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Editor who wrote KKK editorial says he sold his paper. One of the new owners has Klan ties

Chip Brownlee

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The March 28 front page of The Democrat-Reporter.

The Alabama newspaper publisher who called for a return of the Ku Klux Klan has apparently sold his newspaper to a man with possible ties to the KKK.

C.T. Harless — one of the paper’s two new co-owners, according to a front-page story in the March 28 issue of The Democrat-Reporter — has apparent ties to the American White Knights, a KKK-aligned group based out of Tennessee.

In a phone interview Thursday, Goodloe Sutton, the longtime editor-publisher of the small newspaper in Linden, Alabama, told the Alabama Political Reporter that he sold his newspaper to “C.T. Harless” and “Sabrina McMahan.” The story that appeared on the front page of the newspaper Thursday said the same.

Over the course of the next several days, however, as I dug through records, chased down leads and conducted numerous phone interviews with “C.T.” and his alleged brother “Chuck” — who apparently also goes by “C.T.” — what seemed to be the simple sale of a troubled newspaper to new owners morphed into a strange story.

There were big lies, phony names, an ever-shifting story and lots of threats.

It all started with a tip and a simple question: Are you Chuck Harless, the imperial wizard of the American White Knights of the KKK?

The answer would not be so simple.

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C.T. Harless’s legal name, according to arrest records, mugshots and other public records APR found, is Charles Tyler Harless. On social media and in public records, he has used a variety of names — Charles, Ty, Chuck and, as of last week, Chris.

Over the course of several conversations, his story changed, though he has continued to deny association with the Klan. He shifted from knowing nothing about the allegations to relegating his Klan connections to a brother.

And, once confronted with additional information, he changed his story again to outright deny owning the newspaper at all, despite the story on The Democrat-Reporter’s front page and the staff box on the paper’s second page.

He deleted social media accounts, changed his voicemail messages, later disconnected his phone number, threatened lawsuits and had someone claiming to be his brother call me.

The Sale

In our first phone interview Thursday, C.T. Harless initially confirmed he bought the paper from Sutton. He said his only goal was to bring back a community newspaper focused on covering community issues.

“I monitor Facebook, and sometimes things come to your attention that you want to do something about,” Harless said. “I had seen where Mr. Sutton had written several, we will call them less-than-stellar, editorials.”

APR has not been able to independently verify the sale of the newspaper, though both Sutton and Harless said it was sold as of last week. The news comes after the Associated Press reported on March 21 that a deal to sell the paper was underway.

No paperwork registering the formal sale or transfer of The Democrat-Reporter had been filed with the Marengo County Probate Court or the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office as of Monday evening.

The story published on the front page of The Democrat-Reporter on March 28 announcing the purchase of the paper by Sabrina McMahan and C.T. Harless.

The sale reported on the front page of the paper comes after weeks of national coverage surrounding Sutton’s editorial, which I first uncovered. The paper’s sale to a man apparently connected to the Klan is another remarkable turn of events.

Sutton published that editorial on Feb. 14 entitled “Klan needs to ride again.” In it, he called for the Klan to “raid the gated communities” of Democrats and “Democrats in the Republican Party” who are “plotting to raise taxes in Alabama.”

In late February, he briefly turned over editorial control of the paper to an African-American woman, Elecia Dexter, but after continued interference, she quit on March 17, leaving 80-year-old Sutton with the paper again.

In a phone conversation, Sutton would not provide any details about why he sold the paper to Harless and McMahan.

‘No, I’m C.T. Harless’

I first learned of the paper’s reported sale on Thursday after following the story for weeks since I first tweeted a photo of The Democrat-Reporter editorial in February.

A formal sale would have been a big development.

C.T. Harless and Sabrina McMahan as they appear in a photo on the front page of The Democrat-Reporter.

I called Sutton on Thursday at The Democrat-Reporter office in Linden. He told me it was his last day at the paper — he’d sold it, a task he’d been trying to accomplish for years since the newspaper began losing advertising, its subscribers, its printing presses and its former offices over the last decade.

Sutton said he sold the paper to “C.T. Harless” and “Sabrina McMahan,” two people from out of the state. Harless would run the day-to-day operations as publisher, and McMahan would handle marketing and distribution, according to the story on the front page of the paper.

When Harless first called me back that evening, he was congenial. We spoke about his plans for the paper, his goals and a little about his background.

“What people in America are missing today is information and reporting about their hometown and their community,” Harless said. “I watched the newspaper and did a lot of research. At one time, when his father owned it, it was a very stellar publication.”

He told me he was from a small town in Indiana — Mooresville, just outside of Indianapolis — and that he’d joined the military. He worked in the timeshare business, had most recently lived in Key West, Florida, and would be moving to Tuscaloosa to run the newspaper, he told me.

At the end of our conversation, I asked him about the tip I received — that he was connected to the Klan.

“No, I’m C.T. Harless from Key West, Florida,” he said with a slight laugh.

