UPDATED: Charles “Bubba” Beckham of McNeil, Arkansas, used to masquerade as a klansman. Now he wants to masquerade as an Arkansas state senator. 

Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley broke a story earlier this week about state Senate Dist. 12 candidate Charles Beckham’s history of race-based intimidation. Beckham initially denied the stories.

As Brantley reported, Beckham and friends dressed up as klansmen for Halloween 2000, complete with official-looking regalia. The white-robed group reportedly stormed through the girls dormitory at his residential high school. Some of Beckham’s black classmates remember feeling terrified.

When first asked about the incident from his senior year of high school, Beckham lied. The Republican candidate called accusations that he dressed as a klansman “baseless,” “false” and “disgusting.” He suggested Democrats made up the story to smear him.

But on Thursday, reporter Mike Wickline with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette dug up court records corroborating the accounts of Beckham terrorizing classmates by wearing a KKK robe.

When the Democrat-Gazette reached him again, Beckham’s story changed. Beckham maintained that the accusations were “baseless and false,” but also seemed to acknowledge they were true. Beckham apologized and said he is a changed man.

The Arkansas Times and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette interviewed multiple people connected to the story this week. There can be no doubt Beckham used our country’s atrocious history of racism to terrorize fellow students 20 years ago at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. 

And did you catch that this was in the year 2000? This isn’t a case of a person “raised in a different era” who “didn’t know any better.” This is a case of a person who weaponized his race and the fear associated with a domestic terrorist organization to harass and terrorize his classmates in the year 2000.  

Moreover, this doesn’t appear to be a one-time incident with Beckham. Classmates say “rebel pride” was part of his identity, and that he routinely and proudly displayed relics of racism. 

Arkansas has a long way to go to deliver “liberty and justice for all.”  To get there, we need leaders who work toward equality, fairness, and economic opportunity. We don’t need politicians who glorify and weaponize our disgraceful past, then lie about doing so.

Now, some will say this was a youthful indiscretion on Beckham’s part. Others will say it was a joke. We say it’s disqualifying from public service. No more “jokes,” please.