Editor’s Note: The original version of this report, posted November 4, erroneously stated that Peter Gemma, former media director of the National Policy Institute, had met with neo-Nazi leader Bill White. That reference has been removed. The Nation regrets the error.
Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore has made illegal immigration a centerpiece of his campaign, promising an aggressive crackdown on day laborers and undocumented immigrants attending state universities. “Will we reward illegal behavior with hard-earned dollars from law-abiding citizens?” he asked a campaign rally crowd this August. “I say the answer to this question should be an easy one: no!” While Kilgore accepts the financial support of an anti-immigrant group with racist ties, he also has taken massive contributions from companies notorious for exploiting undocumented immigrant labor.
Virginia Republican Attorney General candidate Bob McDonnell has declared himself “a drug dealer’s worst nightmare,” while appearing in ads slamming imaginary crooks behind prison doors and pledging to protect Virginians from sexual predators. McDonnell has not only financed his campaign through a possibly illegal slush fund but has hired three former associates of indicted Republican über-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. One of them, who once served as McDonnell’s campaign manager, is now in prison for soliciting sex with a young boy.
With friends like these, it’s hard to imagine how Kilgore and McDonnell expect their law-and-order message to be taken seriously. Without such friends, however, it would be difficult for them to plaster their message on TV screens throughout the Old Dominion. And so they have eagerly racked up contributions from controversial and at times contradictory interests, hoping that wedge issues and pseudo-populist rhetoric will paper over their sordid finances. Thus far, with Kilgore running neck-and-neck with his Democratic challenger, Tim Kaine, and McDonnell enjoying a comfortable lead over Democrat Creigh Deeds–and with less than a week left until election day–the strategy seems to be working.
Kilgore’s overt nativism has elicited support from the innocuous-sounding US Immigration Reform PAC, which donated $2,000 to his campaign. The PAC is headed by Mary Lou Tanton, wife of John Tanton, a Michigan-based ophthalmologist the Southern Poverty Law Center says has “either formed, led or otherwise made possible…the vast array of America’s anti-immigration groups.”
Tanton founded what is now the largest anti-immigration lobby in the country: the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR). Under his leadership, FAIR struck up a relationship with the Pioneer Fund, an organization dedicated to advancing the discredited pseudo-science of eugenics, and which promoted Nazi propaganda films during the 1930s. Between 1985 and 1994, the Pioneer Fund bankrolled FAIR with $1.2 million.
Today, the Tantons continue to ally themselves with racist figures and organizations. Just last year, US Immigration Reform PAC paid a far-right activist named Peter Gemma more than $7,000 for consulting services. According to the Center for New Community, a Chicago-based civil rights group, Gemma has helped organize numerous Holocaust denial conferences, at which he has spoken alongside the likes of David Duke and fascist author David Irving. Gemma is the former media director for the National Policy Institute, an avowedly white nationalist think tank in Northern Virginia posing as the answer to the question it asks presumably white visitors to its website: “Who speaks for us?”