WASHINGTON ― While much of Virginia is ready to move past its history as the seat of the Confederacy, love for the Old South seems alive and well in the Republican race for governor, with a slavery apologist’s attack against the likely front-runner making its way to voters via anonymous text messages.
The note was supposedly sent by “Nancy,” who writes that she cannot back Glenn Youngkin because of his support for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, and links to a video produced by Jon Harris, who has written that slave owners were not all necessarily bad people.
“Southern plantation owners were primarily good Christian masters,” wrote Harris, who attended the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., that then-President Donald Trump called in a last-ditch attempt to hang on to power. Harris is now likely backing candidate Pete Snyder in Saturday’s Republican convention. “Slavery can either be a good or a bad thing depending on your master,” he wrote in the 2010 blog post.
In his YouTube video, Harris calls Youngkin a “social justice warrior in MAGA clothing,” because the company he led, the Carlyle Group investment firm, donated to groups including the SPLC and the NAACP.
It is not publicly known who sent the text message. Callers to the sending number are informed by synthesized voice that the number only accepts texts. A HuffPost text asking to speak with “Nancy” did not receive a response.
Harris said Thursday that he did not know who might be behind the text messages or why the sender linked to his video. “I have no clue about that. Never heard of it,” he said.
Harris appeared last week on a radio show hosted by Snyder supporter and campaign event guest Martha Boneta, who repeatedly praised Harris and called him “a great American patriot.”
Harris told HuffPost that he did not know that Boneta and the station were Snyder supporters until after he showed up. He said he is likely to support Snyder because he is the only one who can beat Youngkin.
He also denied defending slavery. “There were a lot of problems with slavery, including the racism that was behind some of it,” he said.
The Snyder campaign denied knowing anything about the text messages. It did not respond to a follow-up question about Snyder’s views on Harris or the Confederacy and slavery generally.
Snyder has more than once during the campaign defended Confederate monuments in Virginia. “I think erasing our history is dead wrong. I want to preserve Virginia’s history,” he told Spotsylvania County Republicans in March.
Boneta, reached by phone, asked that questions be texted to her, but then did not respond to them when they were.
Youngkin’s campaign also did not respond to HuffPost queries about the matter.
Of the four major candidates running for the GOP nomination, Youngkin most closely resembles the Republican Party prior to its takeover by Donald Trump in 2015. After former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty for the murder of George Floyd, Youngkin said he hoped the Floyd family could find some peace in the jury’s decision. Virginia State Sen. Amanda Chase, who calls herself “Trump in high heels,” said the verdict sent the message to law enforcement that “the justice system doesn’t have your back.”
Virginia became a national focus of conversations on race after white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville in August 2017 to defend a statue of Confederate general ― and traitor to the United States ― Robert E. Lee. A white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one.
Trump then said there were “very fine people” on both sides of the issue in Charlottesville, which served to incite further outrage and reaction. In Virginia, that wound up including the removal of the Confederate statutes on Monument Avenue in Richmond, as well as a push to rename streets and schools named after Confederates across the state, but particularly in northern Virginia.
The Republican candidate for governor that year, Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, ended up losing by 9 percentage points to Democrat Ralph Northam, whose party took full control of the state legislature two years later ― driven in large measure by opposition to Trump.
No Republican has won a statewide election in Virginia since 2009, with the populous Washington suburbs becoming a solid Democratic bastion.
Virginia Republicans are choosing their nominee for November’s general election on Saturday via a complicated “drive-in” convention using 37 sites statewide, ranked-choice voting and a weighting system that gives delegates from more populous areas more power than those from sparser regions. Some 54,000 Republicans who have registered as delegates are expected to cast ballots.
A recent poll done for the Youngkin campaign shows him with a double-digit lead over Snyder, with Chase and state legislator Kirk Cox trailing far behind.
Virginia Democrats are voting in a primary next month, with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe holding a commanding lead for the nomination.