In a scathing statement, the American Civil Liberties Union blasted Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi for her controversial "public-hanging" remark.
"Sen. Hyde-Smith should be ashamed of herself," ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Jennifer Riley Collins and ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jeff Robinson said in a joint statement Tuesday.
"The fact that she chooses to use such repugnant language despite the ugly history in her state speaks to her lack of concern and knowledge about the experience of people who don't look like her."
During a campaign stop in Tupelo, Mississippi, on Nov. 2, Hyde-Smith said, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row," referring to a man next to her who was identified as a local rancher. Footage of the remark was first posted on Sunday.
Many understood the comment to have a link to Mississippi's history of racial violence and lynching, though Hyde-Smith insisted there was no negative connotation. She released a statement soon after the remark saying she "referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement" and "used an exaggerated expression of regard."
"Any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous," she added.
Hyde-Smith then appeared Monday at a news conference alongside GOP Gov. Phil Bryant to announce an endorsement from anti-abortion rights group the National Right to Life Committee and faced repeated questioning about the remark, deferring to her initial statement and refusing to comment further.
Hyde-Smith faces Democrat Mike Espy, who is black, in a runoff election for her Senate seat on Nov. 27 after neither candidate received 50 percent of the vote on Election Day.
"To celebrate the chance to sit in the front row of a public hanging demonstrates a profound ignorance of the state’s institutional legacy of racism," the ACLU said in its statement. "Sen. Hyde-Smith needs to be held accountable for her words."