John H. Tanton (born 1934) is an American retired ophthalmologist and activist in efforts aimed at reducing immigration levels in the United States. He was the founder and first chairman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an immigration-reduction organization. He was the co-founder of the Center for Immigration Studies, a non-profit research group; and NumbersUSA, a grassroots lobbying group. He was chairman of U.S. English and ProEnglish. He is the founder of The Social Contract Press, which publishes the quarterly journal The Social Contract. He founded the pro-eugenics organization Society for Genetic Education.
Tanton graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Michigan State University in 1956, received an M.D. from the University of Michigan in 1960, and received an M.S. in ophthalmology from the University of Michigan in 1964.
Tanton is a proponent of immigration reduction to the United States. He is the founder and patron of many immigration reduction non-profit organizations. He founded Petoskey chapters of the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood and, for a time, became the national president of Zero Population Growth. Unable to secure support from colleges, in 1979, he founded the non-profit Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) with early support from Warren Buffett and Eugene McCarthy. By 1983, he co-founded U.S. English.
Additionally, Tanton co-founded and has been heavily involved in the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), Numbers USA, the American Immigration Control Foundation, American Patrol/Voices of Citizens Together, Californians for Population Stabilization, and ProjectUSA. Donations flow through U.S. Inc., which also supports Scenic Michigan, the International Dark-Sky Association, the Foreign Policy Association's Great Decisions Series, and the Harbor Springs chapter of the North Country Trail Association. Tanton serves on the Board of Population-Environment Balance.
According to CNN, Tanton "has openly embraced eugenics, the science of improving the genetic quality of the human population by encouraging selective breeding and at times, advocating for the sterilization of genetically undesirable groups." Tanton wrote a paper in 1975 arguing for "passive eugenics" whereby child-bearing would be restricted to those between the ages of 20 and 35. He also founded the pro-eugenics organization, the Society for Genetic Education (SAGE).
According to the Hill, Tanton's opposition to immigration is " on the grounds of population reduction and protection of an ethnic white majority". According to the New York Times, Tanton has over time increasingly made his case against immigration in "racial terms". Tanton has said, "One of my prime concerns is about the decline of folks who look like you and me... for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”
In 1988, shortly before a referendum in Arizona to make English the state's official language, a private memo written by Tanton was leaked to the media. In this memo, he expressed concerns about the potential political, cultural, environmental, and demographic impacts of continued high levels of Hispanic immigration into the U.S., especially if the Hispanic fertility rate remained higher than that of other ethnic groups. He ended by calling for limiting the flow of immigrants to a rate that would enable them to be assimilated. However, several of his questions and statements were provocative, such as: "Will Latin American migrants bring with them the tradition of the mordida (bribe), the lack of involvement in public affairs, etc.?", "What are the differences in educability between Hispanics (with their 50% dropout rate) and Asiatics (with their excellent school records and long tradition of scholarship)?", and "On the demographic point: perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!"
After the media published the memo, several prominent members of U.S. English cut their ties with the organization, including advisory board member Walter Cronkite and its executive director Linda Chavez, a prominent conservative Republican columnist. Tanton himself eventually resigned, although he complained that he had been smeared as a racist.
Under Tanton's leadership FAIR was criticized for taking funding for many years from the Pioneer Fund, a non-profit foundation dedicated to “improving the character of the American people” by, among other things, promoting the practice of eugenics, or selective breeding. FAIR responded to this criticism by asserting that the Pioneer Fund clearly states that it supports equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race, religion, national origin, or ethnicity; that other major organizations, including universities in the United States and other countries, have also accepted grants from the Fund; and that the Pioneer Fund's contributions to FAIR were used only for the general operation of the organization.
In February 2009, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) described his views as racist. and publicized allegations against him. Tanton challenged that organization to a public debate at the National Press Club. Tanton’s environmentalist and immigration-reduction activities are well-documented in 17 file boxes of archives he donated to the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. A February 2009 Southern Poverty Law Center report examined Tanton's written correspondence highlighted alleged connections between Tanton's immigration-reduction efforts and white supremacist, neo-Nazi and pro-eugenics leaders. The introduction to the report reads:
FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA are all part of a network of restrictionist organizations conceived and created by John Tanton, the “puppeteer” of the nativist movement and a man with deep racist roots. As the first article in this report shows, Tanton has for decades been at the heart of the white nationalist scene. He has met with leading white supremacists and associated closely with the leaders of a eugenicist foundation once described by a leading newspaper as a “neo-Nazi organization.” He has made a series of racist statements about Latinos and worried that they were outbreeding whites. At one point, he wrote candidly that to maintain American culture, “a European-American majority” is required.
Numbers USA is one of many organizations fostered by John H. Tanton, an ophthalmologist from Michigan who has also championed efforts to protect the environment, limit population growth and promote English as an official language.