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Biden did not eulogize former KKK “grand wizard”

October 10, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: When former KKK Grand Wizard Robert Byrd died in 2010, he was eulogized by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Partly false. Biden did eulogize Sen. Robert C. Byrd when he died, but Byrd was not a “grand wizard” in the Ku Klux Klan. He was a member of the KKK in the early 1940s but later renounced his affiliation with the hate group.

THE FACTS: Byrd died in 2010 at the age of 92, and was the longest serving senator in American history.

A widely shared post on Facebook claims, “When he died in 2010, former KKK Grand Wizard Robert Byrd was eulogized by Joe Biden. Go ahead Facebook fact-checkers. Verify this. I DARE YOU!”

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But the post is misleading. Byrd never held the post of “grand wizard” in the Ku Klux Klan — a top leadership role — though he was a member of the organization in the early 1940s.

As a young man in West Virginia, Byrd recruited members to a local KKK chapter and was elected to the post of “exalted cyclops” according to his 2005 autobiography. Later, in 1964, when Byrd had become a Democratic U.S. senator, he stalled and opposed major civil rights legislation.

Byrd later renounced his early political views. He called his KKK affiliation “an extraordinarily foolish mistake” in his autobiography.

“My only explanation for the entire episode is that I was sorely afflicted with tunnel vision — a jejune and immature outlook — seeing only what I wanted to see because I thought the Klan could provide an outlet for my talents and ambitions,” Byrd wrote.

When Byrd died in 2010, the civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, praised him for his capacity to change.

“Senator Byrd reflects the transformative power of this nation,” read a statement by NAACP president Ben Jealous. “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.”

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Biden did eulogize Byrd at his funeral, and called him a “mentor” and a “friend.”

Since 2019, posts on social media have criticized Biden and suggested he is racist for associating with Byrd. But these posts often do not mention that Byrd had changed his positions decades earlier and apologized for his previous views.

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Associated Press writer Marcos Martínez Chacón contributed to this article from Mexico City.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536