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At CA-3 TV debate, Kiley dodges neo-Nazi question

KCRA moderator Edie Lambert posed the four-word question to GOP Congressional candidate Kevin Kiley almost at the midway point of Thursday night’s debate: “Do you support neo-Nazis?”

It arose from an accusation by Kiley’s Democratic opponent Dr. Kermit Jones that Kiley has associated with insurrectionists and neo-Nazis, and Kiley quickly dismissed it as “crazy stuff.”

But for the past 1½ years, the California Assemblyman has been trying to dodge different versions of this very question. Given how much time Kiley has taken to formulate a response though, you might think he would have tried to clearly distance himself from violent extremists. Or say Jan. 6 insurrectionists were criminal and anti-democratic. Or at least answer the question and say he doesn’t support neo-Nazis. But he said none of this Thursday. Instead he responded with an evasive “non-denial denial” that the longer it went even refuted parts of its own elliptical explanation.

And with that, one of the most under-the-radar issues in a mostly under-the-radar CA-3 House race finally burst into the open. Viewers of the Sacramento KCRA 3-CapRadio debate, though, could be forgiven if they didn’t understand the background of Jones’ accusation against Kiley. That is because neither KCRA, Cap Public Radio, the Sacramento Bee or any professional news outlet other than this publication had previously made anything but scant reference to it.

At the debate though, the issue generated the most robust back-and-forth of any topic, and its background is this. As exclusively reported by SactoPolitico last spring, Kiley appeared as a featured speaker at a March 2021 rally in front of the state capitol. The event attracted hundreds and was co-organized by a radical individual who had recently called for Americans to arm for civil war following the Jan. 6 riot in D.C. At the rally, Kiley spoke before and after multiple other speakers with well-reported connections to a national hate group, QAnon and militias. But he happily bathed in the crowd’s applause and stayed awhile to sign books underneath his own pop-up merch tent (right).

Before and after the rally, SactoPolitico had contacted Kiley and his staff multiple times by phone and email. Each time, we informed them of the radical backgrounds of the speakers. This included the co-organizer’s recent civil war comments that had been reported by the San Diego NBC investigative unit. But Kiley and his staff refused any comment, and despite numerous requests since, he and his campaign team have also refused to answer questions on the topic, including for this article.

Jones and Kiley are vying to represent the open CA-3 seat in Congress. Nearly the size of West Virginia, the district sprawls across 10 counties from up north in Plumas south to Death Valley in Inyo. But roughly two-thirds of the district’s population lives in the suburban and exurban communities west and northwest of the state capitol. This includes the suburbs of Folsom, Orangevale, Rocklin and Roseville.

Jones brought up the issue of radical associations at the 12:25 point of the debate in response to a criticism from Kiley. (See link here.) Here is the exchange:

Jones: “The bigger picture here that my opponent wants to distract people from is the whole time I have been helping people with respect to their healthcare, he was standing with insurrectionists and neo-Nazis. And I think at the end of the day what we need to focus on are people who have done things in the district, care about this district. I’ve never seen someone from a place do so little for it [like Kiley]. He has voted against multiple things that actually could help people, keep our kids safe in respect to red flag laws…”

Edie Lambert [interrupting Jones, to Kiley]: “Okay, slung right back at you. Do you support Neo-Nazis?”

Kiley: “This is just crazy stuff. He has begged and pleaded the Sacramento Bee to print these wild allegations, and they’ve refused to do it because they looked into it, and it is total nonsense. He said this so many times that I finally looked up what he was even talking about. So what he is referring to is this. You almost can’t make this up. So out of the hundreds and hundreds of events I’ve been to, he claims there is like one guy who was at an event, who I didn’t know him, didn’t know he would be there, didn’t know who he was, who said some crazy thing some time. So I finally looked into who this guy is. Turns out he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate. I had endorsed his opponent, who ended up winning the Republican nomination. So this is the big attack that Kermit is hanging his hat of his whole campaign…

Jones: “I’ve never seen someone take pictures with someone they don’t know.”

Kiley: “Excuse me. Please don’t interrupt me. [He is] trying to attack me, trying to associate me with someone who I actively worked to defeat. The reason he focuses on this nonsense is cause he has supported the policies that have wrecked our economy and...”

Edie Lambert [interrupting Kiley]: Well, we gave you a chance to answer and...

Jones: “Multiple news outlets have have [reported] you actually associate with these people who you say you do not associate with.”

Edie Lambert [speaking over Jones]: Okay, I am going to just move us on. We have asked and answered.

Kiley: “You can’t make it up.”

SactoPolitico reached out to both campaigns post-debate but only Jones responded.

