Updated at 6:03 p.m. ET
Once a celebrated investigative reporter, the publisher of a small Alabama newspaper achieved notoriety this week by saying the Ku Klux Klan should “clean out D.C.”
Goodloe Sutton, the publisher of the Democrat-Reporter, an old newspaper based in Linden, southwestern Alabama, told the Montgomery Advertiser on Monday that he had penned an incendiary editorial calling for white supremacists to “night ride again.”
“If we could get the Klan to go up there and clean out D.C., we’d all been better off,” he said. “We’ll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them,” Sutton added.
According to the Advertiser, he said Klansmen “didn’t kill but a few people.” He added, “The Klan wasn’t violent until they needed to be.”
He also compared the KKK, the oldest hate group in the United States, to the NAACP, a civil rights organization.
The editorial, published on Valentine’s Day, did not appear online like the rest of the paper. But two students at Auburn University’s school newspaper shared an image of the printed piece on Twitter, catapulting it into the digital sphere for scrutiny.
Sutton wrote that “Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats” were hatching a plot to raise taxes in Alabama. “People who do not understand the constitution do not like to be responsible.”
He said a “so what” attitude among Democrats led the Unites States into its biggest wars. “Seems like the Klan would be welcome to raid the gated communities up there,” he wrote.
Sutton was born “only 100 feet or so” from where the Democrat-Reporter, bought by his father, delivered news to the community.
He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi and was executive editor of the Student Printz, the school newspaper.
Sutton and his now-deceased wife, Jean, founded and owned numerous local newspapers, according to the university.
In the 1990s, “Ole Goodloe” exposed corruption in the Marengo County sheriff’s department, receiving numerous awards for his investigative reporting, including a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sunshine Award.
He told reporters that for the investigative work, he and his family faced the wrath of law enforcement — harassment, threats that drugs would be found in his home and rumors that he was an alcoholic with a philandering wife. “I was never scared, not one single minute, because I was doing the right thing,” he told The Associated Press in 1998.
That tenacious reporting put him in the running for a Pulitzer Prize.
But over time, the newspaper began to disseminate content that was more discriminatory than investigative. Under an anonymous byline, a 2012 editorial read, “What will happen when the Ku Klux Klan is taken over by black people trying to run from the federal government?” A 2016 editorial called then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “a fat aft woman with a tubby tummy and jowls of a hog.”
Neither Sutton nor the newspaper responded to calls and email requests for comment.
The University of Southern Mississippi condemned Sutton’s remarks in a statement, saying that his attempts to clarify the editorial “only reaffirm the misguided and dangerous nature of his comments.” His place in the School of Communication’s Hall of Fame have been removed, the school said.
Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association, told NPR in an email that the association’s board of directors “voted today to censure Goodloe Sutton and suspend the association membership of The Democrat-Reporter.”
“The members have a right under the bylaws to address the question of expulsion of the newspaper at our next membership meeting,” she added.
Lawmakers have voiced their own condemnation of Sutton in the wake of his editorial and remarks.
“For the millions of people of color who have been terrorized by white supremacy, this kind of ‘editorializing’ about lynching is not a joke — it is a threat,” said Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.
“What rock did this guy crawl out from under?” tweeted Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.). When he served as a U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, Jones tried and convicted two KKK members who were part of a 1963 church bombing that killed four girls.
He said the editorial is “absolutely disgusting” and called for Sutton’s immediate resignation. “I have seen what happens when we stand by while people-especially those with influence- publish racist, hateful views,” he said. “Words matter. Actions matter.”