Politics & Government

Kris Kobach dismisses controversy over ‘ethnic cleansing’ comment

Kris Kobach said he was just trying to be polite to the caller who had mentioned ethnic cleansing.
Kris Kobach said he was just trying to be polite to the caller who had mentioned ethnic cleansing. File photo

Secretary of State Kris Kobach said that he did not mean to imply President Obama’s executive action on immigration would lead to ethnic cleansing and that liberal news sites have taken his words out of context and twisted their meaning.

Kobach hosts a two-hour call-in radio show on KCMO Talk Radio on Sunday evenings. The second hour of his most recent show focused on Obama’s action on immigration, which has halted deportation for nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants.

A caller asked Kobach whether the executive action, which the president announced in a speech Thursday, could lead to southwestern states experiencing a wave of border crossings and whether that would lead to ethnic cleansing of whites.

Kobach didn’t exactly say yes. But he didn’t exactly say no, either.

He used the caller’s inquiry as a jumping off point to discuss “the rule of law,” which he accused Obama of violating.

“What protects us in America from any kind of ethnic cleansing is the rule of law, of course. And the rule of law used to be unassailable … And now, of course, we have a president who disregards the law when it suits his interests,” Kobach said as riffs from the song “Mysterious Ways” by U2 played.

“So, while I normally would answer that by saying, ‘Steve, of course we have the rule of law, that could never happen in America.’ I wonder what could happen. I still don’t think it’s going to happen in America, but I have to admit, things are strange and they are happening.”

Kobach’s comments and an excerpt of the audio were posted on the liberal website Right Wing Watch on Thursday several hours before Obama delivered his address to the nation. The two full hours of the show can be downloaded from KCMO’s site.

The comments began circulating widely, picked up by national and local news outlets and sparking criticism.

“Good to see the Kansas Secretary of State believes Obama’s immigration order will lead to ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Reasoned, intelligent response,” Dave Anthony, a Los Angeles-based writer and comedian, wrote sarcastically on Twitter.

Barb Shelly, an opinion columnist for the Kansas City Star, The Eagle’s sister paper, called Kobach’s comments ridiculous and demagogic, accusing him of “ginning up fears and resentment toward immigrants.”

Friday morning, Kobach said his comments had been “ripped out of context.”

“The whole preceding hour was about the rule of law being under threat. That’s all I said,” Kobach said.

“But I said very clearly in the comments that I still don’t think it could happen here. I find the left wing attempts to read into my statements things that are not there ridiculous.”

Kobach said he was just trying to be polite to the caller.

“The guy just brought up ethnic cleansing out of the blue, and I tried to be polite with him as I disagreed with him and said that’s not going to happen,” Kobach said. “I’m actually a very friendly host.”

Sulma Arias, the executive director of Wichita-based Sunflower Community Action, a group that works to politically mobilize the Latino community, did not accept Kobach’s claim that his words were strewn out of context.

“It was no mistake,” Arias said. “He knows exactly what he puts out there.

“He’s a very smart man, and he has an agenda. And it’s out there because that’s what he believes.”

Arias noted that Kobach was one of the authors of a controversial Arizona law that requires police officers to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there is reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally. Critics say the law encourages racial profiling.

“He has a strategy,” Arias said. “And I think his strategy is to demonize a group of people for so long and so many ways that … after a while it’s OK to do horrendous things to them.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.