Student journalist reveals criticized Alabama newspaper’s future editors might have connection to KKK

AUBURN, ALA. — An Alabama print-only newspaper, the Democratic-Reporter, whose former editor-in-chief, Goodloe Sutton, made headlines when he wrote an op-ed that stated that ‘Klan needs to rise again’ in its February 2019 issue, might have sold the newspaper to two new co-editors, C.T. Harless and Sabrina McMahan, and one of those editors have an alleged connection to the KKK.

Photo above: New owners C.T. Harless and Sabrina McMahan of the Democratic-Recorder, Linden, Ala.

By Hannah Lester, reporter, Auburn University

In an article by the Alabama Political Reporter, reporter Chip Brownlee, also editor of the Auburn University’s The Auburn Plainsman, reported that in conversations with C.T. Harless he said he heard a mixture of denials of Harless’ association with the KKK and how his legal name was connected with other names including his brother’s, who might be the wizard of the American White Knights.

Read complete article here.

Brownlee told that he received a tip that one of the new co-owners, C.T. Harless, might have ties with the KKK. Calling Harless, Brownlee said at first they had a normal conversation about his vision for the paper and plans for the future.

“At the end of that phone conversation, I asked him, you know, straight up, are you Chuck Harless, who’s been quoted in numerous newspaper articles, has been on Fox News Radio as the [Imperial Wizard] of the American White Knights, which is a Klu Klux Klan group based out of Knoxville, Tennessee.”

Chip Brownlee, editor-in-Chief, Auburn Plainsman and reporter Alabama Political Reporter

After Harless denied the association, Brownlee said he kept digging. When he called again to talk to Harless a second time, Brownlee said his story had changed and now Harless claimed his brother was associated with the group, but not himself.

Chip Brownlee is also a student member of SPJ Auburn University Linkedin photo

Then someone, claiming to be Harless’ brother, who’s identity was not confirmed, called Brownlee. The caller claimed his name was both Chuck and C.T. Harless. Additionally, the caller said that both he and his brother used the name C.T. Harless.

“Obviously, this whole story, I mean it was just kind of a roller coaster from the beginning,” Brownlee said. “I mean there were threats of lawsuits. He was very intimidating and throughout the whole process I just had to keep, you know, pushing through it.”

Chip Brownlee

“I think the most difficult aspect of it for me was just working through the records and trying to tie everything together.”

Adam Powell, President of SPJ Alabama, said he has strong thoughts regarding the sale of the Alabama newspaper to a possible a white supremacist or racist organization.

Adam Powell, SPJ Alabama president

“So if you’re a member of a racist organization, you cannot be trusted to objectively cover issues of race and with Linden being a community in the Black Belt race, [it] is an issue we have to deal with constantly,” said Powell. “There’s something to be said for an editor, publisher, reporter, any journalist that you know, [that] you have to be able to properly handle issues of race if you’re going to deal with minority communities.”

While Powell said that he isn’t sure there is any legal action that can be taken against the Democratic-Reporter, there are other ways to fight back.

He suggests that readers, advertisers and other sources for the publication cut the Democratic-Reporter off. If sources don’t talk to the paper, then there may not be stories and if advertisers don’t purchase ads then there will likely be no funding.

“Then eventually they’ll have nothing to cover, they’ll have no sources, no advertisers, no readers and they’ll go out of business, which right now I think is the best thing that could happen,” Powell said.

Adam Powell, SPJ Alabama president

Additionally, Powell said that not only is the paper in the hands of potential white supremacists, but possible liars. If Harless continually goes back on what he says, there will likely be less trust coming from his readers.

Brownlee said he had a similar sentiment and said that despite alleged white supremacist ties, these co-owners also do not have any newspaper experience.

“I sincerely hope that there’s a better future for that paper,” Brownlee said.

Powell said that in addition to the community not supporting the paper, Alabama journalists and newsrooms are holding the Democratic-Reporter accountable now and in the future.

“Thank goodness Alabama journalists are doing their job of harping on this continually,” he said. “We can’t let it fade from people’s vision. They have to be reminded constantly that this is going on. Whether we blatantly say or not that this is not ok, people know. People know it’s not ok.”

Adam Powell
Michael Koretzky, SPJ Region 3 Director, SPJ national board member

Michael Koretzky, SPj Region 3 director and SPJ national board member, said that since the first editorial that put the Democratic-Reporter in the news, he has not seen an outcry from the community, although he also wondered if this was because there was no outlet for them to voice their concerns. Additionally, the community may fear standing up to the Democratic-Reporter.

“I think they should reach out to any reporter outside their community that’s covered this,” Koretzky said. “I think they should go on the record, someone brave should go on the record and say ‘this is how our community — now that we have a media attention — here’s how our community really works’.”

Michael Koretzky, SPJ Region 3 Director, SPJ national board member

The community of Linden has relied the Democratic-Reporter for their hyper-local news in this small Alabama community.

“These small communities, they still need their local newspapers,” Powell said. “They need a local newspaper or news source they can trust. They need people of integrity, of honestly and they’re not getting that from their local newspaper. It’s impossible to get that from their local paper.”

Hannah Lester is the 2019 SPJ Region 3 spring intern and reporter for She will be graduating from Auburn University this spring with a major in journalism.