The decade's most triggering comedy
The propaganda arm of the North Korean dictatorship released its first public comment about its detainment of American soldier Travis King, claiming he entered the communist country because he faced mistreatment in the U.S. Army.
King, 23, sprinted across the heavily guarded demilitarized zone (DMZ) line last month while on a civilian tour and was taken into custody by North Korea. When he crossed into the communist country, King had reportedly been disciplined for assault in South Korea and was facing further disciplinary action in the U.S.
North Korean state media said Wednesday that King fled into the country because he “harbored ill feelings against inhuman mistreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army” and “was disillusioned at the unequal American society,” POLITICO reported.
A Pentagon official told The Wall Street Journal that it cannot verify King made these comments. The North Korean media arm reporting on King’s alleged dissatisfaction with America releases statements tailored to the communist regime’s wishes, which usually involves painting the U.S. as an evil empire.
“We can’t verify these alleged comments,” the Pentagon official said. “We remain focused on his safe return. The department’s priority is to bring Pvt. King home, and we are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome.”
Former CIA analyst Soo Kim told POLITICO that the regime’s statement “is 100% North Korean propaganda in its element. King, as an American citizen held in North Korea, has no sway in how the DPRK chooses to cast its narrative.”
“As for King’s release, his fate rests in North Korea’s hands. Perhaps the regime will try to ‘bargain’ King’s life in exchange for financial concessions from the U.S. More than likely, negotiations won’t be easy, and terms will be dictated by Pyongyang,” she added.
King was the first American soldier to voluntarily cross into North Korea since 1982. American civilian Otto Warmbier was detained and imprisoned by the communist country in 2016 on phony charges of subversion before he was released 17 months later in a coma; he died shortly after coming home to the U.S.
Prior to crossing into North Korea, King was involved in at least two separate episodes where Korean police were brought in to intervene, including incidents in September and October 2022.
In September, King had a case settled after he was accused of punching a man in the face at a South Korean club. The following month, he was accused of acting aggressively toward police officers responding to a call about a fight, court documents obtained by Reuters show.
He spent almost two months in detention for the assault charge, according to The Associated Press. The news agency reported that he had been released on July 10. Officials have said that King was going to be sent back to America before he crossed into North Korea.
Leif Le Mahieu contributed to this report.