CULPEPER, Va. — Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin is framing his candidacy for governor of Virginia as part of a national “movement” that transcends partisanship, in which parents push back against overbearing schools and government officials.
He also made the misleading claim in a new TV ad released Wednesday that the FBI is trying to “silence parents,” because a Justice Department memo directed the FBI and U.S. attorney’s offices to meet with federal and local law enforcement “to discuss strategies for addressing” the recent surge in violence and intimidation against educators.
Youngkin, a former private equity CEO, said Wednesday that if he wins the Nov. 2 election against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, it will be “a statement that will be heard around the country ... in every single school district around the country.”
Youngkin is tapping into some of the intensity that has pervaded school board meetings in Virginia and other parts of the country over the last few months, as conservative activists and right-wing media have rallied parents against education that discusses systemic racism in American history, inaccurately dubbing all of it “critical race theory.”
Voters at a Youngkin event inside a local bar in the quaint downtown of Culpeper, an hour’s drive southwest of Washington, D.C., had a difficult time defining critical race theory, but they were certain that schools were making racial tensions worse by discussing it. “Critical race theory is exactly what it says,” Joyce Brown, a local farmer and grandmother of eight, said when asked how to define the term. “They’re trying to make blacks against the whites.”
Youngkin mentioned what is now known in shorthand as “CRT” during his remarks to supporters, and said it “teaches our children to view everything through a lens of race.” PolitiFact conducted an in-depth examination of the Youngkin campaign’s concerns with Virginia schools’ curriculum on race, and it rated Youngkin’s claims that CRT is being taught across the state as false.
PolitiFact found that CRT “is being widely discussed by educators across Virginia. But there’s a difference between educators learning about the theory and actually teaching it to students.”
“Youngkin cites a collection of memos and seminars, but no evidence that critical race theory is being taught in each of the state’s 1,825 public schools. Critical race theory is not mentioned in the state’s Standards of Learning. A growing list of localities say they do not teach it,” PolitiFact wrote.
But over the last week or two, Youngkin and his campaign have pounced on a McAuliffe miscue, when the former Virginia governor said in a recent debate that he vetoed a bill during his first term in office that would have given parents the ability to “veto books” in their children’s schools. “I’m not going to let parents come into schools, and actually take books out, and make their own decision,” McAuliffe said. “I stopped the bill that I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
Youngkin said the comment showed that McAuliffe believes “the government should stand between children and parents.” A raucous midday crowd packed inside the restaurant and bar applauded enthusiastically when the Republican said he believes “the exact opposite.”
McAuliffe’s comment came during a discussion of sex education content. And in the closing weeks of the race, which polls show to be neck and neck, it has given the Republicans a way to tap into a number of issues that galvanize their base, including the closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine mandates and mask requirements. Some voters who spoke to Yahoo News brought up the debate over transgender policies in schools, which has become a flash point in nearby Loudoun County, a fast-growing collection of D.C.’s outer suburbs.
Youngkin is now branding his campaign rallies as “Parents Matter” events.
The big question is how his emphasis translates into votes, especially in northern Virginia and around Richmond among Republican voters and independents who were turned off by former President Donald Trump but who want to vote for a more palatable Republican for governor.
But clearly the Republican campaign believes the parental rights message is an effective way to close out the race. A Youngkin adviser said on Twitter that the McAuliffe campaign was “in full damage control mode for saying parents don’t matter.” The Youngkin campaign announced a new TV ad on Wednesday that amplifies this message.
In the ad, Youngkin claims that “the FBI is trying to silence parents.” This is an accusation leveled by other Republicans and amplified by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, stemming from an Oct. 4 memo by Attorney General Merrick Garland about “an increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools.” A Florida school official this week went public with details of her own harassment by anti-mask activists in her district, and this summer in Tennessee, anti-mask protesters screamed “child abuser” at a school board official as he walked to his car.
The DOJ memo directed the FBI and U.S. attorney’s offices to meet with federal and local law enforcement “to discuss strategies for addressing this disturbing trend” and to come up with a plan “to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”
“While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views,” Garland wrote.
Youngkin on Wednesday claimed that this memo meant that President Biden and Democrats “want to send the FBI in to silence parents.”
But Garland’s memo explicitly says that “spirited debate ... is protected under our Constitution” and that the FBI effort is focused on “criminal conduct.”
“Vociferous dissenting speech at a school board meeting is protected,” Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia law professor, told PolitiFact. “Disrupting the meeting and making it impossible to continue probably is not. Threatening the school board with physical violence definitely is not.”
Read more from Yahoo News: