On Wednesday, the Republican Party of Virginia accused Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam of turning “his back on his own family’s heritage” by supporting the removal of Confederate monuments from public properties in the state.
In a series of two tweets, the Virginia GOP alleged that Northam’s support for removal of the monuments indicates he “will do anything or say anything to try and be” governor.
The tweets were widely condemned, and by late Wednesday afternoon the party had deleted them and posted this apology.
Our previous tweets were interpreted in a way we never intended. We apologize and reiterate our denunciation of racism in all forms.
— Virginia GOP (RPV) (@VA_GOP) August 23, 2017
But even before they were deleted, Northam, who currently serves as lieutenant governor, indicated he wasn’t bothered by the accusation.
“I feel fine about turning my back on white supremacy,” he tweeted. “How does [Republican candidate] Ed Gillespie feel about the president’s position?” (During a speech on Tuesday night, Trump described efforts to remove the monuments as an attempt “to take away our history and our heritage.”)
Gillespie, who during a recent speech called white supremacists “yellow,” released a statement indicating that while he doesn’t support removing the monuments, he thinks his party’s tweets went too far.
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) August 23, 2017
Gillespie’s denunciation of white supremacy is far from the consensus position among Virginia Republicans. In June, Gillespie narrowly won a primary election over Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart, who made national headlines during his campaign because of his passionate defense of Confederate monuments and Virginia’s slave-owning “heritage.”
John Findlay, executive director of the Virginia GOP, told the Washington Post that Northam’s great-grandfather’s service in the Confederate armed forces played a role in the party’s decision to attack him.
“We said that Ralph Northam is turning his back on his heritage and family. It is because his great-grandfather fought for the side of the Confederacy and was wounded during the Civil War,” Findlay said. “When he wants to tear down monuments dedicated to those killed in action and wounded during the war, he is literally talking about a member of his own family.”
Others, however, view Confederate monuments — which were largely constructed decades after the Civil War during an era in which blacks living in the south were being disenfranchised — as celebrating white supremacy. The issue has been thrust into the national spotlight following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month that resulted in the murder of a counter-protester by an alleged Nazi sympathizer and injuries to 19 others. White supremacists decided to hold the rally in Charlottesville to protest the city’s plan to remove a statue to Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Trump defended white supremacists during a news conference last week, claiming there “were very fine people on both sides” of the demonstrations in Charlottesville.
Despite the Virginia GOP’s accusation that Northam’s support for removing Confederate statues boils down to political pandering, polling indicates the opposite is the case. During his interview with the Post, Findlay cited polling indicating that a majority of Virginia voters both support keeping the statues on public property and view them as part of Southern heritage.