Things are just getting going when the bomb scare comes, so no one wants to hear from the police chief when he scurries to the stage. But he takes the mic anyway.
There's a suspicious package, he says.
The threat looks real.
We're not evacuating, but we suggest you leave in an orderly fashion.
A good 1,300 people are packed into this Overland Park conference center. They have come to be riled, to be moved, even to be scared — but not by some silly little bomb threat.
"We're not going anywhere!" one man yells. Then another: "Hell, no, we won't go!"
In an evening of high-pitched consensus, things are suddenly quiet and tense. But then Kris Kobach steps back to the mic, his big, angular face emitting a sense of calm. He'd been riding an oratorical tidal wave when the police chief rushed the stage. He fully intends to see that wave to shore.
"Seriously," he says first, "if you have any fear at all, please don't hesitate to leave."
But no one moves. Down in the front row, an older woman says something — to herself but also for the group: "I can't think of a better way to go."
Yes, the perfect place to die: Engulfed by 1,300 people who all agree that tonight's speakers are genuine heroes. The lawyer who wrote the country's toughest illegal-immigration laws and the sheriff who enforces them at all costs: a match made in America.
Kobach is the lawyer, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor and rising star among illegal immigrants' most vigilant foes. This event is ostensibly a rally for his bid to become Kansas' next secretary of state. But Kobach, armed with degrees from Harvard, Yale and Oxford, is smart enough to avoid the topic of his campaign.
He has made his name (and plenty of money) flying from state to state, crafting and defending laws designed to root out illegal immigrants. The laws he has written punish illegal immigrants and the businesses that hire them, landlords who rent to them and states that educate them. Civil rights groups have labeled him a racist and have sued, often successfully, to block his efforts. But the fight has granted him a saintly status among the people packed into this conference room.
His most famous work is Arizona's S.B. 1070, which makes illegal immigration a state crime and forces local law enforcement to seek out and arrest illegal immigrants. The law has attracted national attention, accusations of racial profiling, and lawsuits by the U.S. Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union. (The ACLU suit is being underwritten by The Pitch's parent company, Village Voice Media.) But S.B. 1070 is just one of many similar laws in the works. And with more than half of Americans supporting it, there will be more laws, and more Kobach.
Kobach knows all that. So while he faces a tough Republican primary in less than two weeks — against well-regarded if little-known opponents who are busy touring Kansas talking about being secretary of state — he knows that nothing will improve his chances like being the Guy Who Ships Out Illegals.
Besides, tonight — like much of Kobach's rise to fringe fame — is about Arizona. As much as these people have come to see Kobach, they've come to see the old man sitting behind him: Joe Arpaio.
The sheriff of Phoenix's Maricopa County since 1992, Arpaio is known for housing prisoners in tents and forcing them to wear pink underwear. More recently, he's become known for his aggressive fight to keep illegal immigrants out of Arizona.