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

FILE - The Missouri state flag is seen flying outside the Missouri State Capitol Building on January 17, 2021 in Jefferson City, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

A Missouri candidate who said he had received a "honorary one-year membership" to the Ku Klux Klan can stay on the Republican ballot, a judge ruled this week. 

The Missouri Republican Party had been working for months to remove Darrell McClanahan from their August primary ballot after a former state lawmaker posted photos on social media that appear to show McClanahan with Knights Party leaders and making the Nazi salute in front of a burning cross.

McClanahan confirmed the accuracy of the photos to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this year. 

While McClanahan disputes being a member of the Ku Klux Klan, he says he was given an honorary one-year membership. And he said he attended a "private religious Christian Identity Cross lighting ceremony falsely described as a cross burning."

McClanahan has described himself as "pro-white" but denies being racist or antisemitic.

The Missouri GOP accepted party dues from McClanahan when he signed up as a candidate to replace Gov. Mike Parson in February of this year. But now GOP party leaders say they don’t want to associate with him because of his views.

Missouri GOP lawyers have said party leaders did not realize who McClanahan was when he signed up as a candidate back in February.

McClanahan has argued that the Missouri GOP was aware of the beliefs. He previously ran as a Republican for U.S. Senate in 2022.

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On Friday, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Cotton Walker denied the Missouri GOP’s request to kick McClanahan out of the August Republican primary.

In his decision, Walker wrote that the Republican Party "has made clear that it does not endorse his candidacy, and it remains free to publicly disavow McClanahan and any opinions the plaintiff believes to be antithetical to its values."

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.