The Info List - John Tanton

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.

Early life

Tanton was born in 1934 in Detroit.[1] In 1945, he moved with his family to a farm northeast of Bay City, Michigan on which his mother had been raised and on which he worked.[2]

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.[1]


Tanton ran an ophthalmology practice in Petoskey, Michigan.[3]

Political advocacy

Tanton is a proponent of immigration reduction to the United States.[3] He is the founder and patron of many immigration reduction non-profit organizations.[4] 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.[3] By 1983, he co-founded U.S. English.[5][6]

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.,[7][8] 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.[9]

Tanton founded the Social Contract Press in 1990. He serves as its publisher. Additionally, he has been the editor-in-chief of its journal, The Social Contract, since 1998.[10]

Promotion of eugenics

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."[11] 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.[12] He also founded the pro-eugenics organization, the Society for Genetic Education (SAGE).[12]

Opposition to immigration

According to the Hill, Tanton's opposition to immigration is " on the grounds of population reduction and protection of an ethnic white majority".[13] According to the New York Times, Tanton has over time increasingly made his case against immigration in "racial terms".[14] 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.”[14]

Resignation from U.S. English

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!"[15]

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.[16] Tanton himself eventually resigned, although he complained that he had been smeared as a racist.[17]

Funding of FAIR

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.[16] 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;[18] and that the Pioneer Fund's contributions to FAIR were used only for the general operation of the organization.[19]

SPLC criticism

In February 2009, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) described his views as racist.[20] and publicized allegations against him. Tanton challenged that organization to a public debate at the National Press Club.[21] 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.[22][23] A February 2009 Southern Poverty Law Center report examined Tanton's written correspondence[23] 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.[22]

Personal life

Tanton is married to Mary Lou Tanton. She chairs the U.S. Immigration Reform PAC.[24] She also serves as the first vice president of Scenic Michigan.


  1. ^ a b "John Tanton Papers 1960-2007: Biography". Bentley Historical Library. University of Michigan. Retrieved February 22, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Sustainable Agriculture?" (PDF). The Social Contract Press. 
  3. ^ a b c DeParle, Jason (April 17, 2011). "The Anti-Immigration Crusader". The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2016. 
  4. ^ "John Tanton's Network". Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. Summer 2002. Retrieved 2017-08-30. 
  5. ^ Hayes, Christopher (2006-04-24). "Keeping America Empty -- In These Times". In These Times. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  6. ^ Pear, Robert (2007-07-15). "Little-Known Group Claims a Win on Immigration". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-22. 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. 
  7. ^ "The organized anti-immigration 'movement,' increasingly in bed with racist hate groups, is dominated by one man, John Tanton". Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. Summer 2002. Retrieved 2017-08-30. 
  8. ^ "The Puppeteer". Hate in the News. Tolerance.org. June 18, 2002. Archived from the original on 10 Aug 2002. 
  9. ^ "The Network". Hate in the News. Tolerance.org. June 18, 2002. Archived from the original on 26 Dec 2002. 
  10. ^ "The Social Contract Journal". Social Contract Press. 
  11. ^ CNN, Maria Santana. "Hard-line anti-illegal immigration advocates hired at 2 federal agencies". CNN.com. Retrieved 2017-04-12. 
  12. ^ a b "Ties Between Anti-Immigrant Movement and Eugenics". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved 2017-04-12. 
  13. ^ Master, Cyra (2017-04-12). "DHS hires incense immigration supporters". TheHill. Retrieved 2017-04-13. 
  14. ^ a b Deparle, Jason (2011-04-17). "The Anti-Immigration Crusader". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-12. 
  15. ^ Tanton, John (January 20, 2009) [October 10, 1986]. "'WITAN MEMO' III". Intelligence Report. Retrieved May 4, 2017 – via Southern Poverty Law Center. 
  16. ^ a b Potok, Mark, Intelligence Report, Spring 2004, pp. 59-63.
  17. ^ Tanton, John (30 Oct 1988). "U.S. English - it's being victimized by the `Big Lie'". Houston Chronicle. p. 5. 
  18. ^ "Pioneer Fund Grants, Part VI". Institute for the Study of Academic Racism. Ferris State University. 
  19. ^ "Response to the Southern Poverty Law Center". Federation for American Immigration Reform. Archived from the original on 2012-02-17. 
  20. ^ "John Tanton". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2017-08-30. 
  21. ^ Tanton, John (February 3, 2009). "John Tanton challenges Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to Debate over 'Lies'" (Press release). 
  22. ^ a b Beirich, Heidi (February 26, 2009). "SPLC: The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance" (PDF). Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 29 April 2017. 
  23. ^ a b "John Tanton's files". Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 
  24. ^ Bulkeley, Deborah (2006-02-25). "Foe of immigrant tuition denies supremacist links". Deseret News. pp. B.01. ISSN 0745-4724. 

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