Will Sierra Club get anti-immigration agenda?
Salt Lake City Tribune
An unusual alliance of anti-immigration advocates and animal-rights
activists is attempting to take over the leadership of the Sierra
Club, America's oldest national environmental group, in what is emerging
as a bitter fight over the future of the 112-year-old organization
founded by Scottish immigrant John Muir.
Leaders of a faction that failed to force the club to take a stand
against immigration in 1998 are seeking to win majority control of
the group's 15-member governing board in a spring election -- this
time, as part of a broader coalition that includes vegetarians, who
want the club to denounce hunting, fishing and raising animals for
In response, 11 former Sierra Club presidents have written a letter
expressing what they call "extreme concern for the continuing
viability of the club," protesting what they see as a concerted
effort by outside organizations to hijack the mainstream conservationist
group and its $95 million budget.
Some of the insurgent candidates vying for the five available seats
on the governing board only recently joined the Sierra Club. Members
will vote in the board elections in March, with the results tallied
The election has attracted the interest of extremist groups, which
are encouraging their members to join the club to help elect the anti-immigration
"What has outraged Sierra Club leaders is that external organizations
would attempt to interfere and manipulate our election to advance
their own agendas," said Robert Cox, a past Sierra Club president.
Moreover, club officials contend that members of the two insurgent
groups share fundamentally anti-human views, in their opposition to
immigration and in their belief that people should take a backseat
to other species.
The Sierra Club's "dominant perspective has been to protect nature
for people," said Executive Director Carl Pope. "But by
pulling up the gangplank on immigration, they are tapping into a strand
of misanthropy that says human beings are a problem."
Pope noted that 18 percent of Sierra Club members like to fish or
hunt, and he worried they could be driven out by the new agenda from
animal-rights advocates. "It's important to have hunters and
fishermen in the Sierra Club," Pope said. "We are a big-tent
organization. We want the Sierra Club to be a comfortable place for
Americans who want clean air, clean water and to protect America's
The list of insurgent candidates features some high-profile names,
including former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, Cornell University entomology
professor David Pimentel, and Frank Morris, the former director of
the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
All three have been outspoken advocates of controlling population
growth or restricting immigration. Lamm is the co-author of The Immigration
Time Bomb: The Fragmenting of America.
Club officials say the campaign got under way quietly with the recent
election of several activists, including University of California,
Los Angeles astronomy professor Benjamin Zuckerman, a longtime champion
of curbs on immigration, and so-called "Captain" Paul Watson,
the head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a marine environmental
group known for ramming whaling ships.
During their campaigns, the candidates played down the views they
Club members who support the insurgent candidates accused the organization's
old guard of attempting to demonize them as radicals in order to head
off the increasingly popular efforts to win a new majority.
"I really think we ought to be judged on our merits, and what
we've done in the past, and not divide the Sierra Club," Pimentel
Political squabbles are hardly new to the 750,000-member Sierra Club,
whose members squared off just last year over whether to take a stand
against the war in Iraq. But the dispute over this spring's elections
is becoming especially rancorous.
It has even become a topic of hate-filled discussion on one Internet
site, alarming longtime Sierrans who worry that the group will be
seen as bigoted and xenophobic.
"I don't think that Lamm, Pimentel and Morris are racists,"
said Pope. "But they are clearly being supported by racists."
Zuckerman and Watson call those claims ludicrous.
They contend the club has a responsibility to take strong positions
on the issues affecting the health of the planet.
"Everything else the Sierra Club is doing is doomed to fail if
the United States continues on its rapid population growth,"
said Zuckerman, who was the leading vote-getter in the Sierra Club
election two years ago.
The presence of the anti-immigration candidates has led civil-rights
leader Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks
what it considers hate groups, to join the Sierra Club and run for
its board. Dees said he decided to get involved to generate publicity
after his staff found that anti-immigration groups were urging members
to join the Sierra Club and help swing the vote.