As I write this, Kris Kobach, the ‘He Was Trump Before Trump’ Republican nominee for Governor of Kansas, along with Donald himself, are getting ready for a rally in Topeka at the Kansas Expocenter. Kobach’s campaign manager and chamcha @jrclaeys tweeted recently in regard to the rally, “It’s gonna be YUGE! #ksleg #RemainRed #MAGA.” As you can see Claeys’ chamchagiri (lackeyness) extends from ‘Trump Before Trump’ to ‘Trumpier Trump.’
Last Wednesday, I was sitting on the ground, on a mat, as I have been doing for the past eight weeks outside Kansas’ 1st District Rep. Roger Marshall’s office embroidering a piece that’s intended to draw attention to one of our government’s many egregious policies, a white pickup pulled up and parked outside the Republican campaign office that has popped up adjacent to Marshall’s hardly-anyone-ever-in-there office.
After loading his pickup with Kobach signs, the driver of the pickup walked up and loomed over me for about 20 minutes and delivered a racist, misogynistic tirade, mocking my birth in India and trashing a whole roll-call of Republican targets, including Native Americans, immigrants, and Kobach’s Democratic opponent Laura Kelly.
When the guy, after I asked him several times to go away, finally got back in his truck, I wrote down our conversation as best I could from memory. So the exchange below is not exact quotes, but rather paraphrased:
He introduced himself, but I didn’t catch the name. Then he asked who I was.
>Is that a real name, ‘Pretty’?
It’s not ‘Pretty,’ it’s Priti.
> What are you doing here?
I’m demonstrating against our government’s domestic and foreign policies… police brutality, attacks on immigrants, the war on Yemen —
>— If you’re going to talk about Yemen then you need to talk about South Sudan, Somalia…
Yeah, let’s. We’re arming rebels there. We’re the largest military with bases all over the world.
>What would you have us do?
Stop arming countries like Saudi Arabia. Stop supporting dictators.
> What about when Obama blah! blah! blah!
This isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing. This is about government policies.
> You’re not even from here.
I’m from here. I’m a citizen just as much as you. Are you Native American? We’re all illegal. You. Me.
By now he’d become visibly Republican: red in the face and hovering even closer as I remain seated.
> We’re settlers. You’re speaking about Native Americans? We civilized the Native Americans.
Demonstrating with his foot:
>They they crushed babies with their feet… My uncle was killed by an illegal immigrant in a car accident.
What does that have to do with anything? That’s just one incident. What about when you white people kill people with your cars? Then nothing?
>One illegal is too many. One illegal is too many… Do you have a job?
This is my job. I can sustain myself. Maybe you need hundreds of thousands of dollars of income. I don’t.
>What’s that silly hat you’re wearing?
[I was wearing a ‘pussyhat’]
> You know hundreds, hundreds of women have called the office to show their support for Kavanaugh. Hundreds. They hate women like you… How long do you plan to be here?”
This is a public sidewalk. I’m making art and have every right to be here.
> To a certain extent.
At this point I just want him to leave so I could continue working on my piece.
But then he reached out his foot and kicked my artwork pattern that was lying on my work-mat beside me.
>What’s this you’re doing?
Stop doing that. Don’t touch that with your foot. Please leave. Go.
Then in a sing song voice, he says:
> No, ha! ha! ha! I just want to see what you’re do-ing.
He continued to touch the pattern with his foot. I thought, Isn’t it ironic that he’s using the same foot to kick my artwork that he used to describe barbaric acts that he claimed were committed by indigenous people of this land.
Then he walked around to the other side, and looked at my embroidery.
>The message is good, but…
He apparently had not grasped that it was a work inspired by my horror at the treatment of immigrants on our southern border.
>… good luck.
He started to walk away.
You need luck more than I do.
>What did you say? Do you mean in the election?
>What are you going to do after the election?
I’ll be here.
>Get a job
You do what you do and I’ll do what I do. What did you say your name is?
> John Doe. Good luck.
Later, when I described the guy to my friends, one suggested it could have been J.R. Claeys. I looked over some photos, and he did look like Kobach’s manager. But I’d never met Claeys, so I couldn’t be sure. Kobach’s office has not responded to my email inquiry.
Priti Gulati Cox (@PritiGCox) is an interdisciplinary artist and a CODEPINKer. She lives in Salina, Kansas. Please go here to see more of her work.