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Grand Forks School Board candidate tied to Klan, online hate groups

Southern Poverty Law Center photo

A Grand Forks man identified by a civil rights organization as a white nationalist is running for a spot on the School Board.

James Kelso, 69, filed paperwork Friday with Grand Forks Public Schools to run for one of five seats up for election in June.

"I'm very interested in the school district," Kelso said, adding he is running because he has a seventh-grader and kindergartner in the school system.

As a director of the American Freedom Party, Kelso has been flagged by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights advocacy organization that has a running list called the "Extremist Files." The database contains profiles on what it calls "white nationalist, anti-gay zealots, black separatists, racist skinheads, neo-Confederates and more."

The SPLC declined to comment on why it listed Kelso, but it has a nearly 2,100-word profile on the Grand Forks man also known as Jamie Kelso, detailing ties to white supremacist group the National Alliance, his time as a personal assistant for former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and his role in expanding Stormfront, which has been called the leading online forum for white nationalists. Founded by former Klan leader Don Black, the website also has been used by Craig Cobb, a white nationalist who attempted to start an all-white enclave in Leith, N.D.

The website has been described by SPLC as a "designated hate group," with the civil rights group calling the forum "the first major hate site on the Internet."

Under Kelso's supervision, the website grew from 5,000 members in 2002 to 203,000 members in July 2010, according to the SPLC. Stormfront has more than 332,000 members, according to the website.

SPLC calls Kelso "an extremely hyper organizer and serial joiner of religious sects." In a 2003 post on Stormfront, he wrote he would not reproduce with a white person if he were "part-white," adding breeding mixed-race children "would be a crime against that white person, against any children so produced and against every other member of the white race."

In a 2013 Forum News Service article, Kelso said he is not a neo-Nazi but instead "a red-blooded American."

"The Southern Poverty Law Center has opinions on me," Kelso said Tuesday. "They are a left-wing organization, and I'm a right-wing person."

The American Freedom Party promotes white nationalism with a platform of "political power for European Americans," according to its website.

Kelso also started "The Jamie Kelso Show," which aired on the Voice of Reason Broadcast Network. He also founded white nationalist website White News Now, according to the SPLC.

School Board platform

He called the School Board "fairly liberal," saying his campaign slogan will be "Balance the board." He said he opposes Common Core and the consolidation of elementary schools, as proposed in a long-term master facilities plan for the district.

"My point of view derives from the fact that I've experienced little schools, and I love them," he said. "I love the personal quality."

Kelso would request an audit of how much money the district is spending on refugees and how many refugee students are in the district.

"Along those same lines, this is a question I wanted to ask Mayor (Mike) Brown at City Council meetings," he said. "He's a big champion of refugees. My question would be, 'How many refugees do you think is the right amount for Grand Forks?' I would ask the same question on the School Board."

Brown said he was supportive of the work the School Board and district have been doing with refugees and that Grand Forks is a welcoming community. When asked how he felt about Kelso's run, Brown said, "The citizens of Grand Forks will have to make a choice how they want their community represented."

Kelso said the goal of his campaign is to give voters an option and start discussions about refugees and Common Core, adding he hopes residents will look at each candidate and his or her campaign. He said he would be open to a community debate with other candidates.

School Board Chairman Doug Carpenter is running for re-election, while board members Eric Burin, Katie Dachtler, Alma Torres Pierce and Meggen Sande did not file paperwork for another run by the Friday deadline. Others who have filed include Chris Douthit, Shannon Mikula, Brian A. Reybok, Henry H. Howe, Jacqueline Hoffarth, Darin Lee and Bill Palmiscno.

The top five vote-getters in the primary election on June 12 will be elected to the School Board. All positions are at-large.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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