Madison Grant was the missing link
EL PASO, Texas; NEW YORK CITY––Much more than misanthropy links mass shootings by white supremacists to the obsession of mainstream conservation societies with extirpating “invasive species” and “cleansing” wildlife habitat of any trace of human presence.
But don’t expect the Boone & Crockett Club, the Sierra Club, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, among others, to admit that their mission statements were produced in large part by the same arch-racist, Madison Grant, whose 1916 screed The Passing of the Great Race helped to fuel multiple revivals of the Ku Klux Klan, inspired Adolph Hitler, and has been perhaps unknowingly paraphrased on social media by many of the most recent racially motivated shooters.
Patrick Crusius, 21, arrested on August 3, 2019 after fatally shooting 20 people and wounding 20 more at the Cielo Vista mall in El Paso, Texas, moments before the killings uploaded to the website 8chan a document summarized by Vanity Fairwriter Kevin Fitzpatrick as “racist warnings of a ‘Hispanic invasion of Texas,’ calling for the removal of South and Central American immigrants, and drawing direct inspiration from the March 2019 attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 51 dead.”
Opposition to the immigration of dark-skinned non-Protestants was among the enduring obsessions of Yale and Columbia University-educated attorney Madison Grant (1865-1937), along with protecting endangered species and habitat––and trophy hunting.
Observed Lois Beckett, San Francisco correspondent for The Guardian, soon after the Crusius killings, “In the past eight years, more than 175 people around the world have been killed in at least 16 high-profile attacks motivated, or apparently motivated, by white nationalist conspiracy theories, including the far right racist belief that nonwhite immigrants and refugees are ‘invaders’ who pose an existential threat to the white race.”
Who was “Ragnar Redbeard,” who inspired the Gilroy shooter?
Santino William Legan, 19, for instance, who shot up the Gilroy Garlic Festival a week earlier in California, killing three and wounding 12, posted messages to Instagram comparable to those from Crusius, but including a literary reference, of sorts.
“Why overcrowd towns and pave more open space to make room for hordes of mestizos and Silicon Valley white twats?” asked Legan.
Legan urged viewers to read an 1890 misogynistic and racist tome called Might Is Right or the Survival of the Strongest, by “Ragnar Redbeard.”
“Bearded man with a vacant stare”
“Ragnar Redbeard” was a pseudonym unmasked by Australian newspapers in 1900 as Arthur Desmond (1859-1929).
Desmond was a British-born itinerant orator, stage performer, political incendiary, self-professed journalist, plagiarist, scammer and occasionally violent petty criminal who had emigrated first to New Zealand, then to Australia, South Africa, and finally the U.S., where he eventually died in Chicago.
Described as a 34-year-old “bearded man with a vacant stare” when arrested in 1893 for vandalizing a bank with graffiti, Desmond achieved considerable transient notoriety here and there, under at least five assumed names as well as his own, but beyond writing Might Is Right appears to have done nothing of enduring significance.
His scrambled thoughts as “Ragnar Redbeard,” however, were influentially echoed and amplified for decades by Madison Grant, who graduated from law school in 1890, and may have encountered Might Is Right soon afterward.
Grant ranked low at Yale in logic
“Not surprisingly to anyone who has read The Passing of the Great Race,” observed biographer Jonathan Spiro in 2008, as a Yale University student “Grant consistently earned among the higher scores in composition but ranked near the bottom of his class in logic.”
Opening with the anti-Semitic rantings of Tree of Life synagogue shooter Robert Bowers, who killed 11 Jewish worshippers on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Atlantic staff writer Adam Serwer in an April 2019 essay entitled “White Nationalism’s Deep American Roots” conducted what he termed “A long-overdue excavation of the book that Hitler called his ‘bible,’ and the man who wrote it”
Reminded Serwer, “What is judged extremist today was once the consensus of a powerful cadre of the American elite, well-connected men who eagerly seized on a false doctrine of ‘race suicide’ during the immigration scare of the early 20th century. They included wealthy patricians, intellectuals, lawmakers, even several presidents. Perhaps the most important among them was a blue blood with a very impressive mustache, Madison Grant,” whose The Passing of the Great Race “spread the doctrine of race purity all over the globe.”
Explained Serwer, “Madison Grant came from old money. He was an outdoorsman and a conservationist, knowledgeable about wildlife and interested in the dangers of extinction, expertise that he soon became intent on applying to humanity.”
