Dismukes faces criticism, calls to resign for celebrating Klan leader

Dismukes faces criticism, calls to resign for celebrating Klan leader

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Criticisms continued to mount Monday against an Alabama lawmaker who posted on social media pictures of himself speaking Sunday at an event honoring a known Ku Klux Klan leader.

State Rep. Will Dismukes’ attempts Monday to explain his actions prompted a fellow GOP lawmaker from Prattville to call for him to resign.

“(Dismukes) does not represent my views or the views of the vast majority of people of District 88,” state Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who is represented by Dismukes in the House, said on social media Monday evening. “The post is bad enough, the timing is even worse, but the real problem is that an elected official in 2020 would attend a celebration of the life of someone that led a group that terrorized and killed other human beings. He has had 24 hours to understand why people are so upset, but his interview on WSFA a few moments ago confirms that he is lacking in understanding and judgement – he should resign immediately.”

In an interview with WSFA’s Jennifer Horton Monday, Dismukes said he was surprised by the reactions Monday and attributed it to “anti-Southern sentiment.”

“There a lot of people who are seeming to be more and more offended,” Dismukes said.

He said he didn’t know about Nathan Bedford Forrest’s connection to the Ku Klux Klan or that civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis’ funeral procession was taking place a few miles away.

“You know, hey, that’s on me,” Dismukes said. “That wasn’t even running through my mind. There were two things that weren’t running through my mind and that’s one, the passing of Representative John Lewis and the next is Nathan Bedford Forrest’s connection to the Ku Klux Klan.”

Dismukes, who belongs to the Prattville Dragoons: Sons of Confederate Veterans, also said his ability to represent the district that includes portions of Autauga and Elmore counties has nothing to do with his heritage or his past.

On Sunday, Dismukes, who is also a business owner and a Baptist pastor, posted a picture to Facebook and said, “had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration.”

The post has since been set to private and can only be viewed by friends of Dismukes, but screenshots were widespread on social media by Sunday evening.

Forrest, a Tennessee native, was a Confederate general in the Civil War and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Dismukes’ post said the event took place at Fort Dixie, which according to media reports is on private property near Selma.

Forrest’s birthday was July 13, 1821, a full two weeks before the celebration.

The same day as the Fort Dixie event, Lewis’ body was carried over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma a final time as part of multiple events in Alabama honoring his life.

On Twitter Sunday, Alabama Democrats pounced on Dismukes’ post, pointing out that both events were in Selma, “but there really aren’t two sides to this.”

“This weekend while most people were celebrating the life of John Lewis, a true American Hero, Will Dismukes was in the same city celebrating Nathan Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the KKK,” wrote Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, who chairs the Alabama Democratic Party. “This should clear up any questions about whose side Will Dismukes is on.”

Multiple state Democrats have now called on Dismukes to resign.

Later Sunday, Lewis’ body laid in state at the Alabama Capitol as Democrat and Republican leaders attended to pay their respects.

One high-ranking GOP Alabama House member appeared to criticize Dismukes’ social media post Sunday, without mentioning him by name.

“I cannot fathom why anyone in 2020 celebrates the birthday of the 1st KKK Grand Wizard,” Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, said on Twitter Sunday night. He’s the third ranking member of the House GOP leadership team.

“And while the body of a civil rights icon beaten by the Klan lies at state Capitol being honored by GOP/Dem leaders from all over the state. This mentality does not rep my party or my faith.”

By midday Monday, Dismukes addressed the criticisms with another post on his Facebook account, saying he had no intention of glorifying the Ku Klux Klan or disrespecting Lewis. The Prattville lawmaker referred to the Klan’s “atrocities and actions they committed are a disgrace to our country.”

He also said he made the Sunday comments independent from other state lawmakers.

“My regret is that I have allowed them to be put in a negative light,” Dismukes wrote. “If you disagree with me and my beliefs do not hold them under the same umbrella. I can live with a dislike for me, but not fellow members, or members of my own personal family.”

Dismukes’ explanation didn’t appear to satisfy state GOP Party Chairman Terry Lathan.

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions,” Lathan said in a written statement. “So does the Republican Party.
“Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision makers of his political future.
“… It is one thing to honor one’s Southern heritage, however, it is completely another issue to specifically commemorate the leader of an organization with an indisputable history of unconscionable actions and atrocities toward African-Americans. I strongly urge his constituents to contact Rep. Dismukes to articulate and share with him their thoughts on his personal actions.”
The other two House GOP leaders, Speaker Mac McCutheon and Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, each issued statements Monday making clear that Dismukes’ views were not in step with the 75-member House Republican Caucus.

“The Alabama House cannot police the beliefs, statements, and activities of its members outside the Legislature as that is a job best assigned to voters in each House district across the state,” McCutcheon said.

“It is important to note, however, that I and many other members of the House devoted our weekend toward honoring an Alabama native and civil rights icon who dedicated his life to securing freedom, liberty ,and equality for all Americans.”

The College Republican Federation of Alabama went step further and called on Dismukes to resign.

“(Dismukes’) Facebook post of him at an event that celebrated former KKK Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest is unacceptable and has no place in the state Legislature or the Republican Part,” the federation’s statement said.

Dismukes was elected to the House in 2018. His district includes portions of Autauga and Elmore counties. He is a Baptist pastor and owns a commercial flooring company.