In 2022, fringe right-wing congressional candidate Joe Kent had a little trouble convincing the far right that he was the genuine article and not, in fact, a deep-state plant.
This go-around, the “America First” conservative appears to be getting ahead of that narrative as he makes another run for Congress. This time, he’s shoring up his radical credentials by calling to gut the FBI.
The FBI, Kent suggested in a video last month, is essentially operating “as a secret domestic intelligence agency,” which will “continue to take us down this road towards total authoritarianism.” He has repeatedly called to defund the agency, even as it faces mounting threats from the MAGAsphere, and has pushed the false claim that “deep state” infiltration was to blame for the Jan. 6 attack.
But Kent—a former CIA paramilitary officer himself, who claims to have joined the agency early in Donald Trump’s term—has to reconcile those views with an earlier version of himself.
For instance, he initially denounced the Jan. 6 attackers as “atrocious” and said “they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Kent also saw the FBI itself differently a few years ago, when the target was on the left, arguing that the FBI should be the ones doing the defunding—“tracking the leaders & financiers of antifa, taking away their funds, arresting their leaders on federal charges.”
But Kent’s right-wing extremism isn’t genuinely in doubt. His 2022 campaign was battered with reports about its connections to the Proud Boys and a number of other white identity extremists, which, combined with his far-right views on issues from vaccines to immigration, contributed to a narrow 2022 loss to Democrat Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez.
Asked for comment, the campaign did not say Kent would work to defund the FBI. Instead, the campaign replied that if Kent were elected, he would have the FBI reprioritize its domestic threat list, focusing on leftist organizations and cartels.
“While Marie Perez’s auto shop provided free repairs to ANTIFA while they were assaulting police and burning down Portland and voted to keep the border open to the cartels and fentanyl killing people in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, Joe will go to Congress and demand the FBI prioritize targeting domestic terrorist like ANTIFA and cartels trafficking these dangerous drugs instead of parents attending school board meetings,” the campaign said in a statement, referencing a story about his opponent from the last election.
(Members of Congress cannot dictate the investigative priorities of executive branch law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.)
Kent, of course, has called to defund the FBI, and he also did so in 2022. And in the wake of the court-sanctioned search of Mar-a-Lago that summer he declared that “we are at war” with some sort of undefined shadowy leftist cabal.
The day Kent delivered those “we are at war” remarks, he landed a GOP primary win against then-Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), who voted to impeach Trump for inciting an insurrection. Two days later, a Trump supporter breached an Ohio FBI field office, then died during a shootout with agents. The agency said at the time that it was experiencing an “unprecedented” level of threats.
Kent was back at it after another tragedy this August. After FBI agents shot and killed a 74-year-old MAGA supporter—who had repeatedly made assassination threats against Democratic officials and allegedly pointed a gun at officers during the raid—Kent posted a live feed in which he falsely claimed the man had been killed “for Facebook posts.”
In response, Kent for the first time personally articulated his defunding platform on video.
“I really don’t know if we actually can save the FBI,” he said.
“I saw somebody asked me, ‘Can we do anything about the FBI?’ I mean, look, at this point, especially, you know, post-Provo, where we saw the FBI essentially go and shoot and kill someone for Facebook posts—and this is somebody who had cooperated with the FBI before,” Kent said in the video.
The man—who had a history of violent behavior and armed public confrontations—was not killed “for Facebook posts.” He was shot because he allegedly pointed a gun at law enforcement officials. While he had posted numerous Facebook threats to kill Democrats—like President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland—and warned agents he would have “a loaded gun handy” if they came by his home again, court documents in the case revealed that it was ironically Donald Trump’s own platform, Truth Social, that first alerted the feds to the potential threat.
Still, the event seemed to serve as a tipping point for Kent.
He proposed using “the appropriations process” to gut the agency, “taking away the teeth of the FBI.” The reforms would make the agency a purely investigative body, which could do “investigative heavy lifting” alongside local operations, such as “sheriffs.”
“I think that might be a good way to go,” Kent said. “But having them as a secret domestic intelligence agency, I think that is going to continue to take us down this road towards total authoritarianism, like we’re on right now.”
Notably, the Kent campaign’s comment said the opposite, endorsing the use of the FBI to target domestic threats.
But if Kent has changed his mind, other right-wingers, like GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, have also proposed dissolving the agency. (Ramaswamy’s plan would fire 20,000 bureaucratic workers and reassign the 15,000 field agents to various other federal law enforcement outfits—presumably without also porting over the bureaucratic support.)
But going by some of Kent’s past statements, his view today appears unavoidably political—and hypocritical.
In June 2020, as the country was gripped in the unrest following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Kent said the Trump administration should refrain from deploying military forces and turn to the FBI, specifically as a domestic intelligence agency. Of course, the domestic target at the time was not conservatives, but leftists.
“The use of active duty mil to quell riots is the last & worse case scenario. Local leaders must empower their police forces to restore law & order & work w/ FBI JTTFs to ID key antifa leaders, financiers & communications coordinators,” Kent tweeted on June 1, referring to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces.
The previous day, Kent tweeted not that the FBI should be defunded, but that the agency itself should be doing the defunding.
“The federal response to the riots needs to be the FBI tracking the leaders & financiers of antifia, taking away their funds, arresting their leaders on federal charges,” he wrote.
Kent also called on local officials to collaborate with the agency, saying there was a “danger of Trump taking too much of a lead” in managing the unrest, letting local governments off the hook.
Then on June 2, Kent retweeted a post from priest Father Edward Beck, who was criticizing Trump’s photo-op at St. John’s Church after using federal forces to violently disperse peacefully gathered protesters.
“Has the Bible ever been used in a more disingenuous and exploitative way?” Beck wrote, over the infamous photo of Trump raising the book in the air.
That about-face would be yet another spin for Kent, whose 2022 bid was riddled with attacks from his own right-wing allies.
At the time, some of Kent’s fellow fringe-dwellers looked past his resounding right-wing extremism to seize instead on biographical details—like his previous CIA stint and subsequent work for a shadowy IT company that he repeatedly mis-named—to attack him as a subversive deep state operative. One PAC even created a website titled, “Joe Kent: Anti-Christian Socialist RINO,” at the address “JoeKentIsCIA.com.” The New York Times summed up the infighting by saying that Kent—a Trump-endorsed election denier—was “discovering just how far the modern far right will go.”
It’s unclear if Kent will try to outflank the right-wing again this time around. Of course, that’s also in part a function of how much further afield the extreme end of the party will go.
But if Kent survives the primary, he’ll likely face a moderate incumbent in Gluesenkamp Perez, whom he won’t be able to tar as a leftist—because the far left has already denounced her.