Grant by 1916 was already among the most influential men in the U.S., largely through his Yale and Columbia connections and membership in many leading New York City lodges and social clubs. Most notably, Grant in 1893 was admitted to membership in the Boone & Crockett Club.
Recounted Jonathan Rosen in the January 6, 2014 edition of The New Yorker, “The Boone and Crockett Club, founded for rich sportsmen in 1887, by Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, morphed [from a trophy hunting club] into a powerful lobbying group,” driven by Madison Grant, who “moved the club toward a more strictly preservationist attitude, and the radical idea that unspoiled nature itself is the trophy.”
“Hitler sent him a fan letter”
“Arguably the most important environmentalist of his age,” Rosen continued, “Grant created vital hunting laws, built the New York Zoological Society (which grew into the Wildlife Conservation Society, whose flagship institution is the Bronx Zoo), and helped save the bison.
“That he was also a biological racist of such extreme convictions that Hitler sent him a fan letter is, however, also part of the story,” Rosen wrote. “So is the fact that William Hornaday, who helped Grant reintroduce bison into Oklahoma, displayed a Congolese Pygmy,” Ota Benga, in the monkey house of the Bronx Zoo in 1906.”
Previously exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Ota Benga was sent back to Africa afterward, but was lured to the U.S. a second time on the promise that he would again be allowed to return to Africa. Subjected to a daily barrage of racist abuse by the Bronx Zoo crowds, Ota Benga was eventually taken off exhibit as result of protest by clergymen and humane societies, but was never able to go back home. In 1916, at age 33, Ota Benga stole a pistol and shot himself.
This was the same year in which Grant, who chaired the New York Zoological Society board for 42 years, published The Passing of the Great Race.
“Manly sport with the rifle”
The purpose of the Boone & Crockett Club, according to the constitution drafted by Roosevelt and Grinnell, was “To promote manly sport with the rifle.”
Described Jonathan Spiro in Defending the Master Race – Conservation, Eugenics, Madison Grant (2008), “Membership was limited to an elite core of one hundred hunters who had killed large North American game animals of at least three different species (identified as bear, buffalo, caribou, cougar, deer, elk, moose, mountain sheep, musk ox, pronghorn antelope, white goat, and wolf).
Furthermore, the trophies must have been killed ‘in fair chase,’ which meant that such unsportsmanlike practices as ‘crusting’ (killing game rendered helpless in deep snow), ‘jacking’ (shining lanterns into the darkness to hypnotize passing animals), and ‘hounding’ (driving prey into a lake with dogs) were verboten.
Killing not for money, nor for meat, but for fun
“Well-bred hunters like Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell were outraged by such uncouth practices,” continued Spiro. “After all, anyone strong enough to pull a trigger could be a ‘hunter’; the true sportsman therefore had to find a way to set himself apart from the rude killers. This was accomplished via an aristocratic code of ethics that held that the hunter measured his success not by the quantity of game he killed, but by the quality of the chase. The point was that a gentleman did not hunt for crass economic reasons; he hunted for sport.”
The North American “trophy” species that Boone & Crockett Club members were required to have killed were then mostly much closer to extinction than at any time since.
“The fact that game was sparse was one of the factors that made sport hunting an honorable activity among the nation’s elite,” observed Spiro. “Scarcity meant that the pursuit was a true test of manly fiber; scarcity imparted value to the trophies; and scarcity ensured that only the wealthy could afford to engage in the performance.”
“Extinction of ‘game’ would mean demise of ‘sport'”
However, “sport hunters certainly did not want the animals to be so scarce that they might actually die out. The extinction of the game would mean the demise of their sport and the disappearance of a valued source of status,” Spiro explained.
“To put it as straightforwardly as possible: Grant, Grinnell, and Roosevelt wanted to save America’s animals in the present so that they could hunt them in the future.”
“What is especially fascinating (or some might say distressing),” Spiro emphasized, “is that even as Madison Grant sought to eliminate [what he termed] inferior races, he preserved the California redwoods, saved the American bison from extinction, founded the Bronx Zoo, fought for strict gun control laws, built the Bronx River Parkway, helped to create Glacier and Denali National Parks [and Everglades and Olympic National Parks as well], and worked tirelessly to protect the whales in the ocean, the bald eagles in the sky, and the pronghorn antelope on the prairie.”
