its policy, the company’s spokesperson stopped responding.
Google’s ad policy says that content promoting hate groups is prohibited, but when asked by Sludge why it still allows FAIR to run ads, a company spokesperson, Michael Aciman, offered this response: “We have strict policies for the types of ads allowed on our platform, and ads with hateful content or that promote hate groups violate those policies. When we find ads that violate our policies, we remove them.” When Sludge asked Aciman for clarification given that FAIR is often considered a hate group and is running ads on the company’s site, he did not respond.
Facebook did not respond to Sludge’s request for comment.
FAIR’s ads likely dodge the companies’ hate policies because they do not explicitly express hateful views, instead invoking concepts like security and putting Americans first. That would be consistent with the strategy that FAIR and Tanton have employed for decades in order to avoid being dismissed by the mainstream as racists.
Throughout his life and career, Tanton, who died in 2019, sought to publicly distance himself from the white nationalist ideas espoused by many of his followers and colleagues, preferring for FAIR and his other groups to appear respectable among elite circles and policy makers. But over the years, FAIR has given a platform to multiple white nationalists, and documents made public from his personal archive donated to the University of Michigan makes it clear that Tanton shared many of those views.
“I have come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist, it requires a European-American majority and a clear one at that,” Tanton wrote in a letter to the head of the anti-immigartion group Numbers USA. In a 1995 letter to Cordelia Scaife May, a founding donor to many of his groups, he wrote, “We should foster diversity between nations, not within them.” Tanton also wrote to May that he was “a devotee of the Austrian ethologist Conrad Lorenz,” a Nazi Party eugenics theorist who promoted the idea that natural selection had been stunted in humans by civilization and that urbanization had led to a genetic decline.
In a 1986 memo to attendees of a retreat he was hosting, Tanton wrote, “As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?”
Besides founding FAIR, Tanton sat on the group’s board of directors until 2011, when he appears to have stepped down following a New York Times profile that described his racist views.
FAIR hosted several white nationalists on its defunct TV show “Borderline,” including the publisher of white supremacist psuedo-science magainze and website American Renaissance Jared Taylor and VDARE founder Peter Brimelow. Tanton was an early adviser to Taylor as he began publishing and hosting conferences that featured speakers like David Duke and Richard Spencer. Tanton helped Taylor fundraise for American Renaissance, writing to the white supremacist Pioneer Fund’s then-president, Harry Weyher, in 1991 about Taylor’s start-up publication.
On Google’s ad network, FAIR started buying thousands of dollars worth of ad impressions per day in late March after spending next to nothing since October 2020. Google users are served ads from FAIR that link to a blog post where the group describes the totals and taxpayer costs associated with “illegal aliens.” Google’s ad transparency portal does not list the search terms that advertisers target, but search terms that turn up FAIR ads on Google in a private browsing tab include “illegal immigration,” “illegal aliens,” “illegals,” and “border crisis,” a search that skyrocketed in March.
The group launched its latest Facebook campaign on March 26, after not buying any Facebook ads since October 2020. One of its ads says that “FAIR is fighting for an immigration system that puts American citizens first,” accompanied by an illustration of a soldier waving what appears to be a white surrender flag. Other FAIR ads on Facebook call for building the wall or putting U.S. veterans before immigrants, while another includes a 5-minute video that features images of tattooed men and warns about violent gangs smuggling weapons across the border.
“By allowing FAIR’s ads to be played, tech companies are empowering far-right messaging—and normalizing it—with regard to immigration, messaging which is steeped in fear-mongering, xenophobia and baseless claims,” said Bejarano. “The impact of these companies allowing FAIR to buy ads to promote its messaging continues a deeply troubling trend of tech companies facilitating the proliferation and mainstreaming of hate.”
Facebook has taken more than $1.6 million in advertising feed from FAIR since May 2018, while Google has taken in $525,000 from the group over the same period. Twitter no longer discloses ad information, but Sludge reported in 2019 that the company had been paid $934,000 by the group.
Once someone follows FAIR’s social media accounts after viewing its ads, they will see posts from the group highlighting immigrants who commit violent crimes, creating a false impression that immigrants are more likely to engage in criminal activity than U.S. citizens. The posts often link to Breitbart News and feature mugshots of people of color. In study after study, researchers have found no link between unauthorized immigration and crime, and some studies have found that areas with higher levels of undocumented immigrants were associated with marginally lower crime rates.
FAIR has been a leading force in opposing immigration reform legislation over the past couple decades from both Republican and Democratic administrations. President Biden recently outlined an immigration package that would create an eight-year pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants, spend more money on security technology at the borders, make more green cards and visas available, and invest billions to improve conditions in migrant communities. FAIR’s social media recruitment around a much-hyped surge of immigrants at the southern border, which some researchers say is actually part of a predictable seasonal pattern, will likely strengthen the group’s activist base as it prepares once again to work to kill a comprehensive solution to the country’s dysfunctional immigration system.
The group has been promoting the idea of a Biden “border crisis” to the media since Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration. A press release distributed by FAIR that day said that Biden had “wasted no time in… inducing an immigration and border crisis” by signing executive orders that it said were “certain to create a new rush to the border.”