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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Martin Pengelly in Washington

Missouri Republicans disown Ku Klux Klan-linked candidate for governor

people wave confederate flags and one saying 'white' and 'kkk'
The Ku Klux Klan protests on 8 July 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. According to the ADL, McClanahan wrote for a Klan-linked newsletter ‘about his radicalisation in the wake of the Unite the Right rally in 2017’. Photograph: Chet Strange/Getty Images

The Missouri Republican party sought to distance itself from a candidate for governor linked to the Ku Klux Klan, saying it would remove him from the ballot.

In a statement, the party said it had been “made aware that Darrell Leon McClanahan III filed for governor as a Republican despite his affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan, which fundamentally contradicts our party’s values and platform.

“We have begun the process of having Mr McClanahan removed from the ballot as a Republican candidate. We condemn any association with hate groups and are taking immediate action to rectify this situation.”

The Klan was organised as a racist terror group after the defeat of the slave-holding Confederacy in the civil war. Beaten back by President Ulysses S Grant, the Klan was resurgent in the Jim Crow years of racial segregation in southern states.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups, calls the Klan “the oldest and most infamous of American hate groups”, adding: “Although Black Americans have typically been the Klan’s primary target, adherents also attack Jewish people, [immigrants] and members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

After McClanahan declared for governor, a picture showing him appearing to give a Nazi salute in front of a burning cross – a symbol of Klan terror – circulated widely online.

As reported by the Riverfront Times, a Missouri news site, the picture first appeared when McClanahan ran for US Senate in 2022, on the website of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which fights antisemitism.

The ADL identified McClanahan as “an adherent of the racist and antisemitic religious sect Christian Identity” who attended events organised by a Klan group and wrote for a Klan-linked newsletter about “about his radicalisation in the wake of the Unite the Right rally in 2017”, when white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in support of Donald Trump.

The ADL also published an image from Russian social media showing McClanahan using a different name and the phrase “white power”.

McClanahan sued for defamation, arguing, as the Riverfront Times put it, “that what appeared to be a cross-burning was a mere ‘Christian Identity Cross lighting ceremony’”.

“While he acknowledged he was a ‘honorary’ member of the local Ku Klux Klan,” the site added, McClanahan “said he’d never been a full-fledged member”.

A judge dismissed McClanahan’s suit, writing: “The complaint itself reflects that plaintiff holds the views ascribed to him by the ADL article, that is the characterisation of his social media presence and views as antisemitic, white supremacist, anti-government and bigoted.”

On Thursday, the Missouri Republican party said: “Our party upholds respect for all individuals, and we’re dedicated to addressing any challenges to these principles decisively.”

McClanahan said “the Missouri GOP knew exactly who I am” and alleged the state chair “told me when I signed up for Senate, paying my $500 fee … he had vetted me and knew I was a Christian identist and that I should just not say anything bad about the Jews”.

McClanahan also alleged Jay Ashcroft – the Missouri secretary of state, a candidate for governor and the son of John Ashcroft, an ex-governor, senator and US attorney general, once told him “the Blacks are a problem”.

The Missouri Republican party were “a bunch of anti-white hypocrites”, McClanahan said.

Jay Ashcroft called the allegations against McClanahan “serious and the photos damning”, adding: “Racism has no place in our party.”

Laura Burkhardt, a campaigner for gun control, tweeted a picture that appeared to show Ashcroft with McClanahan and to have been posted in January. McClanahan posted the same picture.

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