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Kansas Republican Kris Kobach’s Governor’s Campaign hires white nationalists, giving momentum to the racist anti-immigrant movement and increasing their power in the GOP. We speak to Cristina Lopez of Media Matters

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MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us. There’s a surge happening in this country that could have frightening consequences. One of the key political figures who represents that surge is Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, who is the Republican candidate running to become the next governor of Kansas with Donald Trump’s backing and blessings. All across our country right now, right wing media people and significant conservative figures are using isolated instances of violence by a few immigrants to marshal forces for anti immigrant surges around this country reminiscent of the worst parts of our history. It was like the know-nothings siezing power once again in the United States. Kris Kobach has been foaming at the mouth about immigrants when Donald Trump was still a Democrat. Now he has white nationalists who work for him and write for the most vile, racist and anti-Semitic organizations in this country. To discuss all this with us, we have Cristina Lopez. Cristina Lopez is the Deputy Director for Extremism at Media Matters, where she’s worked since 2014. And welcome, Cristina, good to have you with us.

CRISTINA LOPEZ: Pleasure to be here, Marc.

MARC STEINER: So let’s start with this. We talked before we went on the air together here. I was mentioning I thought that we are in the midst, in this country right now, of this wave of anti-immigrant fervor being pushed by right wing bloggers, by a lot of conservative political figures and thinkers and others in this country that are taking a few isolated instances of immigrants doing harm to another human being in our country as a way to to protect, defend ICE, but really go after immigrants. So what do you think is happening right now?

CRISTINA LOPEZ: So, this is the issue, like you very well framed it. What right wing media is doing right now is trying to find a couple data points so that they can build this narrative and kind of back up this narrative of criminalizing an entire population of immigrants. And they’re doing this so that they can provide to their audiences a way of kind of framing the issue of immigration as a national security issue instead of as a human issue. And so, when you do that you kind of forget that immigrants- you kind of dehumanize immigrants and present them as a threat. And this is something that in the past couple of years you’ve seen increasingly right wing media devote a lot of attention to this sort of framing. If there is a crime story that can be framed as an immigrant story instead, that’s exactly what what happens. And it’s definitely misinforming their audiences because in reality, if you actually checked statistics you wouldn’t find that the immigrant population commits crimes at a rate that is different than other populations to compare them with. And in fact, it’s not what data shows. But that’s not what you would get from watching right wing media. And that’s where the misinformation comes from.

MARC STEINER: So, let’s examine one of the key figures here in the news right now and that’s Kris Kobach, who hopes to be the next governor of Kansas. And many people hope he’s not going to be the next governor of Kansas. As a matter of fact, many Republicans were just completely shocked that he won in Kansas because Kansas is one of those states where many of the Republicans are moderate thinking Republicans, conservative moderate thinking Republicans, and this was like a shock to the entire system when he won the primary. But he’s been- the investigative stuff about his staff is really revealing about who he is, where he wants to take Kansas, where he might want to take this country of ours in terms of the white nationals working on his campaign staff. What do we know about that?

CRISTINA LOPEZ: So, this is the issue. Besides being a political figure, Kris Kobach is also a right wing media figure, and an extreme right wing media figure at that, because he he is a paid columnist for one of the most virulently anti immigrant outlets in the country,which is Breitbart News. And as you know, as a Breitbart columnist, we at Media Matters have reported previously that in his columns he has copy-pasted legitimate- copy-pasted statistics that are made up that can actually be traced back to a white nationalist. And one of these statistics, actually, this made up, anti immigrant statistic, he also took it, not just published it in his Breitbart column, but also took it and it appears in his campaign website. It’s right there in his campaign website. So, if you want any indication of the kind of campaign that this person is running, all you need to do is to check his media record because he very transparently has sourced some of his columns from talking points that come legitimately from white nationalists like Peter Gemma.

MARC STEINER: And I was going to bring his name up next, this Peter Gemma- Gemma, however you pronounce his name- who has really written, as I said earlier, some of the most vile, racist pieces for many organizations and is like a protege of this fellow, Sam Francis, who is this godfather to a lot of racist thinking in our country that many people don’t know about unless you’re in that world. So, but the fact that he took his lies and made them as fact, I mean this is the beginning of how- I hate over-using the word fascism, but it’s how these things begin. Because people buy into the lies.

