On August 28, 2021, Kris Kobach gave a speech to 150 people at a “Freedom Rally” organized by the Kansas Patriots in Topeka. A digital flyer for the event, circulating on multiple Kansas-based COVID Denial Facebook groups, cast the rally as promoting “Freedom from lockdowns, mask mandates, and open borders.”
The crowd at the rally was all white, consisting mainly of middle-aged to older couples and their families. While no identifiable militia was present, at least two organizers visibly patrolled the crowd with handguns. Not a single mask was in sight, nor was any kind of oppositional organizing present.
Marcie Green and April McCoy were the two lead organizers of the event. McCoy introduced the speakers, giving her own short speeches in between. Green walked through the crowd with her handgun on her hip, occasionally stopping to listen to those at the podium. Green, known as “Thecrazyladypatriot” on Facebook, has just over 3,000 followers online.
Many of the speakers expressed that COVID-19 is real, but alleged it is being used as a tool by the liberals to control them- the patriots, the Christians, the conservatives. In the view of the Kansas Patriots and its two organizers, American life is under threat by the Biden Administration, mainstream media, and, most importantly, immigrants.
Marcie Green’s Facebook page includes anti-immigrant posts, including one featuring implied immigrants coming to America. Lines on the meme point at people pictured, saying “rapist” “murderer” “child prostitute pimp” and naming various types of diseases. A large font over the photo reads “COMING TO AMERICA THANKS TO DEMOCRATS OPEN BORDER POLICY.”
At the Freedom Rally, one woman echoed these racist sentiments over the microphone saying, “things have been really bad with OPEN borders and people bringing in COVID.”
Kobach was the most well-known speaker at the rally, having garnered national attention for pushing anti-immigrant policies and voter ID laws across various states. Kobach is best known for writing Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56 – anti-immigrant bills that allowed law enforcement to stop and frisk black and brown people without cause. This reputation made him the most popular at the rally.
Across his political career, Kobach has about as many loses as wins. Kobach was the Kansas Secretary of State for eight years, originally elected in 2010 and re-elected again in 2014. During his second term as Secretary of State, he ran for Governor of Kansas in 2018. He won the primary election and lost in the general. In 2020, he ran in the Republican primary for an open U.S. Senate seat in Kansas and lost. None of these losses kept him from having access to the White House through the Trump Administration. Kobach’s losses look large, but there are successes within them that cannot be ignored. Kobach is now running for Attorney General of Kansas in 2022.
Kobach spent the majority of his speech claiming that if he was elected Attorney General, he would make Kansas the champion of opposing Biden’s Administration through the Supreme Court. He wants to outlaw any COVID-19 mandates, stop federal and state level mandates, and take away business rights to enforce mask or vaccine requirements. Kobach mentioned “the Supreme [Court]is much better now,” indicating that states could have an opportunity to win or overturn important court cases. The crowd could not contain themselves.
One woman at the rally interrupted Kobach’s speech several times in angry agreement, looking as if she was ready to take the microphone. Before Kobach could leave the stage, another woman jumped up and demanded answers about voter fraud and the voting machines in Kansas. Kobach replied, “When I was Secretary of State, [I] brought in photo ID and I think we’re all happy about that.”
The crowd cheered.
Kobach also boasted about his efforts suing the Biden administration, on behalf of Border Patrol agents, for “shattering immigration laws.”
The crowd clapped, whistled, and whooped in excited agreement.
Pastor Trevor Jacobs, a Republican State Representative for District 4 from Fort Scott, gave a talk replete with Biblical references and claiming that government should be afraid of the people. He said that the rights of the unvaccinated are being taken away, referring to private businesses requiring masks for service or proof of vaccination for employment. In his words “you’re only essential if you take the jab”.
A man shouted from the crowd “you’re only a slave if you take the jab!” – repeating a common claim in this movement that COVID-19-related restrictions and vaccine mandates are somehow akin to slavery.
Continuing in this vein, Jacobs went on to compare such policies to the Holocaust. He told a story that supposedly began in 1940 about a Jewish man named “crazy Yakka”. Yakka apparently tries to warn all the other Jewish people about the rise of the Nazis, but no one listens to him. Eventually one morning Yakka wakes up and the Nazis have taken power and people still don’t believe him. Jacobs then connects to the crowd – “ladies and gentlemen, if we do not wake up it will happen,” indicating that the experience of the unvaccinated is similar to being a Jew in the 1940s.
Such comparisons are common in these mobilizations, amounting to a form of antisemitism and an incipient conspiracy theory placing a Nazi-like evil behind COVID-19 policies.
Another speech was by Peggy Mast, a retired Republican representative from Emporia, Kansas, and the Director of Outreach for Understanding the Threat (UTT) – an anti-immigrant organization that focuses primarily on Muslims. Her speech stressed preserving America as a Christian nation and saving it from being undermined by non-western ideals such as communism or Islam. While Mast believes that COVID-19 is real, admitting she once had it, she still spreads damaging misinformation about vaccines and masks being harmful. And she claimed Ivermectin is effective in treating COVID-19, even though this is not true.
Peggy Mast and her followers set up a table for Understanding the Threat (UTT). At this table people could buy educational literature and DVDs about immigration or sharia law, including books about the dangers of Islam to women in the west and to Christians. A small and free little booklet sat in the center of the table – its title- “Immigration Fraud Lies That Kill” published by The Social Contract – a former publication that combined the writings of both nativists and white nationalists.
Ultimately, this “Freedom Rally” demonstrated that participants do not believe the global pandemic is a threat they must face. Rather than being people just down on their luck, or disenfranchised by the pandemic, this is a political movement determined to wield power.