The anti-Donald Trump group The Lincoln Project admitted to planting five people carrying tiki torches at a Charlottesville campaign stop by Virginia ‘s Republicans candidate for governor on Friday- a political stunt that tried to smear the surging GOP candidate with white supremacists who descended on that city amid violence in 2017.
Charlottesville TV station WVIR covered the campaign stop and reported candidate Glenn Youngkin was inside a restaurant when the group dressed in matching hats, khakis and white button-down shirts appeared beside his campaign bus.
The former private equity executive and political newcomer is in a close race against former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe as Tuesday’s Election Day nears.
Photos showed the group holding large tiki torches.
Five people holding tiki torches stand in the rain by the campaign bus for GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin in Charlottesville on Friday. The Lincoln Project has admitted to being behind the stunt, to discredit Youngkin
Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate to be elected governor of Virginia on Tuesday, is seen on Friday campaigning in Charlottesville
Youngkin is taking on Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat contender, who was governor of Virginia from 2014-18 and is hoping to be re-elected
Their appearance recalled two days of chaos in August 2017, when white supremacists gathered in the college town for a ‘Unite the Right’ rally – ostensibly to protest the planned removal of a Confederate monument.
The night before the planned rally, a group carrying tiki torches marched across the University of Virginia campus, clashing with a small group of anti-racist protesters.
The next day a car driven by a self-avowed white supremacist plowed into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters, killing one protester, Heather Heyer, and injuring dozens.
McAuliffe staffers promoted a reporter’s tweet about the group’s appearance, using it to attack Youngkin and suggesting that those holding the torches were his supporters.
Youngkin staffers accused the McAuliffe campaign or Virginia Democrats of being involved, drawing disavowals.
‘What happened today is disgusting and distasteful and we condemn it in the strongest terms. Those involved should immediately apologize,’ McAuliffe campaign manager Chris Bolling said in a statement.
White supremacists and neo-Nazis carrying tiki torches marched through Charlottesville on August 11, 2017 in a ‘Unite The Right’ rally to protest against the removal of Confederate statues
The group, chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’, formed a procession through the Virginia college town on August 11, 2017
The neo-Nazi group are seen circling a statue of Thomas Jefferson on August 11, 2017
The torch-lit procession and the racist chants outraged many Charlottesville residents
The Democratic Party of Virginia issued a statement saying neither the party nor its ‘coordinated partners and affiliates’ had anything to do with ‘the events’ at the campaign bus stop.
The Lincoln Project then weighed in, saying it was behind what it called a ‘demonstration.’
The group is known for its provocative use of memes and stunts.
The Lincoln Project, a group of ‘Never Trump’ Republicans, is known for its outlandish use of memes and stunts
‘The Youngkin campaign is enraged by our reminder of Charlottesville for one simple reason: Glenn Youngkin wants Virginians to forget that he is Donald Trump’s candidate,’ the group said.
The incident comes at a sensitive time in the city.
A civil trial opened on Monday that will determine whether the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who organized the 2017 demonstrations should be held accountable for the violence.
Democratic Del. Sally Hudson, who represents Charlottesville in the General Assembly, condemned the torch-bearing incident as a ‘stunt.’
‘Charlottesville is not a prop. Our community is still reeling from years of trauma – especially this week. Don’t come back, @ProjectLincoln. Your stunts aren’t welcome here,’ she tweeted.
The Youngkin campaign has not commented.
Trump supporters reacted with anger to the stunt, and several people – including the former president’s son – speculated that McAuliffe’s team was in fact behind it, but then used the Lincoln Project to take the fall when criticism mounted.
‘No chance Lincoln Project staged this, even though a ‘white supremacist’ rally is right up Confederate Rick Wilson’s alley,’ said Donald Trump Jr.
‘The VA dem operatives involved have already been identified & locked down their social media. Busted.
‘Don’t let Pedo Project take the hit for McAuliffe.’
Jack Posobiec, the alt-Right commentator, said: ‘Virginia Democrat operatives dressed up as Neo-Nazis holding tiki-torches today to smear their opponent and attempted to pass it off as actually happening.’
Nick Adams, who describes himself on his Twitter bio as ‘President Trump’s favorite author’, also thought it was a McAuliffe prank that backfired.
‘So now the Lincoln Project is taking credit for a tiki torch stunt put together with Virginia Democrat Party employees,’ he said.
‘How stupid do they think we are?’
