Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a “danger to democracy” whose ties to extremists make him a poor choice for governor, a new political action committee said Tuesday as it released a report detailing concerns about the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
The report, “Kris Kobach: The Candidate with Militia-Minded Friends,” was issued by the Kobach Is Wrong for Kansas PAC. It highlights numerous reasons why the group says Kobach should not be the state’s next leader.
Among the concerns cited: Kobach’s ties to extremist groups and a national gun-rights organization whose leader promoted the formation of armed citizen militias more than two decades ago.
"Kobach is a hard-core ideologue who has no business trying to be the political leader for all the people of Kansas,” said Leonard Zeskind, founder of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights and one of the PAC’s organizers.
“He hangs around with racists and white supremacists. We’re not accusing him of being a white supremacist. But he’s bringing them around the campfire.”
Kobach did not respond to requests for comment. In the past, he has denied any connections to extremist or hate groups.
Larry Pratt, the executive director emeritus of Gun Owners of America, said he was "delighted with what Kobach has been doing."
"To call him some sort of scary wannabe militia guy, I think is the kind of hyperbole that has been rather harmful to the left," said Pratt, who is named in the report. "And they don’t seem to get it. They don’t want to tone down their rhetoric. Just keep talking like that, and they’ll get Kobach elected for sure.”
The PAC — whose chair is Karen Wulfkuhle, former director of United Community Services of Johnson County — held a call-in news conference Tuesday to coincide with the release of the report. The 15-page document is the first in a series of four reports that will detail concerns about Kobach, according to the PAC, which uses the hashtag #AnybodyButKobach.
"As Kansans, we value voter rights, equal rights, religious freedom, public education, respect for the courts, and policies that welcome immigrants," Wulfkuhle said. "We believe that the research will show that Kris Kobach represents a threat to our shared American ideals, and he needs to be stopped from holding future elected office."
Zeskind said the PAC is nonpartisan, "middle of the road" and not endorsing anyone for governor.
“We don’t care if they vote for Republicans, Democrats or the man in the moon,” he said. “Just not for Kobach."
The report — posted Tuesday on the PAC’s website, www.kobachiswrong.org — was researched and written by Zeskind and Zach Mueller, a community organizer who has been active in the movement to help low-wage workers form a union and receive better pay.
"This report is not anti-gun," Mueller said. "But eliminating sensible regulations threaten a safe Kansas that still allows for hunting and sports shooting. Kobach’s politics are that threat. And that’s why we need to oppose him at the ballot box."
The report describes a gun-rights event that Kobach attended in May 2017 in Ozawkie, Kan., just weeks before he announced he was running for governor.
Held at the Hog Holler Saloon northeast of Topeka, the Kansas Rock Your Rights Festival was billed as “A Rally Cry and Call to Action to our Kansas leaders and every Kansas Citizen to stand with us in defense of the Second Amendment Protection Act.”
The act, pushed by Kobach and passed in 2013, says firearms and firearm accessories that are made in Kansas and never leave the state are free from federal regulation.
The festival also was a fundraiser to support two Kansas men whom gun-rights supporters believed had been wrongly prosecuted under the law. For $100, those attending could dine with Kobach and other well-known gun-rights activists, including rocker and NRA board member Ted Nugent; Pratt, of Gun Owners of America; and former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack, author of “From My Cold Dead Fingers: Why America Needs Guns.”
The III% United Patriots of Kansas, which the report describes as an anti-government militia group, provided security for the gathering.
Kobach received loud applause at the event, the report said, when he ridiculed politicians who said they wanted to create jobs.
“I have a simple solution. If you want to create a job for an American citizen tomorrow, deport an illegal alien today,” the report quoted Kobach as saying.
The report notes that in February, nine months after the festival, Hog Holler bar manager and stockholder Barclay Garrett Mead was charged with second-degree attempted murder and possession of a firearm while under the influence. At a preliminary hearing Friday, Mead was bound over for trial on three counts of aggravated assault using a deadly weapon; one count of making a criminal threat; and possession of a firearm while under the influence.
News reports said Mead had pointed his gun at a man in a bar in Perry, Kan., and threatened to kill him.
Kobach shared the stage at the gun-rights festival with Pratt, the report said, despite Pratt’s extreme views and ties to racists that date back to the early 1990s. In 1992, after a deadly standoff between federal authorities and white separatist Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, Pratt was invited to a meeting to discuss a response to the incident. The gathering in Estes Park, Colo., which has been well-documented, included neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and adherents of the Christian Identity theology, which teaches that Jews are descendants of Satan and people of color have no souls.
Among the featured speakers were Pratt, an Aryan Nations leader and a Klansman, the report said. The meeting was credited with laying the foundation for the modern-day militia movement.
“But Pratt, like Kobach, never uttered a word condemning the racism and anti-Semitism that filled the room,” the report said.
In 1996, Pratt took a leave of absence from his position as co-chairman of Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan’s campaign when his association with those extremist groups was made public. But when Kobach was running for Congress in 2004, the report said, his campaign accepted a donation of $8,637 from Pratt’s Gun Owners of America. When questioned about it, Kobach said he would not return the contribution, arguing that Pratt was not making the donation, Gun Owners of America was.
"Pratt’s statements and activities should alert any fair-minded Kansan to stay away from him and his organizational maneuvers,” the report said, adding that Kobach’s lack of revulsion at Pratt’s politics “is troubling in its own right.”
“The fact that he went back to the well with Pratt in 2017 at the Hog Holler Saloon is, on its face, one of the many reasons that shows Kobach continues to lack the moral compass that would make him any kind of decent governor of Kansas,” the report said.
Pratt called the report "a lot of smoke."
"It’s just somebody that’s clearly on the left and has maybe broken out into a sweat, possibly a little spittle dripping off the chin," he told The Star. "And that’s fine. People on the left are frequently quite angry. And this would appear to be something from that genre."
The report also raised questions about the Second Amendment Protection Act, which Kobach endorsed while serving as Secretary of State. Shortly after the bill was signed into law, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder informed then-Gov. Sam Brownback that it was unconstitutional, but it remains in effect.
“Kobach’s Second Amendment Protection Act tried to legitimize a Gun Owners of America position against gun regulation and attempted to do away with all firearm regulation in Kansas,” the report said. “It was an avenue for Kobach to advance his far-right ideas.”
Kobach has said the law wasn’t written for personal gain but to reaffirm citizens’ constitutional right to bear arms.
A few months after the act went into effect, the report says, Kobach and three others filed the paperwork for an Overland Park business that would manufacture AR-15 and AR-10 gun parts.
Kobach is listed on the corporation papers as one of four principal shareholders in the company, Minuteman Defense LLC.
“The manufacture of firearm parts by a politician with a history of association with a leader of the militia movement should raise eyebrows,” the report said.
The PAC's organizers said its future reports will focus on Kobach’s connections to the anti-immigrant movement, his role in legitimizing Islamophobia and his attacks on democracy and voting rights.
“The evidence against Kobach has been building up,” Zeskind said. “We hope that every Kansas voter will see this information, get themselves educated and make an informed decision at the ballot box.”