Lexington Mayor Jim Gray issued a statement Monday strongly denying that he has any ties to the Ku Klux Klan after an anonymous hacker released his name as one of several elected officials in the United States with alleged links to the group.
"This allegation is false, insulting and ridiculous," Gray said in a written statement. "I have never had any relationship of any kind with the KKK. I am opposed to everything it stands for. I have no idea where this information came from, but wherever it came from, it is wrong."
Gray, in his second term as mayor of Lexington, repeated his statement on Twitter.
An online report — first thought to be linked to the hacker group Anonymous — named four U.S. senators and five mayors. None of the other politicians listed was from Kentucky.
All five mayors vehemently denied the reports Monday, including Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Rogero called the claims "false and defamatory." In a Facebook post, Rogero said she comes from an interracial family, started her political career working for farmer's rights with Cesar Chavez, has participated in the Save Our Sons initiative and has been a long-time supporter of gay marriage and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
"I don't think the KKK would want anything to do with me," Rogero said in her statement.
Twitter user Amped Attacks took credit for posting the list. The tech website TechCrunch posted a quote from Amped Attacks on Monday afternoon. Amped Attacks is not identified by name in the TechCrunch article. Amped Attacks told TechCrunch that he was not associated with Anonymous. Amped Attacks also has taken credit for shutting down the website of Westboro Baptist Church.
"I worked for nine days to gather and verify all the information that was gathered before its release," Amped Attacks told TechCrunch. "I got the information from several KKK websites when I (hacked) them and was able to dump their database. I went through many emails that was signed up with these sites. and a few of the emails that sparked my interest was the ones of the politicians in question. There would be no reason for them to be signed up on any KKK website unless they supported it or was involved in it."
Originally, the data were thought to have come from the hacker activist group Anonymous, but Twitter user accounts connected to the group later denied they were part of the release of the information.
In a news release Wednesday, Anonymous warned it was going to unveil the names of 1,000 Ku Klux Klan members after allegedly hacking the KKK's servers.
The Anonymous group also has taken credit for other hacks and outing Islamic extremists, and it has claimed responsibility for the release of alleged police dispatch audio from the Ferguson, Mo., shooting involving Michael Brown last year.
According to news reports, the beef between the hacker group and the KKK started during the unrest in Ferguson.
In a news release Sunday, Anonymous said it had "shut down servers, gotten personal information on members of the KKK, and infiltrated your twitters and websites. And this is just the beginning. On November the 4th we will be having a Twitter storm, spreading awareness about the operation. And on the 5th we shall release more than 1,000 Ku Klux Klan members names and websites, new and old."
But the Twitter user Operation_KKK, which has been advertising the Nov. 5 unveiling of KKK members, said Monday afternoon that it was not part of Monday's release of names of politicians.
Another post from Twitter user Anonymous YourAnonNews reminded reporters that signups for websites are not verified. "Anyone can provide fake information when signing up to a website; reporters should be aware of this," YourAnonNews posted Monday.
Ken Calvert, a University of Kentucky computer science professor, said that while he couldn't speak to the veracity of Monday's reports, he approaches such announcements with skepticism.
"I would certainly want to look at the actual data and see how it was formatted, where it came from," he said. "It's just really very difficult to authenticate this kind of thing. ... On the other side is, it's quite plausible that somebody would break into the database."
Those who have known Gray for decades said Monday they could not believe the city's first openly gay mayor would be involved with a racist organization.
Braxton Crenshaw, a Lexington lawyer, grew up with Gray in the Glasgow area. Crenshaw said that when he read about the allegation "my jaw dropped. I had never ever heard that — not even a whisper," he said.
Crenshaw's brother is former state Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, one of the longest-serving black state representatives. The Crenshaw brothers — including younger brother Michael — grew up on a farm near the Metcalfe-Barren County line. Gray and his family are from Barren County.
"He and my brother Michael were close — they were in a band together," Braxton Crenshaw said. Michael Crenshaw is now deceased. "I heard his family was liberal and just good people."
When Jesse Crenshaw retired last year, Gray honored him during an Urban County Council meeting. Gray also has appointed several black men to key positions in city government, including Keith Jackson, the fire chief; Chris Ford, the social service commissioner; and James Brown, whom Gray appointed to fill a vacant 1st District Urban County Council seat.