A man involved in a racist incident at a rural Kansas college has been trying to gain a foothold in state politics.
The chalk outlines of bodies and messages including, “Make Lindsborg White Again," scrawled on Bethany College sidewalks earlier this month rattled the campus and surrounding community.
A police report of the chalkings from Sept. 3 names Gabriel James Wilson as a suspect.
Wilson, a 19-year-old from nearby Salina, Kansas, has worked on multiple campaigns for statewide and legislative office during past elections, planting yard signs and offering other support. He’s since affiliated himself with Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group based in California.
In a brief phone interview last week, he admitted to taking part in the chalkings.
“I was involved in the chalk incident,” Wilson said. “I apologize for being involved in the incident, and I have nothing further to say.”
Wilson answered a series of follow-up questions with “no comment” before hanging up
He did not respond when asked via email if he made the threatening phone calls to Bethany College President Will Jones that followed the chalkings.
On Facebook, Jones wrote that the racially-charged threats were aimed at his family – he has two adopted biracial children – and the students of color who’ve been recruited to his campus.
Jones has said the caller gave his name, but has declined to make it public in order to deny the caller notoriety. A spokesperson for the college, Tina Goodwin, said that information had been shared with law enforcement.
The Kansas National Guard has opened its own investigation. Spokesperson Steve Larson confirmed Wilson is a Guard member.
Joey Frazier of Salina, director of the Libertarian Party in Kansas’s 1st Congressional District and a candidate for a Kansas House seat, met Wilson in June.
Frazier says Wilson and a group of five or six others showed up at a scheduled Libertarian Party event in Salina, started talking presidential politics with the regulars and introduced themselves as the Lindsborg chapter of Identity Evropa.
“I’d never heard of it, so I didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing,” Frazier says.
Identity Evropa is part of a network of “white identitarian” groups, according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. These are groups that believe the United States and western Europe are “white countries” that are “under assault by the forces of multiculturalism and political correctness,” Potok says.
By the end of the Salina meeting, Frazier says Wilson had offered to help his campaign with money, volunteer hours or even an endorsement from his group.
To Frazier, a 28-year-old third-party candidate with little political experience, it seemed like an unexpected boost given that Wilson had worked on political campaigns before and seemed to know some prominent Kansas office holders.
But Wilson’s insistence that the Libertarians drop their support for their presidential nominee, Gary Johnson, and vote for Republican Donald Trump made Frazier uneasy.
Later that day Frazier received a message from Wilson via Facebook that increased his unease.
Wilson had noticed that a rainbow flag — a symbol of support for gay rights — was superimposed on Frazier’s profile picture.
“Upon further consideration, Identity Evropa will not be supporting your candidacy,” Wilson wrote. “Your public support for sexually deviant behavior on social media is antithetical to our ideals and mores.”
After looking closer at Identity Evropa online, Frazier says he dodged a bullet.
“I would have rejected his endorsement anyway because I don’t want to be involved in an organization like that,” he says.
At the bottom of his Facebook message to Frazier, Wilson described himself as Identity Evropa’s Kansas state coordinator.
People who met Wilson while working on previous campaigns are shocked that he has taken up with a white nationalist group.
Six politically connected Republicans were friends with Wilson on Facebook as of last week but have since disassociated themselves with his page, which changed dramatically after KHI News Service began contacting elected officials to inquire about their connection to Wilson. Posts were deleted and Wilson removed his last name from the profile.
Several say they met him in 2014 when Wilson worked for Clark Shultz’s campaign for Kansas insurance commissioner. Shultz, then a state senator from McPherson, was one of several Republicans who lost in the primary to Ken Selzer. He now serves under Selzer as the Kansas Insurance Department’s deputy commissioner.
Campaign finance records show that Shultz’s campaign employed Wilson, then 17, as a consultant, paying him $2,000.
Shultz says that Wilson was hired to put out yard signs largely because he had access to a truck and a hammer.
He says Wilson had worked as a volunteer on the 2012 campaign of Galva resident Jesse Bryant when Bryant unsuccessfully challenged then incumbent Sen. Jay Emler as a Republican in the primary and as a Libertarian in the general election.
Shultz says he has not talked with Wilson in a long time and never heard him express any white separatist views.
“I don’t know anybody who has views like he’s purported to have, and I certainly did not see (them) in that time period,” Shultz says. “(I) certainly never saw anything like that.”
Former Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady, a Republican from Palco who is now a regional lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, says he met Wilson during the Shultz campaign.
“He seemed like a normal high school kid,” Couture-Lovelady says. “I don’t know. I just saw him at some parades and stuff. Didn’t hang out with him, so I can’t tell you what his personal views were.”
Couture-Lovelady’s wife, Carly Couture, was the treasurer for the Shultz campaign. She is now the state coordinator of Trump’s campaign in Kansas and, until recently, also was connected to Wilson on Facebook.
