An Oklahoma mayor told NBC News Monday that her husband “meant no harm” when he and a few friends dressed up as Ku Klux Klan members on Halloween and placed a cross beside a fire.
A photo of the men was posted online, where it quickly triggered intense criticism and cries of bigotry. The image, which was taken by someone who called the police, Garfield County Sheriff Jerry Niles told NBC News, shows two men clad in white hoods standing beside a cross.
Lahoma Mayor Theresa Sharp, 47, said the outcry has also included calls for her resignation.
“I have no intention of doing so,” she said, adding that her husband, Cary Sharp, 47, had simply made “some very bad choices.”
“It’s four good ol’ boys sitting around drinking and things got out of control,” she said.
Sharp said that neither she nor her husband are affiliated with the Klan, and that she was “devastated” and “embarrassed” by her husband’s costume.
“They didn’t see the harm in dressing up as the KKK, in comparison to other people dressing up as murderers and bombers,” she said.
Sharp, who has been mayor of Lahoma — population approximately 600 — for four years, said she learned of her husband’s Halloween plans while out trick-or-treating Saturday with one of her children.
She was with Lahoma’s police chief when, she said, he got a call from the county’s sheriff’s office: people on her street were dressed as KKK members.
“Neighbors were upset,” Sheriff Jerry Niles told NBC News. A deputy responded and it turned out to be Cary Sharp and a few friends. The officer asked them to stop, Niles said, “which they did."
Theresa Sharp said that the men never lit the cross on fire, nor did they intend to. "They basically had a stick on fire," she said. "They were holding it up next to the cross."
No charges were filed against the men, and in a Facebook post, Niles responded to calls that they be arrested by describing what they had done as “poor decision making.”
“The fire was legal, the consumption of alcohol was on private property, and no one had stated anyone made threats of [violent] acts to the deputy at that time,” he wrote. “The Constitution of the United States guarantees certain rights including the right of speech. It doesn’t say the speech has to be in good taste, of common sense or that we have a consensus of agreement.”
Niles told NBC News that he hadn't heard of the Klan in his section of Oklahoma, about 100 miles north of Oklahoma City, for "probably over 40 years."
The Southern Poverty Law Center's "hate map" shows two Neo-Nazi groups operating in Oklahoma, as well as the "Aryan Strikeforce," which it describes as racist skinheads.
The closest Klan members, according to the map, are across state lines in Texas and Arkansas.