Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) has asked a group of politicians in McCurtain County to resign after a disturbing recording came to light of officials discussing plans to hire a hitman to kill and bury two newspaper reporters.
The recording of a county commissioners meeting on March 6 also has one official lamenting that Black people can no longer be lynched and making barbecue jokes about a woman who recently died in a fire, according to regional outlet Heartland Signal.
“I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County,” Stitt said in a statement. “There is simply no place for such hateful rhetoric in the state of Oklahoma, especially by those that serve to represent the community through their respective office. I will not stand idly by while this takes place.”
The shocking conversation came to light after local reporter Bruce Willingham of the print-only McCurtain Gazette-News left a recording device at a commissioners’ meeting in an attempt to prove the officials were holding secret meetings.
Willingham was “completely appalled and frightened” by what heard on the recording, he told KWTV News 9. On the tape, he heard district Commissioner Mark Jennings discussing how the group should handle reporting from Willingham and his son, Chris Willingham.
According to transcripts and audio shared by McCurtain Gazette-News, Jennings says on the recording that he knows of two large, “pre-dug” holes “if you ever need them,” and also says he knows of “two or three hit men, they’re very quiet guys,” who he promised would “cut no fucking mercy.”
Jennings is also heard saying that he’d run for sheriff if things were like “back in the day” when a law enforcement officer could “take a damn Black guy and whoop their ass and throw him in the cell.”
Alicia Manning, a sherriff’s investigator for the county, says on the recording that no one would care if the reporters were harmed.
“If a hair on his wife’s head, Chris Willingham’s head, or any of those people that really were behind that, if any hair on their head got touched by anybody, who would be the bad guy?” she says.
Willingham told News 9 that he turned the full audio over to the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office and the FBI, which has since opened an investigation.
He added that while some parts of the recording could be interpreted as joking comments, other parts could not be, such as where Manning starts talking about Willingham’s daughter-in-law and “starts getting worried about who would get the blame.”
“I don’t see how you spin that as a joke,” he said.
HuffPost reached out to Jennings, who did not immediately respond.
On Monday, the McCurtain County Commission held an emergency meeting while protesters converged on its offices, including Craig Young, mayor of Idabel, the county’s largest city. Young called for the resignations of the officials caught on tape, according to Public Radio Tulsa.