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Kansas officials react to Charlottesville violence and Trump's comments
Members of the Kansas congressional delegation have been turning to social media in recent days to express their reactions to last weekend’s violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., but only a few have specifically called out President Donald Trump for his controversial remarks on the subject.
Second District Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Topeka Republican whose district includes Lawrence, posted a statement on her Facebook page addressed specifically to Trump, criticizing statements he made in a news conference the day before laying equal blame on the white supremacists who organized the rally and the counter-protesters.
“White supremacy, Nazis, and the KKK are a blight on our nation. Equal blame is not correct and racism should not be ignored,” Jenkins wrote. “When you use words that excuse their views it only fuels their hatred, further divides our nation, and tarnishes the sacred office you hold. For generations, Americans have fought and gone to war to stomp out ideologies like this. We must not turn our back on their sacrifice. Now is the time for all us to come together as Americans and help put an end to this bigotry.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran also criticized the president for his remarks.
“White supremacy, bigotry & racism have absolutely no place in our society & no one — especially POTUS — should ever tolerate it,” Moran wrote on Twitter Tuesday evening.
Both Jenkins and Moran were responding to comments Trump made during a news conference Tuesday when he tried to draw a moral equivalency between the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who staged the rally on Saturday and the counter-protesters who opposed them.
“I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said. “What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?”
Trump’s comments Tuesday echoed comments he made the day of the rally, on Saturday, after a white supremacist rammed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring more than a dozen others. Then, Trump said there was blame, “on many, many sides” for the violence.
Two Virginia state police officers who were monitoring the rally also died Saturday when their helicopter crashed.
Third District Congressman Kevin Yoder spoke at a predominantly African-American church in Kansas City, Kan., the following day, making a veiled reference to Trump, and then wrote about it on his Facebook page.
“This morning, I attended church services at the First Baptist Church in KCK and spoke to the congregation about how we as leaders need to be clear and direct in how we condemn the hatred, bigotry and racism on display in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend,” Yoder wrote. “The white supremacist ideology fueling those marching in the streets has no place in this world, and by calling it what it is — evil and terror — we will never allow it to grow or prosper.”
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts also kept his remarks terse in a brief statement on Twitter the day of the rally.
“The hatred & ignorance displayed by the violent & pathetic group in #charlottsville is unacceptable. Their values are not American values,” Roberts wrote.
First District Rep. Roger Marshall of Great Bend was out of the country on the day of the Charlottesville violence as part of a congressional delegation visiting Israel. He returned Monday and immediately commented about it on his Facebook page.
“I condemn, in the strongest terms, this week’s act of domestic terror and hateful rhetoric by white supremacists, Neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers,” Marshall wrote. “These dangerous factions have no role in a civilized, American society. Their bigotry is incompatible with, and is the opposite of all this country stands for.”
Fourth District Rep. Ron Estes is the only member of the Kansas delegation who has not commented on the violence. His office did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email seeking comment.
Two other Kansas officials with ties to the Trump administration have also been relatively silent about the violence and about Trump’s reaction to it: Gov. Sam Brownback, who is Trump’s nominee to become ambassador at-large for religious freedom; and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a candidate for governor who is vice-chair of Trump’s Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.
Kobach is also a frequent contributor to Breitbart News, a website partially founded by and once led by Steve Bannon, who is now a senior Trump adviser. Bannon once famously referred to Breitbart as a “platform for the alt-right,” a term used to refer collectively to ultraconservatives who embrace white nationalist and white supremacist ideologies.
Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, in a statement released Wednesday, called out both men for their silence, as well as Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer.
“What happened in Charlottesville — and what is being faced by communities around the country — is no longer a matter of right or left, Republican or Democrat. It’s a matter of right and wrong. And it’s time for the leaders of Kansas to make it known which side they stand on,” Hensley said in the statement.
In response to a request for comment, Brownback issued a statement via email saying, “Racism, hatred, and violence should have no place in American life. Our state was born of the idea that all people are created equal, and that all people should be treated with respect and dignity. I, along with the people of Kansas, condemn any sentiment or demonstration against this fundamental truth.”
Colyer, who will become governor soon, assuming Brownback is confirmed for the ambassadorship, also issued a statement Wednesday, following Hensley’s criticism.
“I have seen the evil extremes of racial and ethnic cleansing first hand in Rwanda and other places around the globe,” he said. “We must stamp out these harmful ideologies and evil doers before they can take root here at home. Kansas has been and will continue to be a beacon of light and hope for those who fight for equality and justice for all.”
Kobach also issued a statement late Wednesday firing back at Hensley.
“It goes without saying that white supremacist views and racism are reprehensible,” he said in a statement emailed to reporters. “I did not comment on the horrific attack in Charlottesville because I am running for governor of Kansas, not governor of Virginia. Apparently, Mr. Hensley thinks that the vast majority of governors in America are all racists too, because they have made no public comment on the Charlottesville attack either. It is pathetic that a man with such poor logical thinking has been teaching public school kids in Kansas for so many years.”
Hensley teaches high school social studies in the Topeka school district.