She says she has not talked with Wilson in years and he has not asked her if he could help with the Trump campaign.
“I am more than glad to tell you, zero contact,” Couture says.
Sen. Michael O’Donnell, a Republican from Wichita, was one of several people who “liked” a Sept. 15 Facebook post by Wilson that referenced Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s comment that half of Trump supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables.”
“The more I think on it, I think I fit into the ‘deplorables’ category,” Wilson wrote. “I’ll wear that one like a badge of honor.”
O’Donnell, who is leaving the Legislature to run for the Sedgwick County Commission, says that liking the post was meant only to register his distaste for Clinton, and that he liked several similar posts by other people.
Before it was altered last week, Wilson’s Facebook page was peppered with statements supporting Trump and the alternative-right, or “alt-right,” and expressing suspicion or derision of immigrants, Muslims, gay people and the Black Lives Matter movement.
O’Donnell says he and the other public officials have thousands of Facebook friends and can’t be expected to monitor the posts all of those connections make.
He says he had no idea that Wilson was connected to a white separatist movement.
“I clearly find that to be reprehensible and completely wrong,” he says.
O’Donnell has now removed Wilson from his Facebook friends list.
Another of Wilson’s recent Facebook friends, former Rep. Basil Dannebohm, who served briefly as a Republican, thinks Trump’s rise within the party is fueling Wilson’s ideology.
“Their presidential candidate has degraded women, minorities and the disabled,” says Dannebohm, who lives in Salina. “Acceptance of such behavior is not only ignorant, it’s dangerous.”
Dalton Glasscock, campaign and policy director for the Kansas Federation of College Republicans, also had been on Wilson’s Facebook friends list.
However, Glasscock says he has not interacted with Wilson in years, except for some pro-Trump comments Wilson made on Glasscock’s Facebook page. Glasscock is a vocal opponent of Trump.
He says he doesn’t believe Wilson’s views are widespread among Kansas Republicans, but he says party leaders should keep them from seeping in.
“You should always be concerned about that,” Glasscock says. “Those don’t reflect the views of me or the Republican Party at large and if for some reason (the party) ever moved into that, I would be out in a second.”
Ascribing to white nationalism
Wilson pronounced his white nationalist affiliation on Facebook on Aug. 29 with a post that read, “I love getting Identity Evropa packages in the mail!” and included a hyperlink to the group’s Facebook page.
As of Tuesday, Wilson was still friends on Facebook with the group’s founder, Nathan Damigo, the former chairman of the National Youth Front.
Clues into Wilson’s turn toward white nationalism can be found in the online postings of a Tulsa man named Paul Ray Ramsey. Ramsey, who goes by the handle Ramzpaul, has no known connection to Identity Evropa, but shares a similar ideology in videos he posts online.
Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, says Ramsey has cultivated a youthful following by couching white nationalism in humor and branding himself “as a Jon Stewart of the far right.”
A Feb. 27 posting on Ramsey’s blog referenced a trip to Kansas to connect with “Gabriel and his girlfriend.” In a short video, Ramsey described the pair as perfect ambassadors for the alt-right movement because they are young and attractive.
“Gabriel and his girlfriend met with me last year,” Ramsey posted. “They found other people in their area who also watched my videos and they formed some real life friendships. Based on these friendships Gabriel took the initiative to arranged (sic) an Alt Right meet up. I was invited and I was happy to attend.”
Potok says it’s plausible that Ramsey’s videos shaped Wilson’s views and Trump’s campaign energized him.
“I think that Ramzpaul has shown that he is capable of bringing people into the white nationalist movement,” Potok says. “In addition to that, what we’ve seen in the last year or so is that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has really opened up a political space for these kinds of individuals and ideologies to essentially be pushed into the mainstream."
Ramsey posted on his verified Twitter account July 30 that he had a “great dinner and conversation tonight with the Kansas #altright, – seeming to identify Wilson as a charter member. Ramsey said about 20 people attended and thanked Wilson by tagging his Twitter account.
Ramsey told another Twitter user who asked about future alt-right meet-ups to “get in touch” with Wilson about a schedule and tagged him again. Another Twitter user also advised those interested to contact Wilson and posted “we are from all over KS.”
Dannebohm says Wilson told him that in the future he would like to run against Rep. Steven Johnson, a Republican from Assaria whose district includes Lindsborg.
Potok says that would fit a national trend.
“The fact is that many of these white nationalists are doing their best to enter politics in a fairly mainstream way,” Potok says. “They are working to spread their ideas, and very typically they do so hiding behind names that sound innocuous. They don’t call themselves the Klan; they call themselves something like Identity Evropa.”
Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, which is a partner in a statewide collaboration covering elections in Kansas. You can reach Andy on Twitter @andymarso.