John Leo

The current fight has split conservationists. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. supports the Sierra leadership. On the other side is former Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson, a founder of Earth Day, who thinks that the U.S. cannot argue for world population control without setting an example by stabilizing its own population. Far right groups, including nativists and white racists, are urging their members to join the Sierra Club for the current mail voting, which ends April 21. On the left, is supporting current Sierra leadership. So is the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is supposed to limit itself to confronting hate groups. It was Morris Dees, controversial leader of the law center, who contributed the line the "greening of hate."

Pope has shamelessly tried to connect Lamm, Morris and Pimentel to the most extreme anti-immigration people. He told the New York Times: "If somebody who isn't a Nazi is put on the ballot by the American Nazi party" it can be difficult to tell the candidates from their dubious backers. Good grief. Next we will be hearing that Franklin Roosevelt may have been a commie because Stalin fought on his side during World War II.

This is surely an odd episode in Sierra Club history and getting odder. Lamm and Morris have made an issue of two anonymous donations to the Sierra Club Foundation totaling $102 million. Most directors of the club don't know who the donors are, said Carl Pope, and even the president of the Sierra Club, Larry Fahn, said he doesn't know. Transparency by do-good organizations would be nice. Morris said he wonders whether the anonymous donors are calling the shots in the campaign against the three insurgents.

Perhaps the Sierra Club thought it could brush away dissent by depicting the dissenters as sinister. To dampen the election chances of the challengers, the Sierra Club attached a notice to the mail ballot warning that white supremacist groups had expressed interest in the election. Lamm understandably calls this "environmental McCarthyism."

Early media coverage focused on incendiary charges of a "hostile takeover" of Sierra by extremists. Soon the media will figure out that the club is actually conducting a smear campaign. This disgraceful effort by the Sierra Club has turned the spotlight on the leadership itself, its lack of candor about who its powerful donors might be, and its tactic of trying to sway an election with ugly charges. The organization should act quickly to make things right.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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