After pro-white rally in Charlottesville, Stewart says it's 'time to stop apologizing'

Travis Fain
Contact Reportertfain@dailypress.com

The Virginia governor's race took a detour Monday as the aftereffects of a torch-lit Charlottesville rally with the distinct flavor of white nationalism continued to reverberate.

Corey Stewart, the GOP hopeful who makes a habit of appearing with the Confederate flag and defending Civil War monuments, allowed rumors to circulate that he'd leave the race. He didn't.

Ed Gillespie, the Republican primary's front-runner, looked ahead to the general election, holding a conference call with a pair of GOP governors to contrast his pro-business/anti-union policies against the two Democrats in the race.

Tom Perriello, the Democrat who calls Charlottesville home, said it's time to end the Confederate Lee-Jackson Day in Virginia and that he hopes to appoint a commission on racial healing.

But it was Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who won the attention battle. Pressed by reporters Sunday to say something about Saturday evening's rally, held around a Robert E. Lee statue Charlottesville plans to remove, Stewart declined. Every other candidate for governor denounced the event, which was attended by white nationalist leader Richard Spencer and praised online by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

On Monday morning Stewart released a cryptic message promising an announcement at 7 p.m. Then his campaign went largely silent, its normally active social media feeds dormant.

One anonymously sourced media report had Stewart weighing an end to his campaign. Campaign volunteers told the Daily Press they didn't know what to expect. Neither campaign staff nor Stewart himself responded to messages. Late in the day, a D.C. television station reported Stewart wouldn't end his campaign at all.

At 7 p.m., Stewart's Facebook page began streaming video of a Northern Virginia Tea Party meeting, and after about 15 minutes, Stewart stepped to the microphone to make some denouncements.

Included: Fake news, The Washington Post, Gillespie, sanctuary cities, Dominion Energy Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Perriello, Lt. Gov Ralph Northam, who's also running in the Democratic primary for governor, and bigotry.

But Stewart made no mention of the rally, focusing instead on "bigots like Charlottesville City Councilman Wes Bellamy."

Bellamy, who is black, lost his state school board appointment last year over misogynistic, racist and sexually tinged messages he sent out on social media from 2009 to 2014. They were brought to light by Jason Kessler, a Charlottesville writer who defends white nationalist rhetoric and who attended Saturday night's rally.

Among the chants during that rally, according to The Daily Progress in Charlottesville: "You will not replace us," "Russia is our friend" and "Blood and soil." Attendees carried what appeared to be Tiki torches.

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer was among the first politicians to denounce the rally. He was chastised online with antisemitic posts.

Kessler, in a video posted Sunday, said the procession of torches had more in common with a Viking ceremony than a KKK rally and that media unfairly demonized attendees who are simply "concerned about white identity."

"That is their cause," he said. "They're uniquely called racists where you know every group under the sun is racist."

With all this as the backdrop for Virginia politics Monday evening, Stewart said he wouldn't back down.

"It is time to stop apologizing," he said. "It is time to stop running away."

Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.

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