Last week this blog noted the work of long-time environmental reporter Tom Horton, an expert on the Chesapeake Bay who wrote for many years at the Baltimore Sun and now writes for the Bay Journal. We cited Horton's projection that the Senate immigration reform bill, if passed, would increase the population of the multi-state Chesapeake Bay watershed to 24 million by 2050, up from the current level of 17 million.
Horton has observed with alarm the campaign of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to dissuade environmentalists from raising the concerns about the immigration-driven population growth. While environmental leaders such as Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson and Sierra Club founder Dave Brower said their movement must recognize the immigration/population connection, the thought police at the SPLC relentlessly smear those who raise it today.
That connection is more politically and culturally sensitive today than it was on the first Earth Day in 1970, when population growth was becoming a central environmental concern. The baby boom had ended just a few years earlier, the immigration boom catalyzed by 1965 federal legislation was just beginning, and Alabama attorney Morris Dees was still a year away from founding the Southern Poverty Law Center, which would do admirable work against the KKK before getting into the thought-police business.
In 2011 Horton offered this capsulized view of the connection among environmentalism, population growth, and immigration:
To put it candidly, the typical immigrant these days is brown and poor; the typical environmentalist is white and doing relatively well. It's easy to come off as racist — in fact it's almost guaranteed. A recent blast from the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center equated those who talk about the human carrying capacity of ecosystems, or the need to reduce growth in the name of the environment, to racists in disguise....
My point is that more people, regardless of where they come from, inevitably put more pressure on the environment. Environmental groups point out the real problem is how those people live in a given environment. That is why, they say, they prefer to work on reducing our per capita environmental impacts rather than wading into sticky issues like population growth and immigration.
The SPLC has done all it can to make those issues as sticky as possible for environmentalists. It has been successful among some who don't realize how far the relentlessly fundraising organization has fallen in the years since the Klan has been vanquished.
Liberal journalist Alexander Cockburn in 2009 wrote a story that labeled Dees the "King of the Hate Business". He said Dees had thrived by "selling the notion there's a right resurgence out there in the hinterland with massed legions of haters, ready to march down Main Street draped in Klan robes, a copy of Mein Kampf tucked under one arm and a Bible under the other. ... Ever since 1971, U.S. Postal Service mailbags have bulged with his fundraising letters, scaring dollars out of the pockets of trembling liberals aghast at his lurid depictions of hate-sodden America."
The cynical mendacity of the SPLC would have run its course years ago if it weren't for the assists provided by credulous reporters with good intentions and scant information. The Washington public radio station WAMU recently did its part with a story that looked back at George Lincoln Rockwell, who founded the American Nazi Party. Rockwell was assassinated in 1967 in Arlington, Va.
Reporter Jacob Fenston closed his story with a lesson from the SPLC's Heidi Beirich. Said Beirch: "Our country, from its inception, until the 1960s, was a white-supremacist country, and that is not that long ago. And we have to be really, really vigilant of not returning to those kinds of views."
Said Fenston of Beirich: "Her organization has tracked a dramatic rise in the number of hate groups nationwide over the past decade, sparked in part by fear of the country's growing immigrant and non-white population."
Fenston didn't ask Beirich for any examples. He made no effort to verify the validity of her accusations. On such journalistic indifference the SPLC has thrived, smearing as racists those whose efforts to limit immigration are rooted in important concerns about population and environment.
But some brave souls, as Tom Horton's work demonstrates, know that these concerns are too important to be smothered by the McCarthyite smears of Heidi Beirich and her colleagues. They claim to be advocates of diversity. They say they want to stop the hate. That is a fraud. They want to impose a timid conformity. They want to stop the debate on a major national issue.