I didn’t have anything else to go on at that point, so we ended the conversation there. He later called back, and in a quick conversation, he again denied being involved with the Klan. This time he was angry.

He asked me who sent the tip and said that his lawyers would be involved. He attempted to place blame on the former editor of The Democrat-Reporter, Elecia Dexter, alleging she was the one who was saying he was in the KKK.

That was untrue. I did not get the tip from Dexter.

He told me his name was “Christopher Thomas Harless,” and that he wasn’t in the Klan. We ended the conversation again, but my suspicions remained. That night, I began digging again.

I plugged the phone number he used to call me into Google.

Harless’s number was also used to register the domain for a website of the American White Knights, the Tennessee-based KKK group. The website’s registration email is also listed as [email protected]

We found Facebook pages for a “Ty Harless” with pictures of a person who looked just like the Harless on the front page of The Democrat-Reporter.

Posts from the page of “Ty Harless.” The page was deleted over the weekend after the conversations with Harless. We blurred the face of a child in the bottom right photo.

 

That page was deleted after we confronted Harless about it, but we have screenshots. Statuses on the page said things like “Good morning to all members of the American White Knights,” and in another status, he said he was the “imperial wizard” of the American White Knights.

A “Sabrina Vaughn” is also mentioned on the “Ty Harless” Facebook page.

When I first attempted to call Harless back Friday morning after making those discoveries on Thursday, his phone went to voicemail. The voice message on the line said the phone belonged to Chuck Harless, the same name used in the email address registered to the American White Knights domain and the same name listed in several newspaper articles about the American White Knights.

That voicemail has since been changed — twice. Once to “C.T. Harless” and later to “The Democrat-Reporter.”

That cell phone number he was using was disconnected on Monday.

The Chuck Harless name has appeared in numerous newspaper articles, and it’s the name he used when he spoke to Fox News Radio’s Alan Colmes in 2014.

We found no public records matching a “Christopher Thomas Harless” of the same age in Tennessee or Florida.

The story changes

When I finally reached him Friday and confronted him with what I’d found, he told me he bought the phone number from a flea market eight months ago. I asked him about the voicemail saying Chuck Harless, and he hung up.

I called back a short time later.

“I am going to contact my attorney,” Harless told me. “I don’t know what you guys are trying to pull; however, I am going to contact my legal counsel this morning.”

He surprisingly stayed on the line, and his story changed again as we continued to talk.

Harless told me he wasn’t actually the owner of the paper. Instead, he said, it was owned by a limited liability corporation that he was employed by. Then he threatened to tell the LLC about my questioning regarding his identity and association with the Klan.

“I’m sure they’ll be pleased to contact you,” Harless said. “No, I do not [own it].”

He continued to deny association with the Klan, questioning the methods I used to contact him.

He wanted to know why I called Sutton instead of emailing the paper’s new email address or contacting him through the number listed on the front page of the paper. In reality, he was the one who called me after I left a message with Sutton at the paper’s office.

His story about the ownership of the paper continued to change, conflicting with what was printed on the front page of The Democrat-Reporter and conflicting with what he had initially told me in previous phone calls.

“The LLC that owns the newspaper — I do not know anything about them,” Harless said. “But they contacted me and asked me to do the advertising for the newspaper, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. There’s another lady involved, Sabrina McMahan, who actually, if you want to know the letter of the law, actually 100 percent owns the newspaper. Okay?”

He said she was 29-years-old and knew “absolutely nothing” about newspapers or advertising, so she (or the LLC, he was never clear) brought him on.

“What I am saying is that Sabrina McMahan is the owner of The Democrat-Reporter. All I’m doing is working with her as an employee, basically, to acquire some advertising for her and to help her get the circulation back up to where it was,” he said. “Once that’s done and over with, my employment with them will be terminated.”

That story conflicts with what was printed on the front page of the newspaper and what is listed on the staff box on the second page, which says he is the editor-publisher. It also conflicts with Harless’s initial account on Thursday, when he told me he bought the paper.

When asked why the article in the newspaper said he was a co-owner, Harless said it was a marketing maneuver.

“Well, because that’s what they wanted it to say,” Harless said. “I don’t have the credit to buy a new car, how do you think for a minute that I would have the financial ability to buy a newspaper for $75,000? … They wanted to bill it as a co-ownership because of the difference in age of the actual owner and myself.”

We weren’t able to confirm who formally owns the newspaper without official documentation, which both McMahan, who contacted us by text message, and Harless have refused to provide. McMahan said she officially bought the whole newspaper on Friday.

‘I’ll get the KKK to call you’

While he initially denied any association with the Klan, Harless’ story continued to evolve.

During our phone conversation Friday morning, he changed his story about where he got his phone number and his connection to the Klan. He told me that he has a brother, a “Chuck Tyler Harless,” who is the imperial wizard of the American White Knights.

