The editor of a small-town Alabama newspaper who this week called for the extrajudicial killings of “socialist communists” after his history of racist and anti-Semitic editorials came to light declined to back down, apologize or even acknowledge that his call for violence advocated for the lynching of his fellow Americans.
“I don’t care what they say,” said Goodloe Sutton, the editor of the Democrat-Reporter newspaper in Linden. “They have a right to say whatever they want. They’re not important to me.”
Sutton, who is also the publisher and owner of the newspaper in Marengo County, published an editorial last week calling for “the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again” to clean up Washington, D.C., from “Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats (who) are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama.”
When asked to elaborate what he meant by “cleaning up D.C.,” the 80-year-old Sutton suggested lynching, saying “we’ll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them.”
Though locals say Sutton’s offensive editorials were a known quantity in Marengo County for years, the public’s reaction to his Feb. 14 editorial and subsequent comments to the Advertiser were swift and widespread. Once a lauded newspaperman, nationally acclaimed in the 1990s for his and his wife’s work in bringing down a corrupt local sheriff, his peers in journalism stripped him of past commendations after his comments were published. State leaders resolutely condemned his comments and editorials, and local residents decried the way Sutton was representing the area to the rest of the world.
The newspaper box outside the Linden newsroom on Thursday was filled with copies of a new Democrat-Reporter edition. On the front page, Sutton chose to run laudatory letters to the editor, purportedly from a former Marine, a tax preparer and a self-professed Klansman.
“As a klansman myself, believe me when I say, the klan is not dead around you,” Bradley Richardson of Mississippi wrote. Richardson has not yet returned an email requesting comment.
Asked if he just wanted to rile people up with his writings, Sutton said he wanted people to “think critically in the future.” But he said he didn’t run any critical letters he received: “They were from Democrats, I guess, because they used a lot of vulgar expletives.”
Despite saying he isn’t interested in the critical feedback he has received since Monday, Sutton did appear to care on Thursday, calling for the Advertiser to issue a correction regarding his call for lynchings by the KKK.
“When I was trying to relate to you the other day about hanging – not lynching – but hanging executions, I was going to draw a contrast between that and the French Revolution,” Sutton said, referring to the “cleaner” method of the guillotine.
But the editor continued to call for the KKK to ride into Washington to conduct what he referred to as executions – “You use the word lynching; I don’t.”
The editor questioned the reporter’s age and education before pulling out a Webster’s Dictionary, flipping through the pages until he came to the word he was looking for: “To murder an accused person by mob action and without lawful trial as by hanging.” Sutton refused to acknowledge that murders committed by the white supremacist hate group would constitute lynchings.
Sutton ranged from teasing to bombastic in the 45-minutes interview, though he appeared at a loss for words once, when an Advertiser reporter told him his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, had pulled him from its Hall of Fame.
“Mr. Sutton’s subsequent rebuttals and attempts at clarification only reaffirm the misguided and dangerous nature of his comments,” the school said in a statement Tuesday. “The School of Communication strongly condemns Mr. Sutton’s remarks as they are antithetical to all that we value as scholars of journalism, the media, and human communication.”
But Sutton later said he wasn’t worried about a legacy or the widespread condemnation of his comments.
“I’m quitting,” Sutton said, alluding to possibly selling the newspaper.
On Twitter, Joshua Benton, the director of Nieman Journalism Lab, posted an archived advertisement that Sutton posted in late 2018 in an attempt to sell the paper.
In the sales pitch, Sutton said the paper pulled in over $350,000 in “legal ads.” Benton posited that those ads may serve as a major funding source for the paper, which, if correct, would bring in $6,700 in government-mandated funding per weekly issue.
But Tonda Rush, general counsel for the National Newspaper Association, said she would be surprised if a paper of the Democrat-Reporter’s size brought in that amount of money on all public notices – which also include items from banks, attorneys and other privately-funded sources.
“That would amaze me. That’s a lot of public notice revenue,” she said. “That would be a large segment of revenue. It may be a definition issue.”
Without access to the paper’s internal numbers, however, Rush said she could only hazard a guess about the $350,000.
“You can tell everybody you ran me out of the newspaper business,” Sutton quipped to the Advertiser on Thursday.
Sutton’s inflammatory editorials far predate the 2018 for sale’s advertisement. An investigation by the Anti-Defamation League this week found multiple instances of racist and anti-Semitic language going back more than five years.
A review by the Alabama Political Reporter found headlines like “Homosexuals take black spotlight” and an editorial which stated “Slavery was a good lesson for Jews.”
In 2015, the paper ran a headline titled: “Selma black thugs murder Demopolite Saturday night.”
The paper also regularly republishes what appear to be old editorials from the 1930s and 1940s, which include multiple instances of racist slurs.
Justin Coleman, a 38-year-old who calls the Linden and Demopolis area home, said the Democrat-Reporter has “called for violence against minorities for years.”
“It has gone unchecked for decades,” said Coleman, who is African-American.
Coleman said people in the community have “become numb” to the weekly newspaper. But he’s frustrated by the idea that outsiders might have of Marengo County, which was about 51 percent black and 46 percent white, according to 2018 U.S. Census numbers.
Linden is located about 100 miles due west of Montgomery near the Mississippi border, deep in the rural Alabama Black Belt.
Contributing: Brian Edwards