The Lincoln Project has confirmed that it was behind a political stunt in which five members masquerading as white racists raised the tiki torches in a pre-election day campaign for Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate for Virginia governorship, in Charlottesville wear next week.
Members of the anti-Trump Republican group stood in front of Youngkin’s campaign bus in white shirts, khakis and sunglasses on Friday.
They attempted to provoke an infamous far-right torchlight march at the University of Virginia in August 2017, the day before a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi killed a counter-demonstrator with his car. When the Lincoln Project started the stunt, jurors began hearing testimonies in a civil trial over the rally.
Days before election day, in a state where Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 10 points last year, McAuliffe and Youngkin are head to head.
Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, former President Barack Obama and other senior Democrats voted for McAuliffe because they feared losing in next year’s mid-term elections could herald setbacks.
In comments on NBC29 after the incident, but before the Lincoln Project took responsibility, Youngkin said he believed his opponent Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor who wanted to return to the role, sent the men.
“They’ll do anything to win,” he said, “and he’ll do anything to win, and that’s why he pays people to appear silly at our rallies.”
McAuliffe disavowed the actions of the Lincoln Project.
“What happened in Charlottesville today is disgusting and tasteless, and the McAuliffe campaign strongly condemns it,” said the Democratic campaign manager in a tweet. “Everyone involved should apologize immediately.”
The Lincoln Project called: “The demonstration was our way of reminding the Virginians of what happened four years ago in Charlottesville, the Republican party that embraced these values, and Glenn Youngkin’s failure to condemn them.”
The group also said it should highlight Trump’s famous refusal to condemn the far-right protesters in 2017, including his remark that there were “very fine people” on “both sides” of the rally.
Youngkin, the group said, wanted “the virgins to forget that he is Donald Trump’s candidate.
“Glenn Youngkin said, ‘President Trump represents so much of why I’m running.’ Youngkin proves it every day by trying to divide Virginians with racist code words like “critical racial theory” and supporting a ban on teaching the works of America’s only black Nobel Prize winner, “it said.
This was indicative of attempts by Republican agents to remove Beloved, Toni Morrison’s classic novel about slavery in the American South, from Virginia schools.
“We will continue to hold Glenn Youngkin accountable,” said the Lincoln Project. “If he denounces Trump’s claim that the Charlottesville rioters were ‘very good’ qualities, we will withdraw the tiki torches. Until then we’ll be back. “
Progressive commentators condemned a stunt that an activist, Elizabeth McLaughlin, called “disrespectful, dangerous and stupid”.
“Nobody who really understands what is at stake in Virginia,” McLaughlin added on Twitter, “let alone the threat of white supremacy terrorism and ACTUAL death and destruction in Charlottesville could do so.”
Advisors to the Lincoln Project were among those defending his actions. Lauren Windsor, an activist who used a hidden camera to catch senior Republicans expressing controversial opinions and who was involved in the Charlottesville stunt, tweeted a message from Joe Trippi.
“That’s why I joined the Lincoln Project,” says the veteran Democratic agent wrote. “Trump Republicans go deep … [the Lincoln Project] will go where the Democrats don’t and risk everything to … expose Youngkin and his wink and nod. “