“I did feel it needed to be brought up,” Jones said. “My opponent has a platform that is literally 300 words long. He doesn’t have any plans, and if you don’t have any plans to tell people about, they should at least know the character of the person they are voting for.”

“He had a clear opportunity up there to say he either would denounce neo-Nazis or say he wouldn’t associate with neo-Nazis and insurrectionists. He didn’t do that. He kind of lied around with an answer that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Hopefully for the independent voters and those who are persuadable, I wanted to make sure people saw that out there.”

Kiley’s answer seemed a classic example of a “non-denial denial.” The term was popularized by former Washington Post managing editor Ben Bradlee about responses from members of the Nixon Administration who would take great offense at Watergate questions but without denying any specifics.

Kiley, however, didn’t stop by just claiming the question was too crazy to merit a straight answer. Instead, he feigned that Jones’s charge had come way out of right field and that Kiley had never heard of the radical in question before or after the rally.

But that is not true. This individual was Cordie Williams who was more than just an attendee. Williams co-organized and his group co-sponsored the rally. This publication has regularly asked Kiley to explain his decision to attend this event and to rally with the other speakers. In February, a high school reporter from Kiley’s own alma mater in Granite Bay even directly asked him about Williams and the rally, and Kiley elliptically dodged the question. So Kiley has been very aware of Williams and the other radical speakers that day.

At the debate though, Kiley first claimed to have had so little awareness of the rally co-organizer that he had to do special research to figure out who Williams was. This led Kiley to discover that Williams had, unbeknownst to Kiley, run earlier this year for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senator. But by the end of this explanation, Kiley also claimed he had “actively worked to defeat” Williams in that primary. But how could Kiley “actively” campaign against someone who Kiley also claims having no awareness of?

Jones said he noticed that contradiction too.

“It fits into the bigger picture. [Kiley] is trying to ignore the fact that I – like so many others who deployed to Iraq – joined the military to actually protect these values, protect our democracy. But he is just constantly trying to find ways to skirt that and denigrate people who put on the uniform,” Jones said. “But you can’t do whatever it takes to get a Trump endorsement and be associated with neo-Nazis and insurrectionists, then pretend to be for patriotism and freedom. They don’t go hand-in-hand.”

A last intriguing part of Kiley’s dodge of the neo-Nazi question was his assertion that the Sacramento Bee agreed with him that the entire subject was “total nonsense.” While it is true the Bee’s news division has not reported on the issue, its editorial page has referenced it twice.

The most recent reference came briefly Sunday in a larger opinion essay written by Bee opinion assistant Hannah Holzer titled “The radicalization of Kevin Kiley.” In April, Holzer also brought the issue up in any hourlong Q&A interview not with Kiley, but with Kiley’s chief of staff Josh Hoover, who is running for 7th State Assembly seat against the Democratic incumbent Ken Cooley.

This dual Hoover-Cooley interview featured mostly policy-based questions asked of both candidates. But Holzer asked this question of Hoover alone:

The Sacramento Bee: Josh, your boss, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, has posted a photo with neo-Nazi [name deleted], who’s an administrator of a neo-Nazi Telegram channel. He also agreed to serve as a featured speaker at a March 2021 rally co-organized by Cordie Williams, who, two months before, publicly called on Americans to arm for civil war. Could you address the fact that you’re willing to denounce the Proud Boys, yet, meanwhile, your boss has posed with neo-Nazis?

Why the Bee would pose – and publish – a question like this to a different candidate in a different race, but not to Kiley as part of a news article, is a very interesting question. But the fact it appeared in print twice in the Bee in any context severally undermines Kiley’s assertion the Bee considers the issue “total nonsense.”

One problem with how the issue was addressed during the debate was how most voters viewing were in the dark about the issue. Neither moderator provided proper background to assist the viewers. Even after the event the two sponsoring news outlets addressed the issue in very light fashion in their follow-up stories.

CapRadio made only a brief mention of the issue in its report. KCRA included it somewhat in a fact check on the debate, but not terribly effectively. They completely ignored Kiley having dodged Lambert’s question, “Do you support neo-Nazis,” reviewed nothing about Kiley’s association with insurrectionists and other radicals at the March 2021 rally, and overlooked Kiley contradicting himself about not knowing who the co-organizer was.

Instead, the piece fact checked an incidental issue that no one has raised: whether Kiley had endorsed the other Republican running against Williams in the Senate primary.

Such weak media coverage has been par for the CA-3 race, and surprisingly so for such an expensive, highly contested House race. But might the many unanswered questions by Kiley during a televised debate on such a hot-button issue debate spark more coverage of them? Well, if you are the Kiley camp, you are banking on that not happening, and he answered accordingly.

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