Our VoiceCulture

Kris Kobach Fails to Understand History and Reality

April Callen • Jun 19, 2013

Actual KKK intimidation – and violence

Jim Zwerg, a Freedom Rider, after being attacked by the KKK.

On May 4, 1961, a mixed race group of students and activists planned to travel from Washington, DC, down to New Orleans, Louisiana and challenge harsh segregation that plagued the South. On May 14, one of the two buses stopped in Anniston, Alabama, where the activists were met by a mob of Ku Klux Klan members and their supporters intent on violence. The mob slashed the tires of the bus, firebombed it, and held the door shut hoping the students would be burned alive.  By some intervention, the riders were able to escape.

A second bus headed for Birmingham, Alabama was also attacked by a mob of KKK members. When the students fled the bus, they were savagely beaten with baseball bats, bicycle chains, burned with cigarettes, and one student had a metal rod drilled into his ear and his teeth knocked out.

On September 15, 1963, four members of a local Birmingham chapter of the KKK put a bomb under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four young black girls and injuring dozens of others from the congregation. Despite their identities and terrorist affiliation being known, the men weren’t charged for their crimes until several years later – one as late as 2001.

Nearly 50 years ago on June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers traveling throughout Mississippi to register black residents to vote were kidnapped and lynched by several members of the local KKK chapter. Mississippi officials refused to prosecute the men for murder, thus the federal government had to intervene.

How Kris Kobach understands KKK intimidation

On June 14, 2013, more than 100 activists, including children, gathered outside the house of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, leaving a trail of shoes to represent parents taken away from their children and families as a result of his harsh immigration policies.

Kobach, who was not home at the time of the peaceful demonstration, lamented to Glenn Beck in an interview that the activists’ tactics of “intimidation” were “no different than the ‘Ku Klux Klan.’” He said, “They’re just not wearing white cloaks, but this is exactly KKK type of intimidation.” Beck added, “These people have learned from the Klan.”

This ignorant and insensitive exchange came after Kobach alluded in another interview that he would have invoked the Second Amendment, arguing, “There are situations like this where you have a mob and you do need to be able to protect yourself.”

There is clearly a stark difference between the earlier narratives of actual KKK violence and intimidation and that of Kris Kobach’s – most notably because what he experienced was neither intimidation nor violence. Kobach and Beck’s understanding of history and reality is so egregious that they ought to be held accountable – they ought to be apologizing to the surviving victims of KKK violence and black communities who continue to be impacted by racist violence. Their language is dangerous and akin to racial revisionism.


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