Hatewatch

Nativist Lawyer Kris Kobach Plays Dumb About His Employer’s Racism

Anti-immigrant law drafter extraordinaire Kris Kobach continues to play dumb about the racist organization bankrolling his efforts, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and its founder John Tanton. In a piece published by Salon yesterday, Kobach, who is also the Kansas secretary of state, was quoted claiming that he is “not familiar with [Tanton’s] writings or his views.” He also said: “I have not done any legal work for any organization that expresses or supports racial discrimination, nor will I ever do so in the future. ”

Really, Kris?

Kobach is “of counsel” at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of FAIR, which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists as a hate group. The reasons are multiple: FAIR has taken money from a foundation described as “neo-Nazi”; the group has employed and put on its boards members of hate groups; and its president, Dan Stein, has said that many immigrants hate America. Stein has also attacked the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, which ended years of racist immigration quotas, as retaliation “against Anglo-Saxon dominance.”

As to Tanton, his long list of racist comments includes questioning the “educability” of Latinos and arguing that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” Tanton has dabbled in anti-Semitism and even expressed hopes of taking a “politically incorrect” tour of Atlanta with a Holocaust denier. Tanton, who founded FAIR in 1979 and was long its principal ideologue, remains on the advisory board of FAIR today.

It’s not like these facts have been hidden from Kobach. The SPLC has been reporting on Tanton and FAIR’s extremism for more than a decade. Staff members at SPLC, including myself, have repeatedly contacted Kobach for comment about his relationship to FAIR and Tanton, most recently with a series of E-mails in 2010. At the time, Kobach told the newspaper at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, where he taught constitutional law, that “neither he nor members of the Immigration Reform Law Institute or Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) had been interviewed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).”

Well, he is a lawyer, and it is technically true Kobach hadn’t been interviewed. But that’s only because he refused to respond to our requests for comment. And he was just plain wrong about FAIR; I have repeatedly interviewed Dan Stein.

It seems ridiculous that Kobach would play coy like this. The fact of the matter is that many others besides SPLC have asked Kobach about his relationship to FAIR and Tanton. In a 2009 interview with The New York Times, reporter Julia Preston asked him about his work with FAIR and the SPLC’s contention that the group has ties to white nationalists. Kobach reportedly called the allegations slander and said, “I would immediately disassociate myself from any litigation that was racist in nature.” So let’s be clear here: Kobach tells Salon that he’s “not familiar” with Tanton’s views, but when he talks to the Times three years earlier, he’s familiar enough with Tanton’s views to denounce our allegations about them as slander. Hmm.

In February 2010, a reporter with the Phoenix FOX affiliate asked Kobach: “Are you troubled by any of the statements or beliefs or activities of anybody at all in FAIR?” His response: “No, I’m not.” “And,” he added, “if I encountered anyone who was in any way involved in that organization who had engaged in any kind of discrimination, I would immediately disassociate myself.”

Ah, promises, promises.

Kobach has even been pressed about his connections to FAIR by lawmakers. In a February 2010 hearing in Nebraska regarding an anti-immigrant law Kobach was pushing there, State Sen. Bill Avery asked Kobach whether he knew that the SPLC had classified his umbrella group, FAIR, as a hate group. According to immigrant rights activist Paul Olson, who was in the audience, “Kobach replied that he was indeed aware of SPLC’s classification of FAIR as a hate group—but that it was wrong.”

The connections between Kobach and Tanton run even deeper. As Politico pointed out earlier this month, a PAC run by Tanton’s wife Mary Lou has been giving Kobach money for some time. The online news source reported that Federal Election Commission files show that the U.S. Immigration Reform PAC (USIRPAC) gave Kobach $10,000 in 2003 and 2004.

And what has Kobach done for his salary at FAIR’s legal arm? He’s worked as hard as he can to throw the undocumented out of the country. Kobach wants immigrants to “self-deport” and he has gone about it by pushing legislation in several localities and states that have made life hell for legal immigrants, citizens and the undocumented alike.

The SPLC has documented the devastating results of Kobach’s activities, in terms of sowing racial divisions and bankrupting communities with legal fees, in its report, “When Mr. Kobach Comes to Town.” The latest casualty of Kobach’s efforts is Alabama, where a law he wrote, H.B. 56, was passed last year and has led to massive human rights violations as well as economic devastation. His track record is so heinous that his own state of Kansas in the last week has rebuffed his attempts to pass anti-immigrant legislation there. Kansas House Democratic Leader Paul Davis told the Lawrence paper that the more people learn about the effects of similar Kobach laws in Arizona and Alabama, “the more people shy away from the direction he wants to go.”

Let’s hope Davis is right. And maybe it’s time Kobach made good on his oft repeated promise to dissociate himself from activities and groups motivated by racism and discrimination?