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Georgia state lawmaker who defended KKK named to House committee post
A Republican state lawmaker in Georgia who has defended the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was named to a House committee post on Friday.
Georgia state Rep. Tommy Benton will chair the House Retirement Committee, overseeing retirement funds for teachers and state employees, after previously being condemned for controversial remarks related to the KKK and the Civil War, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Benton faced national backlash in 2016 when he insisted the KKK "was not so much a racist thing, but a vigilante thing to keep law and order."
"It made a lot of people straighten up," he told the paper at the time. "I'm not saying what they did was right. It's just the way things were."
"A great majority of prominent men in the South were members of the Klan," he continued. "Should that affect their reputation to the extent that everything else good that they did was forgotten?"
Benton also openly opposed a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., being erected at the Georgia Capitol, arguing that only elected officials should be memorialized at the statehouse, the newspaper reported.
The Jackson County Republican is also a staunch supporter of Confederate monuments.
He once pushed for the state to recognize Confederate Memorial Day as an official holiday, referring to the Southern states' role in the Civil War as a "four-year struggle for states' rights, individual freedom, and local governmental control." The resolution did not mention slavery.
Benton was previously stripped of his chairmanship position on the Human Relations and Aging Committee in 2017 after sharing an article with his colleagues in the Georgia House titled "The Absurdity of Slavery as the Cause of the War Between the States."
He was also removed from a civics education study committee, the paper noted.
State House Speaker David Ralston (R) named Benton to the committee on Friday, days before the U.S. celebrates what would have been King's 90th birthday.
"The Speaker's philosophy is that people deserve a second chance and that's what he has given Chairman Benton," said House spokesman Kaleb McMichen.
McMichen insisted that the committee placement was unrelated to the federal holiday honoring King.