State Republican Party Says Afghan Refugees Not Welcome In Oklahoma

Sep 8, 2021

The Oklahoma Republican Party on Saturday said the state should not welcome Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban rule following the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In a video posted to the party's Facebook page, party chair John Bennett called on Oklahomans to speak up about the fact that they are anti-refugee.

"I encourage you to call and email the governor, call and email your legislators, and tell them: Do not allow Afghan refugees into Oklahoma," said Bennett, who, in addition to leading the state GOP, is also an Assembly of God preacher at a church in Muldrow. 

Several prominent Oklahoma Republicans, including Gov. Kevin Stitt and U.S. Sen. James Lankford, have said Afghan refugees will be welcomed to the state with open arms. Republican Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said last month he had signed up to assist Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma in resettling the refugees.

Bennett, a Marine Corps veteran of the war in Afghanistan, claimed the federal government, led by "former Vice President Biden," was allowing "unvetted refugees" who are "enemies" of the United States into the country and the state.

"They don't have any way to vet non-American citizens," Bennett said. "I was on the ground in Afghanistan and there is no way you can properly vet these people. If the government says otherwise, they are lying to you."

The State Department does say otherwise, noting that Special Immigrant Visa-holding Afghans have undergone rigorous background checks and vetting, and evacuated Afghans seeking refuge in the U.S. who do not yet have documentation are being transported to third-party countries pending such vetting.

Bennett, who was elected party chair after multiple instances of spreading anti-Muslim rhetoric, also uses the video to propagate those beliefs, prompting the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Oklahoma chapter to issue a statement of condemnation.

“John Bennett has a long history dating back to 2013 of offensive attacks on Islam and the Oklahoma Muslim community,” executive director Adam Soltani said. “It is past time that Republicans speak out and he be removed from a position of authority as he has proven repeatedly that he is unhinged and seeks only to spread hate, divisiveness, and promote violence towards innocent Muslims in our state and country.”

The Oklahoma Republican Party earlier this year drew the condemnation of Jewish groups after the party compared COVID-19 public health measures in the U.S. to atrocities committed against Jews by Nazi Germany, using Holocaust imagery to fundraise.