Donald Trump accuses Hillary Clinton of having a KKK mentor

Donald Trump accuses Hillary Clinton of having a KKK mentor
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump continued his attempts to portray Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a "bigot" this weekend, highlighting the fact Clinton once praised late West Virginia senator and former Ku Klux Klansman Robert Byrd as a "mentor."

In a tweet sent Saturday morning, Trump wrote, "Crooked Hillary getting desperate. On TV bashing Trump. @CNN, she forgot how she said a KKK member was her mentor."

In the early 1940s, Byrd launched his political career by organizing a West Virginia chapter of the KKK, a decision he later claimed to seriously regret. Over the course of his career, Byrd evolved from a segregationist Southern Democrat into an advocate for civil rights, as well as one of the Senate's most senior members.

Though Byrd described his Klan affiliations as "sad mistake," he also referred to it as an eternal "albatross around my neck." It's true that Byrd never managed to fully escape the taint of the Klan; in 2001, the senator apologized for using the term "white niggers" in a Fox News interview.

It's also true that in 2010, Clinton praised Byrd upon his death as a "true American original, my friend and mentor" in a video recorded for the State Department. According to the New York Observer, Clinton and Byrd became friends after her election to the Senate in the early 2000s.

Source: YouTube

Clinton said it was "almost impossible to imagine the United States Senate without Robert Byrd. He was not just its longest serving member, he was its heart and soul."

But to put the remarks in context, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also praised Byrd upon his death. 

"Senator Byrd went from being an active member of the KKK to a being a stalwart supporter of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and many other pieces of seminal legislation that advanced the civil rights and liberties of our country," NAACP President Ben Jealous wrote at the time. 

According to CNN, Byrd personally apologized to then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2005 for his KKK past.

Clinton's associations with Byrd came to attention again this week in part because of renewed focus in the right-wing media — including Trump-affiliated site Breitbart — as Trump has attempted to reassure white voters he is not a racist by giving lip service to supposedly black and minority issues.

But while Trump is trying to portray Clinton as a racist and lecturing white voters about how much he cares about the poor state of minority communities (while not actually visiting them), he is the candidate who has won over the lion's share of the KKK set in 2016. Numerous neo-Nazi, white supremacist and far-right organizations have endorsed the Republican nominee, including the head of the American Nazi Party.

Meanwhile, perhaps due to Trump's discomforting ties to racist groups and history of bigoted rhetoric, his support among blacks and Latinos has tanked and seems unlikely to recover.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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