Tomorrow and Thursday, approximately 50 conservative radio hosts from across the country will broadcast live from the Phoenix Park Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. The occasion: Hold Their Feet to the Fire (HTFTTF), an annual media event organized by leading anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) that pairs radio hosts with some of FAIR’s most strident allies in Congress, law enforcement, and select grassroots activists for two days of immigration-centric broadcasts.
Now in its tenth year, the nature of HTFTTF has inverted. What had previously been an event featuring public rallies and coordinated lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill has transformed into an exclusive event confined to the downtown D.C. hotel’ s walls.
As one mispunctuated Twitter interaction between FAIR and Arizona anti-immigrant group Remember 1986 suggests, many of FAIR’s grassroots allies did not even receive an invitation this year.
@FAIRImmigration are activists also invited this year.
— REMEMBER 1986 (@REMEMBER_1986) June 10, 2016
Remember 1986 began in 2013 as the organized anti-immigrant movement began mobilizing opposition to comprehensive immigration reform legislation. FAIR listed the group as an Arizona state contact as recently as March 17, 2016—before FAIR removed all state contact groups from its website.
As FAIR continues to pose as a mainstream organization despite its extremist policies and white nationalist roots, many of its supporters belie its moderate posturing. In previous years, extremists attending Hold Their Feet to the Fire have included white nationalist and former Council of Conservative Citizens board member Roan Garcia-Quintana, San Diego Minutemen founder Jeff Schwilk, Americans for Legal Immigration PAC’s William Gheen, and even Remember 1986 founder Rusty Childress.
To work toward achieving mainstream credibility, FAIR officials likely knew that extremist supporters like the ones above had to go. Still, even last year, white nationalists Robert Vandervoort, then-Executive Director of ProEnglish, and Marcus Epstein were photographed at the event. And FAIR has also allowed leading anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney to broadcast from the event the past two years.
FAIR would have to go to much greater lengths to truly rid Hold Their Feet to the Fire of anti-immigrant extremism. They would have to bar key FAIR staffers from attending the event.
For instance, FAIR National Field Director Susan Tully has suggested President Obama is “more interested in supporting those who are trying to hurt and undermine the United States” and “doing everything to hurt us.” Tully has also admitted the aim of a FAIR event in September 2013 was to portray an alleged–and now convicted–murderer “as the poster child of both the DREAM Act and amnesty.”
The presence of FAIR President Dan Stein also belies any expectation for moderation. In February, Stein implied that Central Americans apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border pose a biological threat that could reach genocidal levels. In a December 2014 op-ed, Stein described President Obama’s executive actions regarding temporary deportation relief for DREAMers and their parents as an effort “to re-engineer this society” that “will make the nation ungovernable.”
Never mind Stein and FAIR’s role in Congress’ current, ungovernable state. FAIR’s misleading information and public encouragement of legislative obstructionism against meaningful, bi-partisan immigration reforms have hardly increased the efficacy of government.
Despite FAIR’s best efforts, no amount of exclusivity at this year’s event can conceal the bigotry and extremism that motivates the group’s advocacy and many of its grassroots supporters.