Burien residents and activists holding signs at the August 7 meeting in which the Burien City Council voted to put Initiative 1 on the November ballot.
Burien residents and activists holding signs at the August 7 meeting in which the Burien City Council voted to put Initiative 1 on the November ballot. Ryan T. Bell

Last week Burien lawmakers voted to place on the November ballot a measure that would repeal a "safe city" policy preventing city employees from inquiring about a person's citizenship status or religious affiliation. Council members passed the ballot measure despite public protest over the repeal effort's purported "outside influence." What exactly do opponents mean by "outside influence?"

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A quick look through PDC filings revealed that the biggest funders of Respect Washington, the group behind the repeal petition, is US Inc., an organization founded by John Tanton. Tanton—dubbed the "racist architect of the modern anti-immigration movement" by the Southern Poverty Law Center—and his organizations have been funding anti-immigrant activism and publishing white nationalist and white supremacist literature for decades.

Between 2016 and 2017, PDC filings show that US Inc. has donated $15,000 to Respect Washington/Respect WA.

Countless articles have been written on Tanton, a retired ophthalmologist from Michigan, and his network of anti-immigrant organizations. But here's a quick overview, with a focus on US Inc. specifically:

• Tanton got his start in the '60s and '70s environmental movement, which led him to concerns on overpopulation—which then turned into concerns about immigration.

• In 1975, Tanton wrote a paper called "The Case for Passive Eugenics," which you can read about here.

• In 1993, Tanton wrote a letter to a donor in which he professed: "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.”

• In the late '90s, Tanton, who also founded the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), proposed that the FAIR board of directors discuss the theories of Kevin MacDonald—an alt-right anti-Semite who has claimed more recently that Jews (Hey, Kevin!) are bent on destroying "White, Christian culture" through supporting LGBTQ rights.

• US Inc. is the parent company of The Social Contract Press, a journal that claims to publish scholarly articles, but dedicates issues to themes like "Europhobia: The Hostility Toward European-Descended Americans." In that issue, Tanton wrote of his concern that "U.S. immigration policy, coupled with high immigrant fertility, will reduce the historic white, European-descended majority in the country to minority status."

• Just this summer, The Social Contract ran an article that claimed genetics and ethnicity play a role for Mexicans who drink and drive, or that "there is a genetic component at work in every alcohol-fueled crash caused by one of these invaders." The article concluded: "Of course, if we are willing to tolerate this ongoing, inevitable tragedy in our country, we can continue to allow large numbers of Latin Americans to immigrate here, both legally and otherwise, and eventually the problem may alleviate itself...In a few thousand years, that is."

• Last year, The Social Contract also ran an issue on immigrants bringing disease over the borders. In 2010, the publication dedicated an issue to "The Menace of Islam."

• Nevertheless, Tanton has denied he is racially biased, according to the New York Times.

On Thursday, the Pulitzer-winning Oregonian newspaper described US Inc. as a white nationalist group, noting that it had also donated money to Oregonians for Immigration Reform, a group trying to repeal Oregon's sanctuary state law.

I reached out to all seven Burien City Council members—including the three who signed Respect Washington's petition—for comment on the organization's funding, and will update when I hear back.

UPDATE: Asked for comment about Respect Washington's funding, Council Member Debi Wagner (who signed the petition) responded: "What's your definition of a racist? I see Trenton [sic] is described as a racist. Is that because he is against illegal immigration or is there something else?"

UPDATE #2: Council Member Nancy Tosta, who is currently running for reelection against "Burien First, Burien Proud" candidate Darla Green, said:

I do not support his views on the immigrant population in our country and the role it has played and the success of our society. For me, we are a country of immigrants and we've all come from somewhere else. And diversity adds to our strength. And his anti-immigrant eugenics thinking strikes me as being anti-American.

It's obviously frustrating that they feel the need to interfere in our community dynamics. And the fact that they have succeeded is disturbing. And I don't know whether the signatures that they've gotten are truly people in our community who are troubled by our ordinance or if it's indicative of misinformation and deception on the part of the signature gatherers. I have had emails and phone calls and conversations from constituents that, "They told me this was about safety in our community and I signed it." And then in retrospect they believe they were being misled.

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Council Member Lauren Berkowitz offered this:

It is unsurprising given the rhetoric of the petition itself and of the speakers in favor that hate groups are organizing and funding this initiative. The involvement of hate groups makes the signatures and comments in favor of the initiative by Mayor Krakowiak and councilmembers Wagner and Edgar that much more atrocious. I remain disappointed that human rights and dignity will now be up for a vote of the people. However, I am confident that Burien voters will maintain our protections for undocumented persons and people of non-dominant religious faiths, as well as for those of us who share their communities, families, and friendships. I am further confident that Burien will vote out of office those who have supported this measure, and vote into office those who will work to strengthen the existing ordinance.

Council Member Austin Bell declined to comment.