CRISTINA LOPEZ: And this lie is actually connected to your first question, to the way that that immigrant population is constantly criminalized and framed in dehumanizing ways. And so, this statistic that Kobach literally lifted from Peter Gemma who is connected, as we know, to the virulent, extreme white supremacist crowd with their Holocaust denials. And he was connected to a group, the Council of Conservative Citizens, who in their mission statement had that they opposed any sort of mixing of the races of humankind. So, it doesn’t it doesn’t get more white supremacist than that. But this statistic specifically is related to the number of immigrants who are criminals. And it says, according to- and it’s cited on Kodaks website and it has appeared in his paid Breitbart column, which says a lot about their fact-checking systems. And the statistic is that seventy percent of those on the most wanted lists in LA, Phoenix and Albuquerque are undocumented immigrants. And if you start digging in, you see that there’s actually no official sourcing that can support that claim. None of the police departments of these cities have any data that can actually support that claim at all. And it’s being used to fearmonger about immigrants.

MARC STEINER: So, let’s talk a moment about what this might mean if we have a candidate here, a major candidate in this country running for governor of a state, Kansas, and he has white, racist and nationalist avowed, racist and nationalist writers, thinkers and leaders in his campaign. And they’ve identified at least three or four people who fit that description. Plus, his own words that he’s used over the years. And he’s very typical, I think- well, we’ll come back to the very typical point in a moment. When people like Kris Kobach become governors and senators, what do you think of the political consequences for our country?

CRISTINA LOPEZ: Well, this is the thing, we’ve seen lately a lot of- it’s not that we didn’t have an extremist faction in this country, it’s not that white supremacy is a new thing. What we’re seeing right now is a mainstreaming and a normalization of white supremacy and a false narrative of white grievance that wasn’t as emboldened before. And we’re seeing it because there are a lot of media, powerful networks that are mainstreaming these talking points. And you saw it a couple nights ago with Tucker Carlson in which in one of the most viewed shows of primetime, he aired a segment that was motivated by a years old white supremacist talking point, which is the supposed white persecution going on in South Africa. There are actually no statistical evidence that can actually support the claim that there is white oppression going on in South Africa, specifically when you consider the historical context of an apartheid going on and only recently, a few decades ago, still held in place. This segment is something that aired on national cable news. And this is a segment that the president watched and tweeted out without any support, without any evidence. And we’re talking about the person who controls one of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world and yet is a person who’s also relying on Fox News and right wing media to make policy decisions and to kind of decide where the priorities of international relations should go.

And it’s just no question why someone like Kris Kobach would be less inclined to hide these sort of ties to white supremacy which in the past would have been frowned upon. Now, there’s sort of an emboldening and a mainstreaming because they’re starting to realize that because of the cover that right wing media is providing, in which right-wing media is constantly telling the audiences that this is actually not extreme, that this is actually not wrong, that there is an actual persecution happening against white people in this country. This covered that they are being provided with is being very useful in taking away those consequences that would have otherwise been attached to getting alliances with the most extreme factions in the country. And you’re seeing it too with people who are actually elected officials. You have Representative Steve King in Iowa who very often will retweet people who are actual neonazis with no consequence coming from either media or his party. And this is the sort of kind of things that have paved the way for people like Kris Kobach to be unabashedly and unapologetically tied it to the most extreme factions.

MARC STEINER: And we’ve seen, that you just mentioned a moment ago, we’ve seen Donald Trump in his re-Tweeting of the South African lie that was told, as well as what he said in West Virginia about the beautiful woman who was kill, how terrible our immigration laws are. He foments this kind of feeling in our country with people like Kobach, fuel it.


MARC STEINER: And then, you had this coming from the highest point in American government. So, go ahead, I’m sorry.

