Missouri governor candidate with alleged KKK ties can stay on GOP ballot, judge rules

A candidate for Missouri governor with alleged ties to the Ku Klux Klan can stay on the ballot as a Republican, a Cole County judge ruled on Friday.

Circuit Court Judge Cotton Walker rejected a lawsuit from the Missouri Republican Party seeking to remove the long shot candidate, Darrell Leon McClanahan III, from the August primary ballot.

Walker wrote in his order that the state GOP “willingly created the very association of which it now complains” by accepting McClanahan’s filing fees to run for office.

“The Plaintiff could have chosen to avoid potentially unwanted associations by rejecting filing fees for statewide candidates. It did not do so,” Walker wrote.

McClanahan, who resides in Milo, a small village in Vernon County, about 90 minutes south of Kansas City, filed to run for governor as a Republican and paid his $500 filing fee in February. The state party later disavowed McClanahan after a photo resurfaced online of him saluting in front of a burning cross next to a person who was wearing what appeared to be a hooded Ku Klux Klan robe.

David Roland, an attorney for McClanahan, said in a statement on Sunday that Walker did the right thing. Once a party accepts a candidate’s filing fee, “they no longer have the right to ask courts to unburden them of the responsibility for their choice,” he said.

“A party can disavow candidates that they come to believe do not represent the party’s values, but the ultimate choice has to be left to the party’s own voters,” Roland said.

A spokesperson for the Missouri GOP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An attorney for the party argued at a one-day trial earlier this month that the GOP had chosen to dissociate with McClanahan, saying he had a racist past.

“The only reason … the party seeks to have him not on the ballot is his avowed membership and endorsement of Ku Klux Klan principles,” Lowell Pearson, an attorney for the party, said during the trial.

After Friday’s ruling, McClanahan’s name is poised to appear at the top of the ballot in the Republican primary for governor, according to the unofficial candidate filing list on the Missouri Secretary of State Office’s website.

The push to remove McClanahan comes as Missouri Republicans look to hold onto control of the governor’s office after Gov. Mike Parson terms out of office. The major Republican candidates include Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and Sen. Bill Eigel from Weldon Spring.

The lawsuit from the Missouri GOP included the photo of McClanahan in front of the burning cross, social media posts “using Nazi imagery,” and a social media post that uses the phrase “White Power.”

However, while the state party argued that it did not know about McClanahan’s past, this was not the first time McClanahan has run for elected office as a Republican in Missouri.

The Anti-Defamation League in 2022 wrote about the photo of McClanahan in front of the burning cross after he ran an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate.

McClanahan, in response last year, filed a defamation suit against the organization to have the article removed.

In court filings, McClanahan described himself as a “Pro-White man” who is “dedicated to traditional Christian values.” He said in the lawsuit that he has never been a member of the KKK, but was instead provided an “Honorary 1-year membership” by a Missouri coordinator.

McClanahan told The Star in a text message in March that he received an honorary 1-year membership to the League of the South — which the ADL condemns as a white supremacist group.

A federal magistrate judge tossed the lawsuit last year, finding that McClanahan did not sufficiently allege a claim against the organization.

“The Complaint 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 wrote in the order.

In a separate case involving Vernon County Republicans this month, a circuit court judge sided with the county’s Republican committee, ruling that eight Republicans would not be allowed to run on the GOP ballot. They had refused to take the committee’s “moral values” survey, so the committee refused to cash the candidates’ filing fees.