February 11, 2009, 4:00 a.m.
Free Speech Is Great, But . . .
The open-borders lobby's attempts to silence its critics.
By Mark Krikorian
Across the West we see efforts to restrict free expression of political ideas related to immigration. We’re familiar with what’s been happening in Europe: not only the Muhammad-cartoon riots in Denmark, but more recently a court in Holland applying Saudi blasphemy rules to a local politician. There was also a U.N. resolution passed in December prohibiting defamation of Islam with the goal of making such defamation a crime under international law.
Accusations of “Islamophobia” have been used as a cudgel to shut down debate even in Canada, where Islamic groups have used the law to try to silence National Review’s Mark Steyn and others.
We are seeing a similar dynamic here. Obviously, the challenge that immigration-driven multiculturalism poses to free speech here is the decaf, low-calorie version of what Europe and Canada face. The cultural distance between our society and the bulk of our immigrants is much smaller than in Europe, and we have a much stronger sense of ourselves, which has resulted in more success in getting newcomers to assimilate.
But decaf or not, the challenge of multiculturalism is real.
The most recent salvo on this side of the ocean is a report released last week by the Southern Poverty Law Center tarring the three leading groups working to limit immigration—including my own Center for Immigration Studies—as part of a racist conspiracy, supposedly orchestrated by a retired eye doctor in Michigan named John Tanton. The fact that they went after mainstream groups rather than fringe ones shows that the goal is not elevating the tone of public discourse but shutting it down altogether. Perhaps a more honest title for the report would have been “The Protocols of the Elders of Restrictionism.”
A little background on the SPLC. The group is headed by Morris Dees, described even by left-wing writers as a “fraud” and a “millionaire huckster”—essentially a cross between Joseph McCarthy and Tammy Faye Bakker. Exposés on the group have run in the Montgomery Advertiser (which probably would have won a Pulitzer but for the SPLC’s lobbying efforts against it), Harper’s, and The Nation, but the money train continues—the SPLC’s 2007 tax return shows net assets of $219 million.
The report’s section on CIS is not just hackwork, but amateurish hackwork. Much of it dwells on letters written to (not by, but to) one of my board members, misidentified as having been executive director. Our research is described as having been debunked by “mainstream think tanks and organizations,” oddly enough including two of the most strident open-borders advocacy groups in the nation. My tenure there, the majority of the center’s existence, is dismissed briefly at the end as “The Later Years.” And they didn’t even mention my book, which knits together decades of CIS research on the many facets of immigration into a unified theoretical framework—something at least worth touching on when trying to show how naughty CIS is.
What’s more, CIS is an unlikely source of “intolerance.” The chairman is Peter Nuñez, U.S. attorney for San Diego under Reagan; the board includes the president of the Greater Miami Urban League and a former executive director of the National Black Caucus Foundation; the staff includes the former national policy director for the American Jewish Committee; and I didn’t even speak English until I got to kindergarten.
I don’t know much about the details in the other sections (on FAIR and Numbers USA) but I can only assume they’re up to the SPLC’s usual standards.
Now, people call each other names all the time in politics, but this is different. The SPLC purports to play the role of arbiter of rectitude on racial issues, and as such it claims to take no other policy positions. This pose is utterly false; the report was jointly released with America’s Voice, a hard-left open-borders group. And regardless of who’s making it, the charge of racism is the gravest one in our society—not a political one, like an allegation that you failed to pay taxes on your chauffeured limousine, but a moral one, meant to delegitimize you altogether as a participant in civilized society.
Further, the SPLC’s smear does not occur in a vacuum; it’s part of a larger trend of open-borders advocates trying to silence dissent. The New York Times has recently run many editorials—even more than usual—on why mass immigration is the bravest, kindest, warmest, most wonderful policy ever, and why anyone who questions it is evil and to be shunned. Perhaps most notable was this month’s “The Nativists Are Restless,” a foam-flecked rant about “Latino-bashers” and “xenophobes” so outlandish that even some people at the Times might have been embarrassed.
The National Council of La Raza has also joined in, launching last year a smear site called We Can Stop the Hate, the explicit goal of which is to silence those who oppose amnesty and open borders. La Raza has been assisted in this by a slew of co-sponsors including the Anti-Defamation League, the Center for American Progress, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, George Soros’s Media Matters, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), and—surprise!—the SPLC.
The head of La Raza, Janet Murguia, has been quite open about her opposition to free discussion of immigration issues; as she told Lou Dobbs (whom she wants pulled from the airwaves): “We have to draw the line on freedom of speech, when freedom of speech becomes hate speech.” This was not a one-time outburst; here’s what the New York Times has written on her efforts:
Ms. Murguia argued that hate speech should not be tolerated, even if such censorship were a violation of First Amendment rights:
“Everyone knows there is a line sometimes that can be crossed when it comes to free speech. And when free speech transforms into hate speech, we’ve got to draw that line. And that’s what we’re doing here today. And we need to make sure that network executives will hold their people accountable and not cross that line.”
Not to be outdone, MALDEF joined with the SPLC to try to intimidate the American Legion into silence regarding illegal immigration. The Legion has long supported vigorous immigration enforcement, but last year, for the first time, it prepared a policy booklet outlining an immigration strategy and encouraging its members to start a national dialogue on the subject. MALDEF leapt into action, warning the organization not to get uppity: “The Legion should focus its efforts on taking care of American veterans,” MALDEF advised. The SPLC implicitly threatened,to label the Legion a hate group for publishing “a hard-line attack on undocumented immigrants that’s at odds with the Legion’s mainstream image.” Revealingly, the SPLC linked the Legion’s supposed nativism with its opposition to Communism. (What’s next? “Marxophobia”?)
But pressuring reporters, editors, media executives, and others to censor themselves apparently didn’t bear fruit quickly enough, so a second front in this strategy has been launched—an attempt to use the Federal Communications Commission to police political debate. Something called the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which seems to occupy itself with demanding that more Hispanics appear on TV, has filed a petition with the FCC demanding an inquiry into negative portrayals of Hispanics (“hate speech”). The purveyors of such hate speech supposedly include not only Michael Savage, who frankly might relish the label, but also Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Tucker Carlson, and others. The petition says that only “those who would prefer hate speech to remain under the radar will claim that such an inquiry violates the First Amendment,” but the group’s goal of narrowing the legitimate bounds of public debate is clear from the statement that it “believes a solution can be reached that strikes a balance between our nation’s esteem for free speech and America’s promise of life, liberty, and justice.”
The multiculturalist war on free speech takes different forms in different places. In Europe the goal is to squelch the expression of the idea that newcomers should be held to the same standards of behavior as the native-born, and the movement has occasionally expressed itself in violence. Here, the goal is to silence supporters of immigration-law enforcement, and the movement has remained non-violent, but it’s nonetheless a challenge to the idea of a free society. In both forms, multiculturalism stifles any dissent from the idea that outsiders must be permitted to immigrate on their own terms, not ours.
This is no longer about immigration. It’s about freedom.
— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and an NRO contributor. He is author of The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal.
Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and an NRO contributor.