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Missouri GOP moves to toss 'honorary' member of Ku Klux Klan from governor's race

The candidate, Darrell Leon McClanahan III, said a picture of him apparently giving a Nazi salute was from "a religious Christian Identity Cross lighting ceremony," not a cross burning.
The Missouri State Capitol
The Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo., in 2022.Jeff Roberson / AP file

The Missouri Republican Party said Thursday it was working to remove a Republican candidate for governor from the primary ballot after a picture of him appearing to do a Nazi salute while standing in front of a burning cross resurfaced online.

In the picture, the candidate, Darrell Leon McClanahan III, is seen apparently saluting alongside a hooded man in Klan robes.

“The Missouri Republican Party has 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,” the party said in a post on X Thursday. “We have begun the process of having Mr. McClanahan removed from the ballot as a Republican candidate.”

McClanahan responded in a post on X, saying in part, “The GOP knew exactly who I am. ... What a bunch of Anti-White hypocrites.”

In a statement to NBC News, McClanahan indicated he'd fight the move. "I filed legally and lawfully," he said. "They will need to file a civil complaint to remove me."

McClanahan's campaign website describes him as “the conservative voice for governor of Missouri” and lists one of his campaign promises as opposing “the woke agenda.”

The state GOP’s move, which was first reported by the Riverfront Times, came after Shamed Dogan, a former Republican state representative who’s Black, noted McClanahan’s inclusion on the primary ballot and urged the party to take action. Candidates paid their filing fees to run in the August primary on Tuesday.

The picture first garnered attention in 2022, when the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism published an article on McClanahan’s extremist history following his failed run for Senate. McClanahan initially sought the Republican nomination for the seat, lost that race, and then launched a failed run as an independent for a U.S. House seat — winning just one vote, according to the Missouri secretary of state’s office.

McClanahan filed a $5 million lawsuit against the ADL after the loss, alleging the organization had defamed him and engaged in “election interference.”

In the suit, McClanahan described himself as a “Pro-White man,” but he said he is “not and never has been” a member of the KKK. He was, however, “provided an Honorary 1-year membership” by the group’s state coordinator.

McClanahan said he “did attend in 2019 a private religious Christian Identity Cross lighting ceremony falsely described as a cross burning” in the ADL article. The ADL described Christian Identity as a “racist and antisemitic religious sect.”

McClanahan said he attended the ceremony in response to a Charlottesville Unite the Right protester being sentenced to seven years in prison.

“Plaintiff believed this was an unjust sentence” because a “Black Defendant” was sentenced to the same amount of time for manslaughter.

The protester McClanahan was referencing had been convicted of beating up a Black man.

A magistrate judge tossed McClanahan’s suit last year, finding he had not been defamed and that his lawsuit “itself reflects that Plaintiff holds the views ascribed to him by the ADL article, that is the characterization of his social media presence and views as antisemitic, white supremacist, anti-government, and bigoted.”

The judge pointed in part to his admitted attendance at the cross ceremony as well as his having stated that he wrote “an article for the KKK group’s newsletter from a ‘Pro-White perspective denouncing Anti-Whiteism [sic].’”

Republicans are heavily expected to hold on to the governorship of Missouri after the departure of Gov. Mike Parson, who is term-limited. GOP candidates include Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, and state Sen. Bill Eigel.