To Grant, Spiro summarized, “conservation and eugenics were two sides of the same coin.”
Boone & Crockett succeeded politically where the American Humane Association failed
Quoting former Connecticut Audubon Society executive director and history professor John F. Reiger, Spiro grossly errs in writing that the Boone & Crockett Club, led by Grant, “was the first private organization to deal effectively with conservation issues of national scope.”
In truth, the very first proposal for an endangered species act was unsuccessfully advanced to then-U.S. President Chester A. Arthur in 1883 by a delegation from the American Humane Association, four years before the Boone & Crockett Club existed.
But except in back editions of the National Humane Review, published by the American Humane Association from 1913 to 1976, little published record remains of that, whereas Grant, with the lobbying clout of the Boone & Crockett Club behind him, won passage of the Adirondack Deer Law in New York State in 1888 (also supported by the American Humane Association and the American SPCA), and the Alaska Game Law in 1902.
These (although Alaska would not become a state until 1959) are regarded as the prototypes for state-regulated hunting nationwide.
Why Grant built the Bronx Zoo
Continued Spiro, “As Madison Grant hunted the ever-dwindling mammals of North America in the 1890s, he began to dream of creating a zoological park in which the continent’s endangered species could be preserved ‘in surroundings as nearly as possible similar to those of their native habitat.’
“But Grant had little desire to create an Old World–style game preserve encompassing thousands of acres of fenced-in land on a nobleman’s estate, where species were indeed protected from poachers but where the average citizen could not see the creatures Grant wanted to locate his zoo in the midst of the nation’s metropolis, New York City, for it was his belief that an American game sanctuary should provide access to the urban public, who would thereby become educated about—and be alerted to the beleaguered status of—their country’s native fauna.
“On the other hand, Grant had no interest in building a typical nineteenth-century urban zoological garden. The leading European zoos of the time (e.g., London, Paris, and Antwerp) and their North American emulators (e.g, Philadelphia) measured only about thirty acres in size. Grant was disgusted by these cramped institutions where all the species, irrespective of their particular needs or habits, were locked up like dangerous prisoners in bare, solitary cells of uniform size and shape, lined with tile or cement and fronted with thick iron bars.”
Grant & Hornaday
Therefore, Grant in 1895 founded the New York Zoological Society and won state legislation authorizing it to create the 300-acre Bronx Zoo.
To do this, Grant had to overcome opposition from defenders of the 6.5-acre Central Park Menagerie, founded in 1864, forerunner of the Central Park Zoo, which the New York Zoological Society at last annexed in 1934, 32 years after annexing the New York Aquarium.
As first Bronx Zoo director, Grant and paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn hired William Temple Hornaday (1854–1937). Previously director of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., Hornaday later cofounded the Camp Fire Club, the American Bison Society, and the National Audubon Society, mostly with Grant’s help.
But Hornaday, a professional hunter before he became a zookeeper, “had utter contempt for so-called ‘conservationists’ like Grant who continued to hunt,” Spiro recalls. “He considered that to be the worst form of hypocrisy, and he could never excuse the fact that sportsmen like Grant were primarily interested in conservation in order to ensure a future supply of game.”
Saving whales & bison
As director of the New York Aquarium, meanwhile, Grant and Osborn hired Charles H. Townsend, who “would be involved with Grant in successful efforts to win protection for Alaskan fur seals, Galapagos tortoises, and the world’s endangered whales,” Spiro wrote.
Parallel to founding the New York Zoological Society, Grant took up the cause of saving the North American bison, which had already concerned the American Humane Association for nearly 20 years. Grant encouraged Hornaday to bring some of the few surviving bison from Yellowstone National Park to the Bronx Zoo, beginning the first successful captive breeding program for a threatened species.
“A half-breed is an abomination”
“Some wealthy individuals had attempted to preserve captive herds on their private estates,” recounted Spiro, “but most had allowed their bison to breed with their cattle. Madison Grant was aghast at this ‘contamination of the pure-breeds,’ and declared—in typical Grantian fashion—that “a half breed is an abomination.’ He insisted that ‘it is of the utmost importance to preserve all remnants of the American bison without any cross-breeding,’” a position not only presaging the racial views espoused in The Passing of the Great Race but also echoed to this day in the adamant opposition of all major U.S. conservation societies to allowing rare species to preserve their genetic lines through hybridization.
