English Only Update III

              English First Founder
              Linked to White Supremacists

              By James Crawford

              February 16, 1996


    Critics of the English-only movement who have long suspected a "Nazi connection" may finally have found one in the person of Larry Pratt, cochairman of the Pat Buchanan presidential campaign. Until yesterday Pratt was an obscure third-stringer for the New Right. Today his face is on front pages across the country, thanks to his inopportune appearances with leaders of white supremacist organizations, including Aryan Nations and Christian Identity. Pratt reportedly addressed meetings sponsored by these groups to organize and promote armed militias. Interviewed on ABC's "Nightline," he claimed not to have known about the Nazi sympathies of his fellow speakers, even though one identified himself as "a 100 percent bigot" and used Hitler's favorite salute.

    Press accounts have identified Larry Pratt as the director of Gun Owners of America (GOA). But they have neglected to note that he is also the president of English First, a group he founded in 1986 to combat bilingualism and advocate English as the nation's official language. English First and GOA currently share a suite of offices in Springfield, Va., along with other Pratt-created lobbies, including the Committee to Protect the Family and U.S. Border Control.

    In the 104th Congress, English First has worked closely with Reps. Toby Roth (R-Wisc.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.) in drafting federal English-only legislation. These bills H.R. 739 and H.R. 1005, respectively are the most explicit and restrictive "Language of Government Acts" now pending. Both would repeal the Bilingual Education Act and the bilingual provisions of the Voting Rights Act. English First has also been a major benefactor of Learning English Advocates Drive (LEAD), a group of anti-bilingual teachers in Los Angeles, headed by Sally Peterson.

    English First also seems to have influenced Pat Buchanan. Although Larry Pratt is now "on leave" from the campaign, his spirit of intolerance persists. In Arizona, Buchanan has been running TV commercials promising "to insist on one language, English, for all Americans."

    Pratt's group is not to be confused with the older and better- funded U.S. English lobby. The two organizations compete for direct-mail dollars and have never been on friendly terms.

    English First has never hesitated to associate itself with Far Right causes or to offend ethnic minorities with its innuendo- laden rhetoric. In 1986, English First began raising funds with the following appeal, signed by Texas state Rep. Jim Horn:

      Dear Fellow American:

      I don't know about your forefathers but when mine came to America, the first thing they did was learn English.

      They wanted to be part of the American dream and they knew that learning English wasn't just a practical necessity. It was a moral obligation.

      Tragically, many immigrants these days refuse to learn English! They never become productive members of society. They remain stuck in a linguistic and economic ghetto, many living off welfare and costing working Americans millions of tax dollars every year.

      Incredibly, there is a radical movement in this country that not only promotes such irresponsible behavior, but actually wants to give foreign languages the same status as English -- the so-called 'bilingual' movement. ...

      Right now, Hispanic and other groups calling for segregated language programs have won every legal battle. So instead of treating an immigrant's native language as an impediment to success in America, the states are forced to treat it as a God-given right. ...

      Radical activists have been caught sneaking illegal aliens to the polls and using bilingual ballots to cast fraudulent votes. ...

      If you and I fail to pass the [English Language] Amendment now, the fragmentation of American society along language lines will be complete. We'll create a permanent underclass of unemployable citizens. And you and your children will have to pick up the tab. ...

      The English language has always been the cement holding us together. But if we lose that now, our way of life will be forever changed. ...

    Using this pitch, Larry Pratt proudly claimed to have recruited 200,000 members and raised $2 million for English First in a single year. When the letter was later criticized in the press, however, he rewrote it and alleged that it had been misquoted.

    I interviewed Pratt for Education Week back in 1987 and asked him about the charges of racism leveled against English-only proponents. He dismissed these as "strictly irrational paranoia" on the part of Hispanic leaders who "oppose their communities learning English [so as] to keep their political base." He added that his Panamanian-born wife fully approved of the activities of English First.

    The "true racists," Pratt insisted, were those who reject English as the common U.S. language in favor of "linguistic separatism." He questioned the patriotism of many Hispanic advocates of bilingual programs, warning that they secretly hope to reunite the Southwest with Mexico.

    Funny. In more than a decade of reporting on bilingual education, I have never encountered a single linguistic separatist much less a Hispanic secessionist. Maybe it takes a true racial conspirator to see racial conspiracies everywhere.


    Comments? Email me at: jwcrawford@compuserve.com

    A version of this article appeared in the Hispanic Link Weekly Report, March 4, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by James Crawford. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this article for free, noncommercial distribution, provided that credit is given and this notice is included. Requests for permission to reproduce in any other form should be forwarded by email.