The Dodge City Republican Expo being held June 27 is being criticized for its guest speaker, John Bennett, vice president of Understanding the Threat.


Understanding the Threat, based in Dallas, Texas, is listed as a hate group for anti-Muslim ideology by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit based in Montgomery, Ala., that specializes in civil rights and public interest litigation.


"The hate-filled, paranoid, and dishonest rhetoric promoted by Understanding the Threat and its leadership has no place in Ford County or anywhere else across the free state of Kansas," said Ford County Democratic Party chairman Johnny Dunlap II. "It is completely and utterly disgraceful for the Kansas GOP and its Republican candidates to sanction the ignorant and Islamophobic positions of a noted hate group.


"It is especially ignorant and hateful to host such a hate group in a community with the growing, largely refugee, Muslim population found in Dodge City."


According to its website, Understanding the Threat states that its mission is to empower citizens, elected officials and police to dismantle Marxist/communist and jihadi networks inside the United States and re-establish America’s founding principles in their communities.


"To do this, UTT provides threat-focused strategic and operational consultation, education, and training for federal, state, and local leadership and agencies in government, the private sector, and for private citizens," the website said. "UTT is the only organization in America which empowers elected officials, police and citizens with tools to identify Marxist/communist and jihadi networks and dismantle them at the local level."


In 2017, according to the Dallas Morning News, Understanding the Threat founder John Guandolo faced a civil lawsuit against a sheriff in Minnesota when it was reported that Guandolo "shoved and punched sheriff Richard Stanel at a law enforcement gathering in June 2017 after Stanek challenged the Understanding the Threat leader over 'discriminatory' materials he had handed out."


In September 2019, after an eight-day trial, a jury awarded Stanek $600,000 in the lawsuit.


Also in September 2019, according to the Associated Press, the Southern Poverty Law Center was in the midst of a lawsuit brought from the Center for Immigration Studies over entity being labeled a hate group.


The lawsuit was thrown out by a federal judge, and the Center for Immigration Studies remains listed as an anti-immigration hate group.


Laura Tawater, 1st Congressional District Kansas GOP vice chair and Wild West Republican Women’s Club president, who invited Bennet to speak at the expo, she said, "We look forward to having John Bennett with Understanding The Threat come out and speak to Kansas Republicans about the threat of communism in our country."


"He will be talking about the current riots and its connection to the communist and Islamic movement and their strategic plan to subvert America," Tawater said. "The Southern Poverty Law Center is a radical left-wing nonprofit that labels any organization a ‘hate group’ that doesn’t agree with their mission. Understanding The Threat is not a hate group, but instead they work to empower citizens, elected officials and police to dismantle the Marxist/communist and jihadi networks inside the United States and re-establish America’s founding principles in their communities."


According to Tawater, Bennett is vice president of Understanding the Threat, served as a Marine for over 21 years, including combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has extensive training in counter intelligence/human intelligence and counterterrorism operations.


Bennett was a member of the FBI’s joint terrorism task force and is also a licensed pastor with the Assemblies of God and served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.


"It is a shame how much backlash and ridiculous demands we receive from groups who are outraged by us practicing free political speech that differs from theirs," Tawater said. "We believe we are doing the right thing and will continue to move forward."


U.S. Senate candidate Kris Kobach, one of the scheduled attendees of the expo, said "the mere fact the SPLC dislikes someone means nothing."


"The SPLC has slandered hundreds of conservatives including me and President (Donald) Trump over the past two decades," Kobach said. "I do not know anything about the speaker but I do know the SPLC traffics in lies about conservatives to advance its radical leftwing agenda."


The Daily Globe reached out to other Republican candidates scheduled to attend the expo, but they did not respond.


Kansas Democratic Party chairwoman Sage TeBeest expressed disappointment with Kansas Republicans’ choice to be associated with Understanding the Threat.


"We hold our leaders to a higher standard in Western Kansas than associating themselves with and inviting an identified hate group to speak to our district," TeBeest said. "It is disturbing to learn Congressman Roger Marshall has chosen fear mongering and peddling in conspiracy theories instead of proposing solutions for farmers with no markets to sell their crops, rural communities struggling, and businesses reeling from COVID-19.


"We understand the path forward is by embracing our diverse district. Just as western Kansas was settled 120 years ago by immigrants looking for a better life for their families, the same is true today. The future of rural Kansas is brightest when we embrace diversity."


Dunlap encouraged Republican leadership to cancel or pull out of the expo.


"I encourage all Republican leadership to cancel or pull out of this shameful event and condemn the hateful and ignorant Islamaphobic rhetoric of the Understanding the Threat hate group," Dunlap said. "Meanwhile, the Ford County Chapter of the Kansas Democratic Party will continue to fight for justice and equality across Southwest Kansas."


The Dodge City Republican Expo will be held at noon Saturday, June 27, at United Wireless Arena. Tickets for the event are $10 and can be reserved at WildWestRWClub.com.


To contact the writer, email vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com.