CRISTINA LOPEZ: It’s definitely thanks to the cover that’s provided by right wing media. If you turn on Fox News every night, if you watch The Laura Ingraham Show, if that is the sort of bubble where you get your news, that is what you’re hearing every day. That there is an immigrant taking your job or that there’s an immigrant was just waiting for you to jog by and become a threat to your security and your life. And so, in a way, all these all these narratives that are so prevalent in right wing media are allowing and paving the way for candidates to kind of be able to put in place policies or suggest policies that would have otherwise been out of place a couple of years ago. And this is why- you probably saw a couple weeks ago when Laura Ingraham went ahead and blamed the demographic changes in America for basically changing the country, basically saying that the America that she knew and loved wasn’t going to exist in a couple of years because of the demographic changes. And it doesn’t get more white supremacy bent than that. Basically, that talking point, to say that the changes brought in by multiculturalism or by by demographic change are bad changes per se, just because they’re going to change the way that America looks. And the way that this is framed is presenting audiences with an idea of America where the normal is white, where the baseline is white, where the factory settings is white.


CRISTINA LOPEZ: And it’s sadly not what is actually responsive to the demographics of America. If you go out in the streets, that’s not necessarily what you see. But that’s not what audiences of these shows are hearing.

MARC STEINER: So, two very quick things here as we conclude. It is interesting to me that many a people like Kris Kobach and others in the movement, they often find people of color to be their spokespeople which is supposed to ameliorate their racism.

CRISTINA LOPEZ: So, it’s a very useful technique. This is not to say that communities of color or all immigrant communities necessarily are monolithic and think the same.

MARC STEINER: No, absolutely not. Right.

CRISTINA LOPEZ: The issue is that it allows them, it sort of like opens a door and allows them to say awful things if they they are tokenizing this figure by claiming that because this figure is in their campaign, or this this person has been given a prominent place, or if they are in a media panel with a person of color they are somehow allowed to say things they wouldn’t say otherwise. And this is a technique that is often deployed all over right wing media and that you see consistently happening. Also, in right wing media podcasts and right wing, extreme right Youtube channels, who are bringing in, somehow like tokenizing an individual of color or a member of a community, a minority community, is somehow a permission to state the most awful things against that entire community. And the issue is that it doesn’t show support or validation for the talking points, it only shows literal tokenization, tokenizing in the most blatant and awful racist way.

MARC STEINER: So, finally to conclude here, you said something earlier, before we went on the air, that I’d like viewers to hear, which was Univision- the Spanish speaking journalistic network here in the United States where a lot of immigrants watch, a lot of people watch, you speak Spanish, did a story on Kris Kobach a number of years back that deliniated all this stuff even before most of us knew who he was.

CRISTINA LOPEZ: So, that’s the thing. Kris Kobach might have just recently gotten more attention from national news media because of his links to Donald Trump and his immigration platform. But the issue is that Kris Kobach has been around and has been proposing and inspiring a lot of anti-immigrant policies that media need to make very clear to their audiences where these are coming from. And this is something that Univision a couple of years back did really well in a segment in which they talked about all these anti immigrant policies and explained that they were the brainchild of Kris Kobach, that they could all be traced back to this person who not only had a position of power in the Kansas Government, but also was a right wing media figure and a paid Breitbart columnist. And policies that you wouldn’t usually connect necessarily to Kansas, but that he had a hand in, for example, the Mitt Romney self deportation talking point came from Kris Kobach. That Arizona “Papers, Please” law, I don’t know if you remember that from a couple years ago.


CRISTINA LOPEZ: That came from Kris Kobach. That awful dehumanizing idea of actually paying for anti immigrant policies by taxing or taking from immigrant remittances. You’ll know that a lot of the economies from immigrant communities are pretty much held by the money that immigrants here send back to their countries. A lot of these countries’ economies get significantly boosted by these contributions that immigrants make. And to tax them for the sake of enforcing anti immigrant policies is just so dehumanizing. And that was one of the ideas that Kris Kobach was proposing to then candidate Donald Trump. And Univision did a really good job of of putting a face, basically, to these policies. Because a lot of people in the immigrant community wouldn’t necessarily know who this person is or necessarily follow Breitbart News and understand that this columnist is actually also very embedded in the anti immigrant movement.

MARC STEINER: Well, Cristina Lopez, it has been great talking with you. This has been a fascinating conversation. I appreciate all the work you’ve done in this area and for sharing it with our viewers.

CRISTINA LOPEZ: Thank you, pleasure to be here, Marc.

MARC STEINER: Thank you so much. And I’m Marc Steiner, here for The Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us. Take care.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.