Last week, the Federation for American Immigration Reform held its annual anti-immigrant radio event “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” in Washington, D.C. Advertised as “the nation’s largest immigration media event,” the annual event is a flagship event for the anti-immigrant movement. While its organizers may disagree, the evolution of this annual event indicates that FAIR’s influence in the immigration debate is on the decline.
Once a four-day event uniting conservative talk radio hosts, anti-immigrant organizations and citizen activists, Hold Their Feet to the Fire has been cut down to two. Previously, the event included rallies and press conferences on Capitol Hill that garnered attention from national media outlets. Today, no such media attention seems to exist.
Other than a issuing a press release on Monday last week, FAIR made little effort to raise awareness of the event outside talk radio circles. FAIR did not even advertise the event on its website or extend invitations to most citizen activists it claims as members. A few leaders of state level anti-immigrant groups were in attendance, but the leadership presence appeared paltry compared to past years.
Today, Hold Their Feet to the Fire appears to be little more than a summit for conservative radio hosts. FAIR organizes the get-together and hosts a stable of anti-immigrant legislators and leaders. Members of Congress that have long served as mouthpieces for the anti-immigrant movement on Capitol Hill like representatives Steve King (R-IA), Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Lou Barletta (R-PA) – who is also a member of FAIR’s advisory board – sat down for numerous interviews and to advocate anti-immigrant positions to anyone willing to listen.
In addition to FAIR’s congressional allies, other far-Right activists like anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney broadcasted from Hold Their Feet to the Fire’s “radio row.” During an interview with Kansas Secretary of State – and counsel for FAIR’s legal arm – Kris Kobach, Gaffney shifted the conversation from immigration and Kobach’s voter suppression efforts to the importance of “American Laws for American Courts” legislation that purports to block Muslims seeking to subvert the U.S. Constitution with Shariah law.
Gaffney has become increasingly ostracized in conservative circles for peddling anti-Muslim conspiracies. FAIR’s willingness to provide him a platform at its annual event raises questions about the organization’s alignment and agenda.
Robert Vandervoort, a white nationalist and president of the anti-immigrant group ProEnglish, was also present for both days of Hold Their Feet to the Fire this year. Near the end of the event’s first day, FAIR’s official Twitter account thanked ProEnglish representatives for attending. While one would think FAIR would distance itself from controversial figures like Vandervoort and his organization, it refuses. In fact, the two anti-immigrant groups are simply continuing a long tradition of collaboration: FAIR founder — and architect of the modern day anti-immigrant movement — John Tanton, was ProEnglish’s founding chairman.
Despite the controversial attendees and increasingly fringe nature of the event, FAIR will surely herald this year’s Hold Their Feet to the Fire as another success story. Such a story is desperately needed for an organization whose sordid history and ties to white nationalism have increasingly become public knowledge.