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by Brandon Jarvis

During a rally in Henrico on Wednesday, Republicans pledged allegiance to an American flag that they were told was carried during the rally with Donald Trump outside of the Capitol building on Jan. 6. The Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin called it “weird and wrong.” 

The rally was hosted by Steve Bannon, a former top advisor to Trump while he was in the White House. Trump also phoned into the rally briefly. 

Video from the beginning of the event shows the attendees standing around preparing to do the pledge of allegiance. “She is carrying an American flag that was carried at the peaceful rally with Donald J. Trump on Jan. 6,” said Martha Boneta, an emcee of the Bannon event as the flag was being carried onto the stage.  

The backlash has been strong. Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-VA07) was in the House chambers when insurrectionists reached the doors. “At a Youngkin rally in my district, they celebrated that this flag was carried during the insurrection,” Spanberger tweeted Thursday. “On 1/6, our democracy was attacked & police officers were beaten with flag poles. Insurrectionists defiled our flag that day. Is that something to celebrate Glenn Youngkin?”

Youngkin released a statement about the rally Thursday afternoon. “While I had no role in last night’s event, I have heard about it from many people in the media today. It is weird and wrong to pledge allegiance to a flag connected to January 6,” Youngkin said. “As I have said many times before, the violence that occurred on January 6 was sickening and wrong.”

During a press call Thursday morning, McAuliffe referred to the Bannon rally as one of the darkest moments of the Youngkin campaign. He then commented again on Twitter later in the day after Youngkin called the rally weird. “‘Weird’?? Glenn – people died during the January 6th riot Donald Trump and others celebrated in your honor last night,” McAuliffe tweeted.“If you can’t condemn last night’s rally and Trump’s deadly conspiracies, you don’t have the courage or character to serve as governor.” 

Boneta has since tried to clean up her comments and blame McAuliffe by contradicting the words she originally said on the stage at the event. “The American Flag at last night’s rally was in a bus tour and was never at a rally or never near the Capitol on Jan. 6,” she tweeted. “Anyone saying anything differently is LYING.” Video of Boneta from Wednesday shows her saying the flag was carried at the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

Youngkin tried to deflect back onto McAuliffe by addressing his endorsement from NARAL-Virginia, a group that has expressed a desire to defund police in Virginia. “Today, a radical group called NARAL that wants to defund our police is supporting Terry McAuliffe’s campaign,” Youngin said. “At least one Democrat in Virginia has already rejected NARAL’s endorsement. McAuliffe needs to come out today and say NARAL is wrong.” 

Youngkin also accused McAuliffe of focusing on the past with Trump, while he is looking to the future. “My campaign isn’t about the past, it is about the future and bringing everyone – Republicans, Independents, and Democrats – together around my vision for a Virginia that is safer, stronger, and less divisive, with the best schools and the best law enforcement and the best economy,” Youngkin said. 

A spokesperson for McAuliffe responded by accusing Youngkin of running this race to please Trump. “Since launching his campaign, Glenn Youngkin has made clear he is running for governor for one person and one person only: Donald J. Trump,” said McAuliffe spokesperson, Christina Freundlich. “Now, with less than three weeks to Election Day, he is closing his campaign the same way he started it — by celebrating Donald Trump’s most dangerous, divisive conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. The only thing ‘weird and wrong’ is Glenn Youngkin’s continued refusal to disavow Donald Trump’s deadly conspiracy theories.” 

Trump lost Virginia to Joe Biden by ten points last year. The polls are showing a tight race in this gubernatorial race just one year later, however. Youngkin has had to walk the tight rope of not turning off the Trump fans while also appealing to moderates and Independents that left the Republican Party during the last four years. McAuliffe has worked hard to keep Trump relevant in Virginia voters’ minds.

 “Virginia voters won’t be able to avoid hearing about yesterday’s rally, as it will be the focus of [Democratic] ads for the next week,” said Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. “Today is a bad day for the [Youngkin] campaign, thanks to last night’s Republican rally.”

Election day is Nov. 2.

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By vascope