NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The anti-Donald Trump group The Lincoln Project took credit Friday for five people appearing with tiki torches at a Charlottesville campaign stop by Virginia's GOP candidate for governor, a stunt recalling 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 Gov. Terry McAuliffe as Tuesday's Election Day nears.
Photos showed the group holding large tiki torches. 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 counterprotesters, killing one 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.
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 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 of the former president.
The incident comes at a sensitive time in the city. A civil trial opened 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 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sarah Rankin, The Associated Press