Representatives of the Indiana and national sheriff’s associations say they did not organize a trip for county sheriffs to go to Washington, D.C. that was bankrolled by a group accused of having ties to white nationalists and promoting a bigoted view of immigrants.
Steve Luce, executive director of the Indiana Sheriff’s Association, said Sheriff Thomas Hodgson of Bristol County, Massachusetts, organized the trip and sent an email to every state sheriff’s association to promote the trip, saying that the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, would pay for it.
Hodgson, who sits on FAIR’s advisory board in a volunteer capacity, said he “made a lot of calls and tried to recruit” sheriffs from around the United States to go on the trip. Hodgson said he does know Myers.
Luce said he forwarded an email from Hodgson to all 92 county sheriffs in Indiana. Myers was one of six sheriffs who accepted money from FAIR to travel to Washington, D.C., said FAIR spokesman Matthew Tragesser. FAIR paid around $1,100 for Myers’ trip, he said.
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Myers was one of around 200 sheriffs from around the country who attended a White House briefing on border security and safe communities on Sept. 26, which included a photo-op with President Donald Trump and panel discussions with high-ranking Trump administration officials.
During the briefing, the sheriffs “heard from top-level administration officials and not FAIR,” Tragesser said.
“The reason FAIR sponsored the event is because many sheriff departments do not have funding for this type of educational experience,” he said.
Myers said he attended the briefing to talk about drug enforcement, which he said has been the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department’s “number one issue since I became sheriff.”
“My concern is more toward the drug enforcement, not so much the immigration issues,” Myers said earlier.
FAIR describes itself on its website as a “non-profit and non-partisan organization” that seeks to eliminate illegal immigration and drastically reduce legal immigration to “allow America to more sensibly manage its growth, address its environmental needs and maintain a high quality of life.”
The group, however, has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League, which has said FAIR’s “anti-immigration stance is based on a bigoted representation of immigrants,” and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has classified FAIR as a “hate group” since 2008 for, among other things, accepting money from a pro-eugenics fund and promoting the “hatred of immigrants, especially non-white ones.”
The Indiana Sheriff’s Association “does not endorse FAIR” and remains neutral on issues such as immigration, Luce said.
Luce said he passed Hodgson’s email on to Indiana sheriffs, but did not encourage sheriffs to accept or reject the offer to go on the trip.
“I get the information and disseminate it,” Luce said. “Since (the sheriffs) are in an elected office, I allow them to make their own decisions.”
Pat Royal, National Sheriff’s Association spokesman, said “we did not organize this” or “notify sheriffs about the (White House) briefing.”
Royal wouldn’t say whether the national association supports FAIR’s positions on immigration or accepts funding from FAIR. Royal did say the association and FAIR have worked together “over the past few years.”
Myers earlier said he did “a little research” on the group before accepting the money from FAIR to pay for the trip, including visiting the group’s website, but did not find any evidence that FAIR was “targeting a certain group of people.”
Myers further stated that he was not aware of the reports about the group by the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t belong to a hate group or anything like that, but I didn’t see any type of indications (on FAIR’s website) that this was a group that is targeting a certain group of people,” Myers said earlier. “I think they’re looking at overall immigration.”
“I find it hard to believe that the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association and the White House would have anything to do with a hate group,” Myers said earlier.
Myers did not respond for a request for comment Tuesday about how the trip was organized.
Controversy surrounding FAIR
The Anti-Defamation League has said FAIR’s website “alleges a causal relationship between immigration and American societal ills, including crime rates, environmental degradation and wage stagnation,” according to its 2018 report, “Mainstreaming Hate: The Anti-Immigrant Movement in the U.S.”
The league further states in the report that the group is one of several in the United States that “play a major role in promoting divisive, dangerous rhetoric and views that demonize immigrants.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center goes a few steps further, classifying FAIR as a “hate group.” To support its conclusion, the law center points to the views of current FAIR President Dan Stein, the acceptance of money from a pro-eugenics fund and decades of “friendly correspondence” between the group’s founder, John Tanton, and individuals the law center describes as “leading white nationalist thinkers.”
Tanton, who died this past July at the age of 85, warned of a “Latin onslaught” and wrote of the need for “a European-American majority, and a clear one at that,” the center states.
FAIR responded to The Republic’s Sunday story about Myers going to Washington D.C., praising Myers as a “responsible law enforcement officer” who did his “homework on FAIR” and “determined that the allegations against FAIR are without merit.”
“These attacks are part of a disturbing trend in American politics to silence opposing viewpoints on important issues by labeling them as ‘hate,’ or to assert non-existent connections to people and ideologies that do espouse hate,” said Ira Mehlman, FAIR media director.
FAIR has denied the contents of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s and Anti-Defamation League’s reports, labeling them as an effort to “silence” FAIR’s political agenda, according to Mehlman.
Judging by experience
“I’ve heard this assertion that they (FAIR) are a white supremacist group and typical labeling that goes on,” Hodgson said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I’ve never had any inkling that anyone who has been associated with the organization from day one would be white supremacist.”
Hodgson, however, said he has not “really seen any of the blogs or website” from FAIR and “I judge organizations by my experiences” with them.
“FAIR has always been very helpful to the sheriffs across the country to be a resource for information and trends that are important to us as sheriffs to keep our communities safe,” Hodgson said.
Hodgson said the trip to Washington, D.C. for sheriffs was, in part, motivated to encourage Congress to pass immigration reform.
“We felt that we can’t stand down any longer,” Hodgson said. “We started to bring sheriffs from all over the country together because we all share a common issue that was impacting our ability to fulfill our oath.”
“I’m sure Sheriff Myers agrees. He was there,” Hodgson said.
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For more information about the Federation for American Immigration Reform, visit fairus.org.
Anti-Defamation League report: https://www.adl.org/the-anti-immigrant-movement-in-the-us#profiles-of-anti-immigrant-groups
Southern Poverty Law Firm: https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/federation-american-immigration-reform
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To learn more about the Indiana Sheriff’s Association, visit indianasheriffs.org.
To learn more about the National Sheriff’s Association, visit sheriffs.org.