SALT LAKE CITY — A conservative Utah think tank is taking on "right-wing extremism" in an updated essay reflective of its experiences in the recent legislative debate on illegal immigration.
In the Sutherland Institute's addendum to its 2004 treatise "The Poison of Extremism, executive director Paul T. Mero takes aim at what he refers to as the state's grassrootsgrass-roots "Deportation Caucus."
"Indefensible, it seems to me, are irrational accusations that an entire population of people is harmful to Utah," he wrote. "Such extreme claims are examples of nativism at best and racism at its ugliest."
Ron Mortensen, founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, called Mero a "very divisive person" who denigrates those who disagree with him.
"He sets up a straw man and seeks to destroy people through character defamation," he said.
Mero specifically goes after those opposed to HB116 to the point of wanting to throw out legislators who voted for the bill and the governor who signed it.
"The good guys won, thankfully. But the fear-mongering continues with attacks on Utah's political leaders, not the least of whom is Gov. Gary Herbert," Mero wrote.
He calls the Republican governor one the most genuinely conservative politicians the state has ever known, "but now he is apparently not 'conservative' enough because he supported and signed HB116 into law."
Sutherland favored the comprehensive approach the Legislature took in approving four illegal immigration bills that in addition to increased enforcement, include provisions for guest worker permits, a migrant worker program and employer verification policies.
Angry GOP delegates vowed to work toward Herbert's ouster after the Legislature adjourned last month. At a rally he organized during the session, state delegate Brandon Beckham said going against their will would spell "political suicide" for the governor.
On Thursday, Beckham, who created a website called repeal116.com, said Mero would be wrong to assume just hard-core Republicans and tea party activists oppose the legislation. Democrats, Libertarians and independents, he said, are among the 2,400 people so far to sign an online petition supporting a repeal.
"Paul Mero is out of touch with what Utahns want. He doesn't know what he's up against," he said.
"I'm going to have a field day with this (essay)," he said, adding he intends to post it on his website. "I got people who are going to come unglued at this."
Mero's original essay contained eight characteristics of what he says defines right-wing political extremism in Utah, including self-absorbed patriotism, irrational speculation and disdain for the LDS Church when its views contradict those of extremists.
His revised list adds that the ends justify the means, a failure to realize ideas have consequences and a framework fueled by baseless and irrational fears.
"The entire argument of anti-immigrant activists was based on fear. They fear crime. They fear joblessness. ... They fear everything," Mero wrote. "Not one rational or constructive solution, just fear-driven reactions."
Mortensen, who worked at Sutherland for a time, takes issue with that assertion.
"We have differing opinions (on illegal immigration), and it's not because people hate. It's not because people are afraid. It's because there's a very serious concern about illegal-alien identity theft," he said.
Mero also wrote that during the legislative debate, he never heard the "Deportation Caucus" pitch a plan to remove the more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants from Utah.
"Because, of course, that plan doesn't exist; because, of course, that plan would be inhumane and un-American; because, of course, it would involve a massive police-state effort, devastating families and costing millions of dollars."
In reworking the essay in light of the immigration debate, Mero reiterated his commitment to fighting extremism, noting it "may be seen as heresy, or even treasonous political behavior, among newly energized activists (such as tea partyers)."