The Boone & Crockett Club, before Grant joined, “had bestowed an honorary life membership on General Phil Sheridan, chief advocate of annihilating the bison as a means of pacifying the Indians,” Spiro noted.
From 500 bison to half a million
Grant, however, prevailed upon Boone & Crockett Club colleague Theodore Rooosevelt, by then U.S. President, to designate the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge as the first North American bison reserve on June 2, 1905.
This, on land taken from the newly created U.S. Forest Service, was the beginning of the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge system.
In 1907 Hornaday with great fanfare transported six bison bulls and nine cows from the Bronx Zoo herd to populate the newly created refuge.
When Grant and Hornaday began, “there were only some 500 pure-blooded bison in the United States,” Spiro recounts. “By the time of Grant’s death in 1937 there were well over 25,000. The number today is more than 250,000.”
Tried to ban all but trophy hunting from National Forests
With the New York Zoological Society firmly established and the bison saved, Grant turned to pursuing passage through Congress of “a bill authorizing the president to declare that the national forests would henceforth be inviolate game refuges as well,” Spiro detailed.
Trophy hunting might be allowed, for high fees, but not high volume hunting for the pot.
But here Grant ran afoul of Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), who from 1905 to 1910 was first director of the U.S. Forest Service.
Pinchot, summarized Spiro, “was certain that westerners would never be reconciled to having their hunting privileges taken away by the federal government.”
Grant & John Muir
Grant and Pinchot also conflicted over whether San Francisco should be allowed to dam the Tuolumne River, flooding the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to create a reliable source of drinking water for the fast-growing city.
This was the issue that built the Sierra Club, founded by John Muir in 1892.
“The protracted battle over Hetch Hetchy symbolized in many ways the struggle between utilitarian conservationists and aesthetic preservationists,” assessed Spiro. “Pinchot, who supported the utilization of resources in the national parks, spoke out in favor of building the dam. But John Muir and his preservationist allies—including Madison Grant, George Bird Grinnell, Henry Fairfield Osborn, William T. Hornaday, Charles Eliot, Ernest Thompson Seton, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.—adamantly opposed the project. They were incredulous that anyone could even think of destroying the spectacular beauty of the priceless Hetch Hetchy Valley, and fought [an ultimately losing battle] for years to prevent construction of the dam.”
The hidden back story
But there was much more to Sierra Club opposition to the Hetch Hetchy dam than just aesthetics and ecological concerns. Bluntly put, Muir feared that a reliable tap water supply would help the Chinese-American, Irish and Italian Catholic, and Spanish-speaking populations of San Francisco to crowd out the affluent Caucasians of Nob Hill, who could afford to have fresh water delivered daily by horse-drawn wagon.
Muir (1838-1914), shared with Grant––a longtime acquaintance––vehement opposition to immigration, especially by dark-skinned non-Protestants. His influence was such that Americans of African and Asian ancestry were excluded from Sierra Club membership until more than 30 years after Muir’s death.
David Brower (1912-2000), during his first stint as Sierra Club executive director, 1952-1969, integrated the Sierra Club by admitting to membership a boyhood and lifelong friend, the proudly Chinese-American conservation philanthropist Carroll Soo-Hoo (1912-1998).
But the Sierra Club remained adamantly anti-immigration well into the 21st century.
The youngest of the many enduringly influential conservationists whom Madison Grant personally influenced was Aldo Leopold (1887-1948).
Leopold, admitted to the Boone & Crockett Club in 1923, after working for several years as a U.S. Forest Service exterminator assigned to killing wolves, bears, and other wild predators, authored the textbook Game Management, which has been continuously in print since 1933, and Sand County Almanac, posthumously published in 1949.
Sand County Almanac is widely considered––as Spiro put it––one of “the founding texts of the environmental movement of the 1960s.”
But Leopold came late to recognizing the value of wild predators, even though Sand County Almanac suggests that he had early misgivings.
War on “varmints”
Summarized Spiro, “Madison Grant was putting forth the view that predators are crucial to the health of the ecological community at a time when Aldo Leopold was still advocating the extermination of wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, lynxes, eagles, and other ‘vermin’ as the most efficacious means of protecting valued game species.