“Here’s the truth — sucks for my brother. My name is Christopher Thomas. This was my brother’s phone for a while,” Harless said. “Like I told you, he sold it to me at a yard sale. … I bought it from him. I’ve been using it, and I have not bothered to change the voicemail because usually, I catch all the calls that come through here.”

Then he said he would have “his brother” call me.

“If you would like for Chuck to call you, then I will give him your phone number today,” Harless said with a laugh. “If you want to talk to an idiot about the Ku Klux Klan, alright, then you talk to Chuck,” Harless said, referencing the Chuck Harless name used in connection with the grand wizard of the American White Knights.

“I will give him your phone number, and I am sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he will call you and tell you everything you want to hear,” Harless said. “After I get through talking to Chuck this morning, he’s going to be very less than polite to you.”

His threatening tone continued.

“I can’t wait to talk to Chuck this morning,” Harless said. “I’m going to tell him, ‘Little young Chip wishes to talk to the Ku Klux Klan.'”

As the conversation continued, he said he was present at his brother’s house when “Chuck” registered the American White Knights domain along with another individual, Randy Musgrove, whose name also appears on the domain registration.

Harless said no one in Linden was concerned about the real identity of the new owners of the newspaper.

“For you to sit here and tell me that the residents of Linden are concerned about who owns the newspaper, you’re a f—ing liar,” he said. “You’re talking out of both sides of your face here.”

Harless continued his threats.


A portion of my phone conversation with Harless.


“If I do not receive an apology phone call from you today, guess what next week’s article is going to be on in the newspaper?” Harless said. “You and your harassment. … When it goes into print and it talks about the harassment of a competitor’s newspaper, I can at least get you some fame and notoriety.”

He said he wouldn’t as long as I called and apologized.

‘My name is C.T. Harless — Chuck Harless’

About 15 minutes after I hung up with Harless on the phone Friday, I got a call from someone who said he was his brother.

“My name is C.T. Harless — Chuck Harless,” the man said, apparently stumbling between C.T. Harless and Chuck Harless. “I’m the one that’s in the Klan.”

He said his name was Chuck Tyler Harless. I asked why he said he was C.T. Harless if that was the nickname his brother used. Apparently they were as confused as I was.

“His is Chris Thomas Harless. He’s named after our grandfather,” the man said. He said he gave him the phone a month or two ago after an aunt died. “The phone is mine — in my name and everything, and the website is all mine. I’m the bad guy of it.”

Of course, only part of that adds up to what The Democrat-Reporter Harless told me earlier in the day.


My conversation with the man who said he was C.T. Harless’s brother, Chuck.


And, the man’s voice — the man claiming to be C.T.’s brother “Chuck” — was noticeably different from the voice of the man who appeared as “Chuck Harless,” imperial wizard of the American White Knights, on the Alan Colmes show on Fox News Talk Radio in 2015. Their tone, speech patterns and inflection were markedly different.


Watch the latest video at foxnews.com

Chuck Harless’s appearance on Fox News Radio with Alan Colmes.


I’m not sure who called me Friday claiming to be “Chuck” but it wasn’t the same Chuck from the KKK who appeared on Colmes’ show.

The reality is that the answer to this whole confusing family tree appears to be a lot simpler.

C.T. Harless has a Facebook page, which I found Monday, and on the page, he is friends with his brother, Bradley Todd Harless, from Mooresville, who appears to have no connection to the Klan. A search of Charles Tyler Harless and the brother’s name yielded the obituary of their late mother, published by an Indiana funeral home in Indianapolis just miles from Mooresville — the location matching up perfectly with Democrat-Reporter Harless’s origin story.

In that obituary, Charles Tyler Harless is listed as only having that one brother of the same last name. The rest of the siblings are sisters, which also matched up with Harless’s account during our phone conversation.

The wife of Charles Tyler Harless, according to the mother’s 2017 obituary? “Sabrina.”

We also found arrest records in Mississippi, Indiana and North Carolina for Charles Tyler Harless with mugshots matching the photos of the Harless published on the front page of The Democrat-Reporter last week.

(Left) The photo published on the front page of The Democrat-Reporter. (Right) Mugshots found under the name Charles Tyler Harless in Mississippi.

Continued denials

When I tried to reach Harless again Monday after taking the weekend to do more research, I reached a dead line on the phone we used to contact one another Thursday and Friday of last week.

It was disconnected.

I tried calling The Democrat-Reporter’s newsroom, where I left a message for Harless with someone working the phone. About 15 minutes later, I got a text message.

“I am relaying a message Mr. Harless does not wish to receive any further calls from you if this persists he will file harassment charges he said do not call our office again,” the text read.

We kept trying to give Harless an opportunity to comment on our report.

Josh Moon, another reporter at APR who has helped with this story, attempted to contact them, too.

In text messages between Moon and a woman who said she was McMahan, McMahan claimed that Harless was a contract employee and that she did not look into his background before hiring him.

She said she would sue if this story was published.

“Run the f—ing story I will see your a– in court,” she said.

APR investigative reporter Josh Moon contributed to this report.

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