Kris Kobach's gubernatorial campaign employs three men identified as members of a white nationalist group by two political consultants who have worked with Republicans in Kansas.
Kobach spokeswoman Danedri Herbert rejects the accusation as a baseless distraction from real news in the closing days of a contested GOP primary race.
The consultants in early July independently named the three men, all in their early 20s, as members of American Heritage Initiative, a splinter of Identity Evropa, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as as a campus-based white supremacy group that builds community from shared racial identity.
Kurtis Engel, Collin Gustin and Michael Pyles received $1,250 to $3,100 in payments from Kobach's campaign between June 8 and July 26, according to expense reports made public this week. Herbert said their role with the campaign is to walk in parades, deliver yard signs and knock on doors.
Herbert said none of the men are members of the American Heritage Initiative, and that she doesn't believe it exists. Two of the men are members of a Christian organization called the American Heartland Institute, she said.
"Secretary Kobach isn't a racist, and obviously, the campaign will not tolerate racism," Herbert said. "It is baffling to me, a black woman who serves as Secretary of State Kris Kobach's spokeswoman, that so many in the media are digging up fake news when they should be investigating real stories."
GOP insiders say they first took note of the young men when they began showing up at Kobach rallies this spring. When confronted at a campaign event Thursday in Topeka, Engel declined to comment and walked away from questions. None of the three responded to messages seeking comment this week. Because they work for the campaign, Hebert said, "they can't speak for themselves."
Gustin attracted attention for remarks he made last year in a discussion group for the Kansas Federation of College Republicans. He posted an image of a student reading "Brown is the New White," a book by Steve Phillips about a progressive, multiracial majority who could win elections if mobilized.
In his comment under the photo, Gustin spells out the N-word in questioning whether someone lied about using it, and complained of people who are "openly anti-white."
"These people know they're not oppressed," he wrote. "They just hate white people and are jealous of us. They know they can bully us with the oppression stuff until they're granted EXTRA rights, because most have been brainwashed with disingenuous, weaponized, cherry picked history into white guilt. They won't stop until we grow a spine. The USA is the least racist country in the world. We have so much racial tension because we ALLOW and SUBSIDIZE tens of millions of people from other groups to come here."
SPLC, which tracks and profiles hate groups, portrays Identity Evropa as a group that intellectualizes white supremacist ideology. Members insist they aren't racist and refer to themselves as "identitarians" who are interested in preserving Western culture.
Another identitarian entity, Audacious Epigone, endorsed Kobach in the governor's race last week.
Jim Echols, whose career is dedicated to cultural relations, said he has seen a dramatic increase in "nativist behaviors" over the past three to five years. The Kansas City, Kan., resident is a friend and supporter of Gov. Jeff Colyer, who rivals Kobach for the GOP nomination for governor in Tuesday's election.
"I'm concerned about it," Echols said, "but my approach, rather than using a lot of breath and time dealing with it, is to realize that I can make choices as to which candidates I can support."
Last year, Echols retired from a faith-based position with the Kansas Department for Children and Families to launch a firm that trains and develops staff for gender and race relations. Renaissance Management and Training Solutions works with school districts, government agencies, law enforcement and private companies to build bridges of mutual respect, he said.
If Kobach were his client, he said, "I would advise him to cautiously review organizations and individuals who have an agenda that might not be in line with his own."
"I recognize people need to garner support," Echols said, "but he should be cautious."
Kobach's relentless efforts to combat illegal immigration have provoked outrage as he gained notoriety for drafting model legislation in communities around the country and championed voter identification requirements.
SPLC -- which Kobach disregards as smear artists -- took notice when, starting in 2004, he served as counsel to Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. SPLC identifies FAIR as a hate group whose leaders have ties to white supremacists and eugenicists.
Last year, SPLC reported Kobach met with an adviser in Topeka who was fined for hate speech in Austria. He also spoke in 2015 at a writer's workshop for The Social Contract Press, which publishes white nationalist material. He defended the group and takes contributions from K.C. McAlpin, executive director of the group's parent organization, US Inc. McAlpin wrote $500 checks to Kobach in May and November.
In a Breitbart column in October, Kobach cited a white nationalist who denies the Holocaust. In his latest Breitbart column, Kobach said Republicans "routinely lose their ability to reason coherently and fall all over themselves to demonstrate how 'compassionate' they can be" on immigration.
He ran for the secretary of state's office eight years ago with a promise to secure the state's elections. With broad, bipartisan support, the Legislature gave him authority to prosecute voter fraud and passed a law requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship before voting. A federal judge ruled that law unconstitutional this year.