John Tanton

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John H. Tanton

John H. Tanton, M.D., is a retired ophthalmologist from Petoskey, Michigan, and an influential activist in efforts aimed at reducing immigration levels in the United States. He was organizer and first chairman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a non-profit educational group that advocates for a reduction in the level of immigration into the U.S. He also helped to start two other groups with a similar goal: the Center for Immigration Studies, a non-profit research group; and NumbersUSA, a grassroots lobbying group.[1][2]

Tanton has also been a leader in efforts to make English the official language of government in the U.S. To that end, he was chairman of U.S. English and later (1994) of ProEnglish, of which he is still a director.

Tanton has also held national positions in environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and Zero Population Growth, and local leadership positions in the Audubon Society and Planned Parenthood. He is the founder of The Social Contract Press, which publishes the quarterly journal The Social Contract[3] and other materials on the topics of immigration, population, conservation, and preservation of American culture. He has been the publisher of this journal since its inception in 1990, and he was its editor until 1998. Tanton's wife, Mary Lou Tanton, chairs the U.S. Immigration Reform PAC.[4]


Tanton was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1934. 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.[5]

He is the son and grandson of immigrants. John's father was John Fitzgerald Tanton, who was born in Ontario, Canada in 1898 and in 1928 emigrated to the United States. His great grandparents, Martin Johann and Carolina Koch, were born in Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1853[citation needed].

Tanton graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Michigan State University in 1956, and received his doctor's degree from the University of Michigan in 1960.[citation needed] He received an M.S. in ophthalmology from the University of Michigan in 1964.[citation needed]

John Tanton is widely recognized as the leading figure in the anti-immigration and "official English" movements in the United States. Initially, Tanton's public policy advocacy work was driven by his commitment to zero population growth and environmental conservation. By the late 1970s, however, this concern about the environment and population growth evolved into a crusade against immigration flows into the United States, particularly from Latin American and Caribbean nations. At the time that the New Right, Christian Right, and neoconservative political tendencies were mobilizing new constituencies against center-left politics in the United States, Tanton played a central role in mobilizing backlash sentiment against mass immigration. Tapping his base in environmental and population control organizations such as the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, and Zero Population Growth, Tanton in 1979 cofounded what has become the most influential immigration reduction policy institute in the nation: Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). In 1983, he also cofounded the most influential "official English" or English-only organization, U.S. English.

Tanton is connected to a number of immigration reduction and official English groups. As the founder and publisher of Social Contract Press, Tanton has published books that have been accused of shaping a nationalist ideology focused on the threat of immigrants to the white Anglo, English-speaking population. Social Contract books also stoke fears about immigrants taking over the United States, with research that highlights the rapid rise of Spanish-speaking residents and related socioeconomic problems, while ignoring research that points to the positive contributions of immigrants. In addition to FAIR, Tanton has been a central player in an array of anti-immigration, nationalist groups and institutes, including Pro English, U.S. Inc., Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), U.S. English, and Numbers USA. Funding for these and other organizations in which Tanton is a key figure, often flows through the organization, U.S. Inc.[6][7] U.S. Inc. also helps support educational and environmental organizations such as Scenic Michigan (for which Mary Lou Tanton is the 1st Vice-President), the International Dark-Sky Association, the Foreign Policy Association's Great Decisions Series, and the Harbor Springs chapter of the North Country Trail Association.

According to, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center: "The organized anti-immigration 'movement' is almost entirely the handiwork of one man, Michigan activist John. H. Tanton." In June 2002, it listed thirteen groups that formed part of the "loose-knit Tanton network." The following groups were founded and funded (through U.S. Inc.) by Tanton: Center for Immigration Studies, Federation for American Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA, Pro English, Social Contract Press, U.S. English, and U.S. Inc. Others, such as American Immigration Control Foundation, American Patrol/Voices of Citizens Together, Californians for Population Stabilization, ProjectUSA, are part of the Tanton network because their funding has been channeled through U.S. Inc. Another organization cited by Tolerance.Org, as part of the network is Population-Environment Balance, because Tanton had joined its board.[8]

Professional career[edit]

Tanton practiced ophthalmology at the Burns Clinic Medical Center, Petoskey, Michigan, from 1964 to 1998.[9][unreliable source?] Tanton stated:

Even though it may be true that nothing more can be done for the eye, it is almost never true that nothing more can be done for the patient.[10]

Tanton was named by the Northern Michigan Medical Society to receive the Michigan State Medical Society's Community Service Award. The award was announced in observance of Doctors' Day on March 30, 1995.[11][unreliable source?]

Resignation from U.S. English[edit]

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!"[12]

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.[13] Tanton himself eventually resigned, although he complained that he had been smeared as a racist.[14]

Funding of FAIR[edit]

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.[13] 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;[15] and that the Pioneer Fund's contributions to FAIR were used only for the general operation of the organization.[16] In February 2009, after the Southern Poverty Law Center publicized these allegations against him, Tanton challenged that organization to a public debate at the National Press Club.[17]

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.[18][19]

SPLC criticism[edit]

A February 2009 report by Southern Poverty Law Center examined Tanton's written correspondence[20] highlighted alleged connections between Tanton's immigration-reduction efforts and white supremacist, neo-Nazi and pro-eugenics leaders.[21]

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.[21]

Groups started[edit]

A 2002 SPLC report listed 13 immigration-restriction groups which they said were founded and/or funded by Tanton.[22]


  1. ^ Christopher Hayes (2006-04-24). "Keeping America Empty -- In These Times". In These Times. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ The Social Contract Journal
  4. ^ Bulkeley, Deborah (2006-02-25). "Foe of immigrant tuition denies supremacist links". Deseret News. pp. B.01. ISSN 0745-4724. 
  5. ^ Sustainable Agriculture?
  6. ^ "The Puppeteer," Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center, Summer 2002
  7. ^ Hate in the News: The Puppeteer. June 18, 2002
  8. ^
  9. ^ John Tanton, M.D. resume
  10. ^ Nothing More Can be Done; a Fable of our Times, by John H. Tanton, M.D., Low Vision and Vision Rehabilitation, Ophthalmology Clinics of North America (June 1994) [emphasis in original]
  11. ^ Michigan State Medical Society's Community Service Award
  12. ^ "Memo to WITAN IV Attendees from John Tanton." Intelligence Report, Summer 2002. Southern Poverty Law Center, January 20, 2009
  13. ^ a b Potok, Mark, Intelligence Report, Spring 2004, pp. 59-63.
  14. ^ Tanton, John (30 Oct 1988). "U.S. English - it's being victimized by the `Big Lie'". Houston Chronicle. p. 5. 
  15. ^ Ferris State University
  16. ^ Federation for American Immigration Reform: Response to the Southern Poverty Law Center
  17. ^ Tanton, John. "Press Release: John Tanton challenges Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to Debate over 'Lies'." February 3, 2009.
  18. ^ Beirich, Heidi. “The Tanton Files.” Intelligence Report. Winter 2008.
  19. ^ *John Tanton's files, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
  20. ^ John Tanton's files, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
  21. ^ a b SPLC: The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance. Intelligence Report, February 2009.
  22. ^ SPLC: John Tanton's Network, Intelligence Report, Summer 2002.

External links[edit]