Virginia's Republican Party was under fire Thursday after posting on its official Twitter account an accusation that Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam had "turned his back" on his heritage by supporting the removal of Confederate monuments.
The tweets were widely interpreted as a reference to Northam's great-great-grandfather, who was a slaveowner. The posts were up for four hours on Wednesday before being deleted—enough time for harsh criticism to pour in.
In the New Republic, Sarah Jones said the tweets had amounted to the GOP calling Northam a "race traitor."
"Northam is not the only white descendant of Southern slaveowners to object to Confederate monuments," Jones said. "The descendants of Stonewall Jackson have recently done the same. 'Heritage' is a racist dog-whistle because our heritage is racist, which is precisely why it must be publicly repudiated. And in doing so, those descendants do not turn their backs to their heritage. They confront it, and tell the truth."
Former Republican delegate David Ramadan was also among those who denounced the tweets, asking the Party, "Have you lost your minds—who is in control of your Twitter account?"
Northam himself appeared nonplussed by the accusation and remained firm in his stance that Confederate statues should be removed from public property as he questioned the stance of his Republican opponent, former Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie.
In June, Northam, Virginia's current lieutenant governor, revealed his family's history of slave-ownership, telling the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "The news that my ancestors owned slaves disturbs and saddens me...My family's complicated story is similar to Virginia’s complex history. We're a progressive state, but we once had the largest number of slaves in the union."
The Virginia GOP apologized for the tweets after wiping them from its account, saying that they "had been interpreted in a way we never intended." In response, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters noted the hypocrisy of deleting the messages while fighting against the removal of monuments.
Virginia's Republican party is no stranger to accusations of bigotry. In 2013, state chairman John Whitbeck, then chairman of the 10th District Republican Committee, was forced to apologize to anyone offended by an anti-Semitic joke he told at a rally.
Just over half of Virginians want the state's 200 Confederate statues to remain on public property, according to a poll released Tuesday by MassInc. Fifty-two percent of Democrats think they should stay, versus 81 percent of Republicans in the state.