“Indeed, the federal government, encouraged by agricultural, ranching, shepherding, and hunting interests, officially declared war on the nation’s ‘varmints’ in 1915. The Biological Survey, after receiving a congressional appropriation of $125,000, announced that predators “no longer have a place in our advancing civilization” and immediately commenced an extensive and long-term program of “repressing” (i.e., shooting, trapping, poisoning, and fumigating) ‘undesirable’ forms of wildlife. The goal was to cleanse the continent of wolves, cougars, foxes, bobcats, lynxes, coyotes, prairie dogs, fishers, martens, otters, pelicans, eagles, and bears.
Grant was “practically a lone voice” for predators
“William T. Hornaday, the great protector of wildlife, applauded these efforts,” Spiro found. “He thought that when it came to ‘wild-animal pests,’ all methods—’firearms, dogs, traps and strychnine’—were ‘thoroughly legitimate weapons of destruction. For such animals, no half-way measures will suffice.’ The peregrine falcon, according to Hornaday, was just one example of an animal that deserved to be shot on sight.
“Nature writer John Burroughs agreed with Hornaday that varmints “certainly needed killing.’ For years,” Spiro summarized, “Madison Grant was practically a lone voice in trying to stop the eradication programs of the federal government.”
The views expressed by Hornaday, Burroughs, and eventually Leopold came to be incorporated into Nazi policy. For example, as agricultural expert for the British Union of Fascists, Jorian Jenks wrote circa 1935 that the hypothetical fascist government he advocated would take “Effective steps…to cope with the host of rabbits, pigeons, rooks and other vermin who now levy a heavy toll on our fields. A corps of expert vermin-destroyers equipped with up-to-date apparatus will clear each district systematically.”
After World War II, Jenks as editor of the journals Rural Economy and Mother Earth, and as secretary to the Soil Association, helped to articulate the views of nature, including intolerance of adaptive species now branded as “alien” and “invasive,” which now prevail among advocates for endangered species and environmental policymakers.
This intolerance would, at a glance, appear to presage the ruthless, lethal racism of the Holocaust more than the appreciation of wild predators expressed by Madison Grant.
Yet a central tenet of the scoundrel Arthur Desmond’s volume Might Is Right or the Survival of the Strongest, incorporated into The Passing of the Great Race, was the notion that the “fittest” members of society––white males, as they saw it––actually have a moral duty to prey upon the weak, to ensure that the “fittest” remain culturally, intellectually, economically, militarily, and politically dominant.
Recounted Spiro, in the opening vignette of his Madison Grant biography, “At the conclusion of World War II, the American Military Tribunal at Nuremberg indicted Major General Karl Brandt of the Waffen-SS for conspiracy to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. Brandt had been Adolf Hitler’s personal physician and the most important medical authority in the Third Reich.
“In his defense, Brandt introduced into evidence a book published in Munich in 1925 that had vigorously advocated and justified the elimination of inferior peoples. Brandt highlighted for the court excerpts from the book that called on the state to destroy sickly infants and sterilize defective adults who were of no value to the community.”
The book, which Hitler himself called his “Bible,” was the German translation of The Passing of the Great Race.
Shakespeare had words
Since then, observed Spiro, the Wildlife Conservation Society “has removed from its website and historical literature any mention of the now anathematized Madison Grant.”
But as William Shakespeare observed, in writing the funeral oration for Julius Caesar, delivered by Mark Antony, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
It is much easier to purge a name from the written record, much as the graffiti left by Arthur Desmond was scrubbed from the bank he attacked, than to purge ideas which, however misguided, have become part of the creed and economic foundation of great institutions.
“Follow the money”
The misanthropic intolerance of humanity, especially those least like themselves, that drove Madison Grant and John Muir, among others, still drives millions of donors to give hundreds of millions of dollars per year to the nonprofit institutions that Grant, Muir, et al founded, and is deeply rooted in the animal rights cause as well.
The notion that animals and nature are pure and good, while humans who harm them are inherently flawed and evil, is as old as the Biblical story of the Fall of Eden. It is perhaps an inevitable outgrowth of frustration among those who try to protect animals and habitat from human cruelty, greed, and indifference.
But such frustration also easily slips into racism, and into rationalizations for practicing cruelty, greed, and indifference toward other humans, or “alien,” “invasive,” and hybrid species.