'Hate Groups, Nativists, and Vigilantes': Lou Dobbs and the pro-amnesty crowd’s campaign of vilification

By Mark Krikorian on November 18, 2009

National Review Online, November 13, 2009

It’s not clear why Lou Dobbs resigned from CNN Wednesday. Fox said he’s not headed there, and from his comments it sounds to me like he’s going to run for office in New Jersey (though Bob Menendez’s seat, the next Senate opening, isn’t up until 2012).

Be that as it may, it’s likely that part of the reason was the vilification campaign against Dobbs by pro-amnesty groups, part of a broader jihad against any public expression of skepticism about amnesty and open borders.

After the June 2007 collapse of the Bush-McCain-Kennedy amnesty push in the Senate, a demoralized Frank Sharry, one of the top left-wing amnesty advocates, summed up the lesson he’d learned: “We thought we were in a policy debate . . . And in fact we were in a cultural war.”

Later that year, the open-borders crowd decided to change tactics based on this insight. The public, in their estimation, was open to legalizing the illegal population and further increasing immigration, in exchange for promises of future enforcement, but was being duped by evil-mongers stirring up atavistic fears. So, presaging Obama’s jihads against Limbaugh and Fox News, they shifted from arguing how wonderful amnesty would be to viciously attacking the malefactors who were publicly arguing for attrition of the illegal population through enforcement.

In December 2007, as part of that strategy, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was assigned to designate the oldest restrictionist organization, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a “hate group.” The National Council of La Raza’s contribution was to start a campaign entitled We Can Stop the Hate, decrying the mainstream opposition to amnesty as a “surge of hate and violence” caused by “code words of hate” peddled by “hate groups, nativists, and vigilantes.” And a new hard-left group, America’s Voice, was founded as a war room for the pro-amnesty faction; among other things, they hosted an online election for the “Top Anti-Immigrant Wolf” (and included me among the nominees, though I haven’t been informed if I’ve won).

But the Emmanuel Goldstein of this drive to demonize amnesty opponents is Lou Dobbs. The Drop Dobbs campaign is sponsored by La Raza, the SPLC, Media Matters, LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens), et al. In October they arranged a series of protests by open-borders groups in cities around the country demanding Dobbs’s head. At the New York protest, a pastor from Spanish Harlem told the left-wing New America Media, “Lou Dobbs is a terrorist. He is encouraging the American people to hate Latinos. It is not only a human-rights abuse, but it is a form of terrorism against us.”

The day after the protests, frequent Dobbs critic Geraldo Rivera (who, unlike Dobbs, is not married to a Hispanic woman) said in a speech that the opponents of amnesty have been “reckless beyond imagining” and that Dobbs in particular “is almost singlehandedly responsible for creating, for being the architect of the young-Latino-as-scapegoat for everything that ails this country.”

Along these same lines is Basta Dobbs, whose founder describes its target as “The Most Dangerous Man for Latinos in America.” So We Might See, a “national interfaith coalition for media justice,” joined with the National Hispanic Media Coalition to fight Dobbs’s “anti-immigrant hate speech,” not because it’s factually incorrect but because it’s a form of “media violence.” And the SPLC’s Mark Potok and others claim (here, for instance) that Dobbs is directly responsible for an increase in “hate crimes” against Hispanics (the rate of such crimes actually went down, as FAIR points out in its debunking of the SPLC’s smears — but facts aren’t the point here).

It’s important to note that this campaign goes beyond mere name-calling. This isn’t Obama as the Joker or Dick Cheney as the Prince of Darkness, Van Jones calling Republicans a**holes or Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” Those are all simply part of a boisterous, if indecorous, politics.

The pro-amnesty crowd’s demonization efforts, on the other hand, are clear incitements to violence. They can’t claim that Lou Dobbs is a “terrorist” and that FAIR is responsible for people being killed in “hate crimes” and then be surprised when one of their followers acts in perceived self-defense.

Lou Dobbs last month described a shooting at his home, which came after weeks of threatening phone calls. He prematurely suggested (and I prematurely echoed his suggestion) that this was a result of the hate campaign directed against him. That may well turn out to be the case, but police said it could have been a stray hunter’s bullet (though at the time it wasn’t rifle season for deer, only squirrels and other small game). Nonetheless, given what happened to Pim Fortuyn after a similar vilification campaign, Dobbs is wise to have a bodyguard.

Of course, there are voices inciting violence on the pro-enforcement side too. But they’re kooks on the fringe, and going after them is pointless precisely because they’re so irrelevant. The mainstream figures, the targets of the amnesty crowd’s vilification, have always gone out of their way to avoid this sort of thing. Dobbs’s wife is Mexican-American, and he’s not even a restrictionist, just an “illegal/bad, legal/good” kind of guy. For over a quarter-century FAIR has been leery of organizing local chapters because of the stray hater who might be attracted along with the normal concerned citizens. For more than a decade Numbers USA, a restrictionist group, has had a button on its home page titled “‘No’ to Immigrant Bashing.” And the whole thesis of my book is that the difference in immigration today is not that today’s immigrants are somehow inferior to those of a century ago, but that we have changed and outgrown immigration.

But if I might put myself in their heads for a moment, this kind of caution is irrelevant to the organizers of the hate campaign against amnesty opponents. And it’s not because La Raza and the rest are cynically trying to taint pro-enforcement voices. On the contrary, they sincerely believe that support for any kind of immigration enforcement or limit on immigration is, by definition, hateful and an incitement to violence. Despite occasional pious acknowledgments that a nation has a right to control its borders, open-borders groups (on both the left and right) oppose all existing immigration-control measures and any prospective ones. This is because they reject the moral legitimacy of immigration controls, borders, sovereignty, and nationhood itself. Thus, unyielding opposition to amnesty and illegal immigration — however measured the tone, however sober the argument — is necessarily the equivalent of an act of violence in their eyes. And so they perceive their vilification campaign simply as a matter of self-defense, a response to our provocation.

When, despite Dobbs’s departure from CNN, the push for amnesty fails next year, as it inevitably will, it will be interesting to see how they deal with yet another defeat. They can hardly escalate their rhetoric further.