GOP Arkansas candidate faces criticism over Klan costume

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A Republican candidate for the Arkansas Senate who dressed up like a member of the Ku Klux Klan for a Halloween event when he was in high school is facing criticism from former classmates and advocacy groups.

Charles Beckham III is challenging state Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, in Tuesday’s election. Local and statewide groups spoke out against him in a public letter Wednesday in which they urged him to drop out of the race, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. That same day, six of his former peers from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science bought a full page ad in the Magnolia Banner-News saying his decision to wear a Klan outfit “terrorized Black students.”

Beckham did not respond to the Democrat-Gazette’s requests for comment Thursday, but he has previously issued a statement apologizing “for any angst or grievances that I have caused anyone as a minor, as that is not the man that I am today.”

While many Republicans, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, have criticized Beckham’s actions, they have not called for him to drop out of the race.

Beckham initially denied reports from the Democrat-Gazette and the Arkansas Times about the incident and blamed Democrats for the allegations. He later admitted to “mistakes” when confronted with court records obtained last week by the Democrat-Gazette.

Beckham was dismissed from his Mississippi high school in 2000 after he and two friends wore Klan outfits to a school-sponsored Halloween event, according to the court records.

“I continue to unequivocally denounce the KKK and any like minded hate groups and the rumors that I am or have ever been part of the KKK are absolutely ridiculous,” a statement he issued last week said.

Eric Seymour, a former classmate whose name was attached to the ad denouncing Beckham, said he and other people who attended school with Beckham “want to make sure this story is heard.”

The Arkansas Public Policy Panel, immigrant advocacy group Arkansas United and the Arkansas NAACP are among those that urged Beckham to drop out of the race.

“Certain actions in life disqualify you from elected office. High on that list is dressing up as a Ku Klux Klan member and terrorizing black youth. Even if it was done as a Halloween prank. Even if it was in high school,” said a public letter signed by several groups.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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