Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, one of President-elect Donald Trump’s closest advisers during his campaign and his selection for U.S. attorney general, has longstanding and extensive ties to both anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim extremist groups.
Sessions, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 1997, has for years been the key bridge between the anti-immigrant movement and Congress. His efforts to combat comprehensive immigration reform legislation have won him plaudits across the nativist landscape.
Sessions has relied on material from the movement to help stymie reform, and anti-immigrant groups have had a reliable – and powerful – ally in Sessions, who chairs the immigration subcommittee within the Senate Judiciary Committee. John Tanton, founder of the modern-day nativist movement, highlighted the need for such a congressional champion as a key goal in strategy memos he drafted in the 1980s. “Think how much different our prospects would be if someone espousing our ideas had the chairmanship!” Tanton wrote.
Sessions has a close relationship with the “big three” anti-immigrant groups.
He regularly attends events hosted by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has been named as a hate group by the SPLC since 2007. FAIR was founded by Tanton, a white nationalist who in 1993 wrote, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” For decades, FAIR has had one mission: to severely limit immigration into the United States. Its leaders have longstanding ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements. Its advertisements have been rejected because of racist content. Dan Stein, FAIR’s current president, told Tanton in 1994 that those who supported the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the racist national origins quotas that favored immigrants of European descent, wanted to “retaliate against Anglo-Saxon dominance” and that this “revengism” against whites had created a policy that is causing “chaos and will continue to create chaos.”
Sessions regularly attends FAIR’s annual “Hold Their Feet to the Fire” event, which brings together anti-immigrant activists, right-wing radio hosts and elected officials who sound off about immigration on talk radio. In 2007, he was the keynote speaker at FAIR’s advisory board meeting.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), also a Tanton-founded group, serves as the anti-immigrant movement’s think tank. It has referred to immigrants as “Third-World gold-diggers.” After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, CIS head Mark Krikorian wrote, “My guess is that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough.” In a 2014 speech where he decried “Obama-style immigration reform,” CIS staffer Stephen Steinlight said that impeachment for President Obama was not enough. “I would think being hung, drawn, and quartered is probably too good for him,” he said.
During the last push for comprehensive immigration reform, Janice Kephart left her position at CIS to serve as special counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee. During debates on the “Gang of Eight” bill, she could be seen whispering into Sessions’ ear.
Sessions, who has endorsed the work of CIS, participated in a panel discussion event organized by the group in 2006, and in 2013, he spoke on a CIS teleconference. Earlier this year, he spoke at a reception for guests invited to a CIS conference.
NumbersUSA is an organization that serves as the grassroots mobilizer for the anti-immigrant movement. Its founder, Roy Beck, has spoken twice to the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens, the group whose online propaganda provided a gateway into white nationalism for accused Charleston shooter Dylann Roof. In 2012, Sessions put into the congressional record a “congratulations” to NumbersUSA to mark its 15th anniversary.
Sessions is also an ally of anti-Muslim organizations which have showered him with accolades. In 2014, the senator received the “Daring the Odds: The Annie Taylor Award” from the David Horowitz Freedom Center, run by anti-Muslim extremist David Horowitz. In one speech, Horowitz asked, “Why are all the major Muslim organizations in America connected to the Muslim Brotherhood and why are 80 percent of the mosques filled with hate against Jews and Americans?” In his acceptance speech, Sessions said, “I’ve seen some great people receive this.” Past recipients include Pamela Geller, one of the most rabidly anti-Muslim activists in America today. Sessions also thanked Horowitz and spoke of how much he “admired” him. The ceremony took place at one of Horowitz’s “Restoration Weekend” events. Sessions also attended these events in 2013 and 2003.
In 2015, Sessions received the “Keeper of the Flame” award from the anti-Muslim hate group Center for Security Policy (CSP) run by Frank Gaffney. Frank Gaffney has a long history of demonizing Muslims and promoting wild conspiracy theories. He has claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. government, called for the reestablishment of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and claimed that Huma Abedin was part of a “Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy,” a charge that was condemned by Sen. John McCain and then House speaker John Boehner. CSP released a report last year calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. A CSP vice president, Clare Lopez, said during a speech in 2013, “When people in other bona fide religions follow their doctrines they become better people – Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews. When Muslims follow their doctrine, they become jihadists.”
It’s not hard to see why leaders of the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim movements are so pleased with Trump’s appointment of Sessions as attorney general. Their champion has moved from the Senate to the doorstep of the Attorney General’s Office.
This article was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.