A Duluth native who just barely lost Virginia's GOP gubernatorial primary said that politicians have not gone far enough in condemning the left for violence during a rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville.
"I think that the left is going to try to use this as an excuse to crack down on conservative free speech," said Corey Stewart, whom the Star Tribune profiled in the spring. "I think they're going to try to use this as an excuse to remove more historical monuments, and I think ... Republicans are so weak that they will just give in and they won't try to stop that."
Stewart made the preservation of Confederate symbols the crux of his campaign this spring, saying it was important to protect historical monuments and criticizing politicians for bowing to political correctness. His comments spurred a social media uproar, with critics questioning how a Minnesota native came to be such a staunch defender of what are widely considered to be symbols of white supremacy.
In February, Stewart appeared at an event in Charlottesville with alt-right figure Jason Kessler to oppose a move by a local official to remove a statute of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in a city park. Kessler organized this weekend's "Unite the Right" rally in front of that statue, where a clash killed one person and injured dozens. Stewart said he's only met Kessler a few times and barely knows him.
Asked if he still stands by his defense of Confederate symbols, Stewart said, "Absolutely, I do."
As the Washington Post noted, Stewart was alone among Virginians of all politicial stripes who were more explicitly condemning white nationalists.
Stewart said people were wrong to criticize President Trump for initially condemning violence on "multiple sides" Saturday. Two days later, Trump formally rebuked the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists as "repugnant."
Stewart, too, spoke out against Nazis and the KKK during an interview. But he fears there's a double standard in what politicians criticize - what about left-wing groups like Antifa, an anti-fascist organization who was came to the Charlottesville rally in protest?
"It takes two sides to fight, and there were left-wingers who were fighting [in Charlottesville," said Stewart. "...I'm really worried that failing to condemn left wing violence is going to lead to more left wing violence."
As chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, Stewart launched what appeared to be a long-shot primary bid against establishment favorite and Ed Gillespie, the well-funded former chairman of the Republican National Committee. But Stewart came surprisingly close, winning 42.53 percent of the vote compared to Gillespie's 43.72. Stewart is now running for Senate, and said he believes that Confederate monuments will continue to be an issue.