Bob Kellar sees this country he was born in, has lived in and will die in, and he no longer recognizes it.
Kellar is being excoriated for comments he made 10 years ago about illegal immigration. People are calling for his resignation. A petition on change.org has amassed more than 31,300 signatures as of Tuesday night.
“This is nuts,” he said. “We’ve lost our ever-loving minds. It makes me sick what’s going on in this country. It also makes me sick to see that damn policeman’s knee on that guy’s neck.”
The above comment referenced the scene in Seattle, where protestors turned an abandoned police station into an “autonomous zone,” and Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin’s alleged murder of George Floyd.
Contradictory sentiments to be sure, especially for someone with Kellar’s law enforcement background. One might be surprised at the second part, considering Kellar’s 25 years in the Los Angeles Police Department and that he sees that not all cops are good.
One also might think that as Kellar, 76, enters the final months of what will be 20 years on the city council, he’s as ornery and passionate about his beliefs as ever – even when they get him in trouble, like they did in January 2010.
“They found a reason to resurrect them,” he said.
At an anti-illegal immigration rally, Kellar referenced a 1907 Teddy Roosevelt speech in which the President said any immigrant who comes here and fully assimilates shall be treated equally. “We have room for but one flag, the American flag …We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language,” Roosevelt said.
Kellar is fiercely anti-illegal immigration. He said he would never hire an undocumented worker, and someone illegally in the country in 2002 killed a sheriff’s deputy who was Kellar’s protégée. So, when he attended the rally – with no intention to speak, he said – and was urged to take the microphone, he uttered these now infamous words, which are on YouTube:
“A moment ago, I mentioned what Teddy Roosevelt said, and he was right on: one flag, one language. I brought that up and I read that … at one of our council meetings a couple of years ago. I said, ‘Folks, this is important.’ You know the only thing I heard back from a couple of people? ‘Bob, you sound like a racist.’ I said, ‘That’s good. If that’s what you think I am because I happen to believe in America, I’m a proud racist.’ ”
The pushback came quickly. Various news media jumped on a council member saying he’s a proud racist.
At the next council meeting, Kellar said the comments were taken out of context, a sentiment from which he has never wavered.
“I wish I never considered saying anything,” he said last week, “but I’m not apologizing for being an American.”
As Kellar recalled, when he first walked into council chambers, ahead of the other members, he was greeted by what he estimated was two thirds of a packed house standing and cheering him.
A YouTube video called “Take a Stand for America!” shows various people voicing support for Kellar, including Barbara and John March, whose son, David, was the protégée killed.
“My son wanted to get in the sheriff’s department. Bob helped him. Bob coached him because he knew law enforcement, helped him learn what the oral tests would be like,” John March said. “When he was killed, Bob felt, I think, as much darn pain as we did. He felt almost responsible for helping Dave get into the sheriff’s department, and I told him he had helped Dave get his dream.”
Since Kellar made his infamous comments, he twice was re-elected, garnering the most votes both times, though never more than 27 percent of the total vote.
In fact, 27,425 people cast votes in April 2012. If people were that upset, Canyon Country Advisory Council Chair Alan Ferdman said, “They should have been able to vote him out of office. Where were they?”
Some, such as Democratic Alliance for Action member Stacy Fortner, said that’s an indictment of the community itself. “We’re a racist community and they wanted him there,” she said. “The racists who wanted him there outweighed the people who wanted him out.”
Stephen Daniels, host of the “Talk of Santa Clarita” podcast, said commuters make up the majority of residents, and they’re not paying attention. City council candidate Ken Dean said one should never underestimate the power of incumbency and name recognition. He said he correctly predicted Dante Acosta would win his city council seat in 2014 and Mike Garcia would win his House seat last month because they put up signs everywhere.
Local CPA Matt Denny and longtime College of the Canyons trustee Bruce Fortine said people understood that Kellar was speaking about illegal immigration, not Black Lives Matter.
“Bob’s not a racist, He’s LAPD through and through,” Fortine said. “We used to hold police officers in high regard, and now they’re torched.”
Ten and a half years ago, the Black Lives Matter movement did not exist. According to the I Heart SCV blog, it was a white resident, Anthony Breznican, who resurrected Kellar’s comments, on Twitter (Breznican also regularly criticizes Gazette Publisher Doug Sutton’s weekly “Doug’s Rant” column and last year supported an advertising boycott of the paper).
The outcry was enormous. Many called for Kellar’s resignation, although he previously announced he isn’t running again. A Stevenson Ranch resident, Ayden McKenzie, started a petition on change.org, despite Stevenson Ranch lying outside the city limits (McKenzie couldn’t be reached).
Most who told the Gazette they signed the petition said they know it’s purely symbolic, yet they want Kellar to know they haven’t forgotten or forgiven.
“He should not be able to ride his horse into the sunset,” Fortner sad. “He needs to leave now with the shame he has brought on this community.”
Mike Devlin, who co-administers the Santa Clarita Community Facebook page, said his signing was “a final vote cast in disapproval. Whether or not he resigns is secondary to the message that he’s riding out his term much like he served: by ignoring the community’s wishes and being tone-deaf to most of the community.”
City council candidate Chris Werthe put out a statement saying Kellar’s comments are racist to undocumented immigrants and the Hispanic community. “There is a long history of racism in Santa Clarita Valley,” Werthe said, “and we need our elected officials and candidates to work for change and be responsive to the anguish and pain of people of color in our community.”
Werthe also called on fellow candidate Jason Gibbs and new House member Garcia to reject Kellar’s endorsements. Kellar said he would rescind them if either told him to, but that Garcia told him he’s honored to be endorsed. Garcia didn’t return calls; Gibbs texted a request to email questions and then didn’t respond.
Kellar, per the First Amendment, recognizes the people’s right to “peaceably assemble, and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” But he also believes the people using his comments from a decade ago to stir things up were too young to understand back then.
“I’m not trying to diminish young people.” he said. “I’ve been in the service business my whole life. I did everything in my power to help all people.
“Apologize? That’ll be the day.”