Pro­test­ers mob Ste­wart at stop de­fend­ing Con­fed­er­ate statue

GOP gov­er­nor can­di­date run­ning in Trump mold wel­comes the at­ten­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY FENIT NIRAPPIL fenit.nirappil@wash­post.com

char­lottesville — Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Corey Ste­wart came to this town to de­fend its statue of Robert E. Lee in a down­town park, only to be swarmed by dozens of pro­test­ers who shouted him down ev­ery­where he went.

It was the harsh­est re­cep­tion yet for the provoca­tive chair­man of the Prince Wil­liam Board of County Su­per­vi­sors, who is cam­paign­ing for the GOP nom­i­na­tion for gov­er­nor as Vir­ginia’s Don­ald Trump, with a hard-line stance against il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

A di­vided Char­lottesville City Coun­cil’s de­ci­sion last week to re­move the statue of the Con­fed­er­ate gen­eral gave Ste­wart an open­ing to ap­peal to his base. On so­cial me­dia, he urged peo­ple to “de­fend Vir­ginia’s her­itage,” liken­ing those who wanted to re­move the statue to tyrants and Nazis.

But when he tried to take his mes­sage to this col­lege town Satur­day morn­ing, pro­test­ers shout­ing “White supremacy has got to go!” drowned out his in­ter­views and con­ver­sa­tions.

Ste­wart took it in stride, fre­quently grin­ning and try­ing to chat up his de­trac­tors. In an in­ter­view, Ste­wart wel­comed the protests and the at­ten­tion they would bring, be­liev­ing they would but­tress his pitch as a con­ser­va­tive stand­ing up to an in­tol­er­ant left and “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.”

“I am call­ing them out for who they are,” Ste­wart said. “It’s re­ally a symp­tom of the prob­lem of the left and their un­will­ing­ness to lis­ten to al­ter­na­tive points of view.”

He recorded a Face­book Live video with Thad­deus Dionne Alexan­der, an African Amer­i­can vet­eran who be­came a con­ser­va­tive star on­line af­ter his Face­book video rail­ing against lib­eral pro­test­ers went vi­ral.

Their lat­est video ran a lit­tle more than two min­utes and had racked up more than 13,000 views by 3 p.m.

“They have no re­spect for our her­itage,” Ste­wart said over shouts in the video. “They have no re­spect not only to Robert E. Lee, a great Amer­i­can, but they have no re­spect for Thomas Jef­fer­son, James Madi­son, Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton or any of the other great Amer­i­can and Vir­ginia heroes.”

The demon­stra­tors con­tin­ued to fol­low Ste­wart, hoist­ing signs say­ing “Ban Big­ots” and “No tol­er­ance for white supremacy” over his head as they yelled at him to go back to Prince Wil­liam.

“Do you need to be es­corted to your car?” Toby Gray, 51, car­ry­ing a giant Amer­i­can flag, asked as Ste­wart walked down the stairs out of the park.

“I think I do,” Ste­wart re­sponded, cross­ing the street to a park­ing lot.

Pro­test­ers didn’t fol­low, shout­ing “Whose town? Our town!”

The pro­test­ers out­num­bered a group of sup­port­ers of the statue, some of whom car­ried Con­fed­er­ate flags. The statue sup­port­ers — who were an­gered by the wave of protests against Pres­i­dent Trump na­tion­wide — said the whole ex­change left them feel­ing warmer to Ste­wart.

“I wasn’t sure about vot­ing for Corey Ste­wart be­fore, but I’d be very honored to vote for him af­ter to­day,” said Isaac Smith, a 20-year-old Char­lottesville res­i­dent who filmed the rally for a lo­cal blog.

He backed Trump for pres­i­dent but said he was un­easy about the prospect of hav­ing a mir­ror im­age in the gov­er­nor’s man­sion.

“I’d like to see some­thing a lit­tle more tem­pered, a lit­tle more mild. Cer­tainly the way Ste­wart dealt with these peo­ple, I think he was an ab­so­lute an­gel,” Smith said.

Fel­low Repub­li­can can­di­date Ed Gille­spie, a po­lit­i­cal strate­gist whom Ste­wart de­rides as “Es­tab­lish­ment Ed,” said in a state­ment that he doesn’t sup­port mov­ing stat­ues but that such de­ci­sions are lo­cal is­sues. Gille­spie is lead­ing the Repub­li­can field in polling and cam­paign cash for the June pri­mary.

Repub­li­can dis­tillery owner Den­ver Rig­gle­man, who, like Ste­wart, is run­ning a pop­ulist cam­paign, also de­nounced the statue move and in­stead rec­om­mended us­ing money that would go to­ward de­mo­li­tion to add a statue of a prom­i­nent African Amer­i­can.

The fourth Repub­li­can can­di­date for gov­er­nor, State Sen. Frank Wag­ner (Vir­ginia Beach), says he op­poses re­mov­ing the statue, call­ing it “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness run amok.”

Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Tom Per­riello, who rep­re­sented Char­lottesville in Congress from 2009 to 2011, sup­ports the statue’s re­moval as part of cre­at­ing a more in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Demo­cratic fron­trun­ner in the gu­ber­na­to­rial con­test, has said lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties should make de­ci­sions about Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols but held up Char­lottesville as a model for cre­at­ing a “wel­com­ing com­mu­nity.”

As Ste­wart hopped into his Toy­ota Tundra to go to his next rally in Winch­ester, he flashed a thumbs-up sign to the hand­ful of sup­port­ers who es­corted him to the park.

“This was fun,” he said.

FENIT NIRAPPIL/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Gu­ber­na­to­rial hope­ful Corey Ste­wart leaves Satur­day from a Char­lottesville park where he op­posed mov­ing a Robert E. Lee mon­u­ment. He said its re­moval would be a Nazi-like af­front.

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