The African American U.S. Army soldier who defected to North Korea over the summer in a reported attempt to flee from the “racial discrimination” he suffered in the military has been kicked out of the rogue Asian nation.
The 23-year-old Private 2nd Class in the U.S. Army Travis King is in the custody of American authorities as of Wednesday after he was “expelled” from North Korea, according to the Associated Press.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Travis King, the US soldier who crossed into North Korea, is in American custody, two US officials tell the AP.
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) September 27, 2023
“King was transferred to American custody in China,” the Associated Press reported.
But it was unclear exactly why King was “expelled” from North Korea, which is led by the ruthless authoritarian government of leader Kim Jong Un, who has long been accused of human rights violations.
U.S. officials did not immediately respond to the report, but considering the soldier’s AWOL (absent without leave) status, King is likely to face serious punishment for his actions.
NBC News attributed its report that King would be “expelled” to the North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA):
A statement reported by the state-run news agency KCNA said that King will be “expelled” at an unspecified time. No details were given of the destination of the American Army private, who had been based in South Korea.
The statement added that King had confessed he “illegally intruded” into North Korean territory because “he was disillusioned about inhumane treatment and racial discrimination” in the army as well as the “inequality existing within the American Society,” KCNA said.
King crossed into North Korea on July 18, about a week after he was released from a South Korean prison on assault charges. He was behind bars for 48 days because he did not pay a $4,000 fine for damaging a South Korean police car and “shouting profanities about Koreans and the Korean army” while he was being arrested in October of last year.
Following King’s July 10 release from the prison in Cheonan, which is about 50 miles south of the capital city of Seoul, he was set to return to a military base in Texas where he was expected to be further disciplined for his actions in South Korea.
But after King was escorted to an airport outside of Seoul, he was not allowed to board his flight because he lacked the proper paperwork, prompting him to be removed from the airport.
Eight days later, King found himself embedded within a tour group visiting the Joint Security Area where the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) separating South Korea from North Korea is before he reportedly ran across the MDL while laughing. The Associated Press reported that King “sprinted” and “bolted” across the MDL.
Diplomatic efforts to secure his return began promptly to no avail as it took North Korea about a month to confirm King was even there.
Last month, KCNA reported that King “deliberately” and “illegally intruded” North Korea because “he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army,” according to KCNA Watch, a Korean media outlet that aggregates North Korean state media.
The statement added: “[King] also expressed his willingness to seek refugee in [North Korea] or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society.”
The statement claimed King “confessed.”
With the news of the expulsion, it would appear that North Korea has rejected his attempts “to seek refuge” there.
Why is North Korea expelling Travis King?
There are several key unanswered questions about King’s time in North Korea, including and especially around his expulsion. His expected departure could come with some surprises.
The last time North Korea expelled a U.S. citizen, American college student Otto Warmbier died shortly after being released in a vegetative state following his imprisonment.
North Korea also notoriously harbors racist views toward Black people, which is likely exacerbated by its contempt for the United States. The unavoidable collision of those two factors may have played a role in King’s expected ouster from North Korea. Lest we forget that Kim has defended calling former President Barack Obama a “wicked black monkey” and befriended former President Donald Trump, who frequently espouses racist views.
North Korea has been largely isolated by the globe following repeated threats of nuclear aggression over the years.
The announcement of King’s expulsion came just about a week after Kim traveled to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin amid an ongoing war with Ukraine, the latter of which has been supported by the U.S.
Why did Travis King really go to North Korea?
At the time of the crossing into North Korea, King was possibly having an ongoing emotional reaction to the death of his uncle’s young son months ago.
Carl Gates, whose sister is King’s mother, told the Daily Beast that the news had weighed heavy on the young soldier, particularly because he was abroad away from his family.
“It affected Travis a lot,” Carl Gates said.
He said King began acting “reckless” before the 7-year-old died and believes the North Korea incident is “related” to the death.
Carl Gates told the Associated Press that he doubted King “was in his right mind” when he crossed into North Korea.
“Travis is a good guy. He wouldn’t do nothing to hurt nobody. And I can’t see him trying to hurt himself,” Carl Gates added.
King’s mother and brother joined his uncle in speaking out in hopes of having their loved one returned home.
“I just want my son back. Get my son home,” Claudine Gates is shown on video telling reporters visiting her home in Wisconsin in July. “Get my son home and pray that he comes back.”
When asked for further comment, a clearly emotional Gates said she had nothing more to say.
A man who identified himself as King’s brother said the family understands “the gravity of the situation” and asked the media to respect the family’s privacy during the trying time.
He said Gates “has lost a son before … so this is weighing very heavily on her.”
New: The mother of Travis King, the U.S. soldier in North Korean custody, outside her home in Wisconsin: “I just want my son back. Get my son home. Get my son home and pray that he comes back.”
— Matt Smith (@mattsmith_news) July 19, 2023
Racism in the U.S. Army
Racism in the U.S. Army and all arms of the American military has been well documented, especially in recent years.
A survey from last year found that “42% of service members of color in a new survey turned down an assignment or permanent change of station order because of concerns about racism and discrimination, even when they knew doing so could negatively affect their career because of perceptions of racism in the local community,” according to Military.com.
On a more granular level, “about 33% of Black active-duty family respondents reported being racially profiled by military law enforcement at least once since January 2020, compared with about 36% who said they were profiled by civilian law enforcement.”
And nearly half of all Black respondents to the survey “said their race or ethnicity ‘significantly’ or ‘slightly’ hurt their ability to get ahead at work.”
In 2021, an Associated Press investigative report found that “current and former enlistees and officers in nearly every branch of the armed services described a deep-rooted culture of racism and discrimination that stubbornly festers, despite repeated efforts to eradicate it.”
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