NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Voters in a Tennessee city have firmly rejected a far-right mayoral candidate after she refused to denounce her white supremacist supporters, and the incumbent mayor decried hate and divisiveness as he celebrated his election win.
Gabrielle Hanson lost the race in Franklin by a wide margin Tuesday, according to unofficial results with all voting centers reporting. The Associated Press did not count votes in this election.
Hanson, an alderman for the city about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Nashville, also faced criticism about her background beyond the white supremacist support, much of which was uncovered in investigations by WTVF-TV. The controversy was amplified in national coverage, including by comedian John Oliver on his HBO show, “Last Week Tonight.”
With tensions already running high, the election was punctuated by the Williamson Herald newspaper revealing on Tuesday that flyers about “so-called ’leftist journalist’ propaganda” had been attached to their building.
The newspaper’s publisher wrote that the organizations responsible also threatened one of the publication’s reporters, its advertisers, and him and his wife. WTVF-TV reporter Phil Williams posted images of flyers that name him and include his photo, and social media posts intended to intimidate him.
“Neo-Nazis don’t have a place in our town,” Derby Jones, the newspaper’s publisher, wrote on Tuesday. “I say enough is enough. We have never seen this level of hate and divisiveness in Franklin. And to be so blatantly targeted and threatened is uncalled for.”
Incumbent Franklin Mayor Ken Moore called his win “a great victory for Franklin, Tennessee.”
“The people of Franklin have spoken and said: ’We’re not going to put up with the divisiveness, hate, anger that we’ve seen during this election,'” Moore told reporters during an election night party Tuesday.
Hanson did not respond to a phone message and email from The Associated Press on Wednesday. She loses her seat as an alderman because of her mayoral run.
Even before her campaign, Hanson drew backlash for saying in a radio appearance that she had a premonition that there would be an active shooter ahead of The Covenant School shooting that killed six people in Nashville, and she shared an unfounded theory about the shooting on the air.
She also drew a rebuke for criticizing Nashville International Airport for sponsoring a Juneteenth event.
The open show of support from white supremacists came during a mayoral candidate forum at Franklin City Hall this month. On the social media platform Telegram, one of the men called himself “an actual literal Nazi,” WTVF-TV reported. Another was filmed in Cookeville this year giving a Nazi salute outside a business that was hosting a drag show fundraiser, alongside people in Proud Boys gear and someone with a Nazi flag.
Hanson later said she is “not, nor have I ever been associated with any white supremacy or Nazi-affiliated group.” At a city council meeting the following week, Hanson would not speak against the group's attendance at the candidate event, saying, "never did they lay a hand on anyone and they were very respectful while they were here."
“When they wanted to come, because they were concerned about what they saw on the dark web, I said, 'please do not make a scene if you're going to come,'” Hanson said. “If they want to support you in your reelection, if they want to support me, that is their right. And we don't discriminate in this community against anyone.”
WTVF-TV also reported that one of the white supremacists who attended the candidates forum, Sean Kauffmann, sat for a photo with Hanson and an interview with one of her supporters, and that they were posted on Telegram.
The day before the election, Hanson defended the group's political activism, repeating that one of the men, Brad Lewis, was her client as a real estate agent. She called him “such a cool guy because he just doesn’t care what people think.”
“You can be friends or be a service provider as a Realtor to anyone without necessarily believing in the same things that they do, or being like that person," Hanson said on Patriot Punkcast. “And I'm just going to tell you, from what I've seen, I do not see white supremacist and I do not see Nazi.”
WTVF-TV's investigations delved deeper.
One spurred Hanson to admit she was arrested for promoting prostitution in the mid-1990s in Texas. She says she was answering phones for what she believed was a "modeling and entertainment casting company."
In another investigation, the station spoke to women who said they were upset because Hanson used their photos to claim they support her, which they said they don't.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson weighed in Sunday against Hanson, saying he finds the reports about her “very credible.”
"To me, that renders her completely, 100% ineligible to hold any public office in the entire state of Tennessee,” he said at a political event, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.