And Brigitte Gabriel, the right-wing think tank founder, tweeted: ‘Why hasn’t the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled The Lincoln Project as a hate group? The just put together a white supremacist tiki torch rally.
‘Seems pretty hateful to me.’
Other critics from the opposite side of the political spectrum took issue with Lincoln Project bringing back painful memories.
‘My heart aches for Heather Heyer and for all her loved ones,’ said Christine Pelosi, daughter of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
‘Her death shook me to the core as an activist and mom.
‘The 2017 deadly Nazi rally was bad enough; today’s Lincoln Project tiki stunt was cruel.
‘Some things are – or should be – beyond politics. This is one of them.’
CJ Paschall, an anchor with the local NBC affiliate in Charlottesville, tweeted: ‘Tone deaf is putting it mildly.
‘Charlottesville is already reliving some of the darkest days of the city’s history with the trial underway.
‘The trauma people continue to suffer is not your soap box.’
And Lizzie Hylton, political and legislative director of the clean energy group Clean Virginia, echoed Paschall’s view.
‘Charlottesville is a real city with real people – far too many of whom are still trying to heal from the massive trauma experienced on August 11th and 12th 2017,’ she said.
‘Bringing fake Nazis with tiki torches here for a political stunt is beyond f***** up. Shame on @ProjectLincoln.’
The Lincoln Project was founded in late 2019 by a group of Republicans who were dismayed at the direction of their party under Trump.
In December 2019 they laid out their principals in an op ed in The New York Times written by Steve Schmidt, senior advisor to John McCain for his 2008 campaign; John Weaver, chief strategist for Republican challenger John Kasich in 2016; Rick Wilson, a strategist for Evan McMullin’s campaign; and George Conway, a DC lawyer.
Conway’s wife, Kellyanne, was at the time working in the White House as a senior advisor to Trump, and their political divide became a Washington DC obsession.
The group initially made effective use of social media, playing Trump at his own game and trolling him online with memes and videos.
Money flowed in by the tens of millions of dollars from donors eager to help.
But within the organization, a crisis was brewing.
In June 2020, members of the organization’s leadership were informed in writing and in subsequent phone calls of at least 10 specific allegations of harassment against co-founder John Weaver, including two involving Lincoln Project employees.
Questions were also asked about the use of the funds raised.
Of the $90 million Lincoln Project has raised, more than $50 million has gone to firms controlled by the group’s leaders, AP reported.
Only about a third of the money, roughly $27 million, directly paid for advertisements that aired on broadcast and cable, or appeared online, during the 2020 campaign, according to an analysis of campaign finance disclosures and data from the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.
In August 2020 Conway announced that he was withdrawing from the group, as his family was rocked by division. His and Kellyanne’s daughter Claudia began posting extensively on social media, causing her parents anxiety and ultimately forcing Kellyanne to leave her job in the White House.
In March this year Conway said that he felt the Lincoln Project should close permanently, given the scandals.
A former senior adviser to the project, Kurt Bardella, tweeted: ‘Just shut it down already … it’s over.’
Conway agreed in his own tweet, writing: ‘It’s a shame, and we shouldn’t forget the hard work of so many people and the positive things the organization did, but yes, I think this is right.’
He added: ‘It’s just really sad and depressing, and I hope it doesn’t tarnish the work of so many people who devoted themselves to such a good cause.’
Lincoln Project statement owning up to the controversial stunt
‘Glenn Youngkin has said: ‘President Trump represents so much of why I am running.’
Youngkin proves it every day by trying to divide Virginians using racial code words like Critical Race Theory and supporting a ban on teaching the works of America’s only Black Nobel laureate.
The Lincoln Project has run advertisements highlighting the hate unleashed in Charlottesville as well as Glenn Youngkin’s continued failure to denounce Donald Trump’s ‘very fine people on both sides.’ We will continue to draw this contrast in broadcast videos, on our social media platforms, and at Youngkin rallies.
Today’s demonstration was our way of reminding Virginians what happened in Charlottesville four years ago, the Republican Party’s embrace of those values, and Glenn Youngkin’s failure to condemn it.
The Youngkin campaign is enraged by our reminder of Charlottesville for one simple reason: Glenn Youngkin wants Virginians to forget that he is Donald Trump’s candidate.
We will continue to hold Glenn Youngkin accountable. If he will denounce Trump’s assertion that the Charlottesville rioters possessed ‘very fine’ qualities, we’ll withdraw the tiki torches. Until then, we’ll be back.’