I’m skeptical, but less skeptical than I’d normally be given how desperate Democrats and their allies have been to depict Youngkin’s campaign as racist. If the Lincoln Project was willing to send kids with Charlottesville-style tiki torches to pose for photos next to Youngkin’s bus, it’s easy to imagine another lefty activist group sending someone into a Youngkin event with Confederate iconography to try to make the candidate look bad.
Especially if that someone conveniently ended up right in front of no fewer than three reporters.
Conservatives on Twitter are scoffing at the way the narrative stars magically aligned for the media with these photos. Democrats claim Youngkin is a new Trump, not at all the mild-mannered milquetoast Republican he appears to be, and lo and behold here’s a guy wearing the rebel flag at his final rally. Via the Right Scoop:
LOUDOUN COUNTY, VA — pic.twitter.com/3pdnUHyQtT
— Gary Grumbach (@GaryGrumbach) November 2, 2021
— Zachary Petrizzo (@ZTPetrizzo) November 2, 2021
Nov. 1, 2021 – Glenn Youngkin takes the stage here in Loudoun County — the final rally of his campaign… pic.twitter.com/CJLqZUN7lS
— Mike Valerio (@MikevWUSA) November 2, 2021
Skeptics point to three suspicious elements. One: The guy in the jacket found himself directly next to reporters, who were able to include Youngkin and the flag in the same shot. Two: He’s got a cowboy hat on, which seems a bit … much in Virginia, which is a coastal eastern state, not cowboy country. And three: That flag pitch looks almost pristine. Click the photo in the third tweet above for a larger view of it. Either the man in the jacket is taking good care of his clothing or the patch is new.
That wasn’t the only heavy-handed callback to the Confederacy from the crowd. There was also this:
— Lorgair (@lorgair) November 2, 2021
Maybe McAuliffe or some PAC or even some liberal freelancers wanted to give the media a last-minute excuse for a “racist imagery at Youngkin rally” news cycle in hopes that black voters would hear about it today and get excited to vote after all.
But I can also imagine jacket guy being on the level. For starters, he’s next to a woman who’s also in a cowboy hat but has no provocative symbols on her clothing. Presumably she’s not a plant. If he’s not with her then it’s weird that two people in cowboy hats ended up next to each other. If he is with her then maybe cowboy hats are just part of their normal style as a couple.
As for how he managed to end up right in front of reporters, at some political rallies the media is penned off into a designated area. Trump used to taunt the press at his events, directing the crowd’s attention to them massed together in the pen. Maybe reporters were congregated the same way at Youngkin’s rally. Or, since journalists are clubby, maybe the three reporters were chatting with each other about the race before Youngkin arrived and then ended up watching him together from that spot. One of them might have seen jacket guy nearby and recognized a narrative-pleasing photo opportunity when presented with one. They might have maneuvered behind him to get their photos rather than him maneuvering to get in front of them.
There’s no question that media bias in the form of advancing a partisan storyline about Youngkin is at work in those photos. The question is simply whether jacket guy was in on it or not.
Here’s my chief reason for skepticism, though: Of all the provocative phrases or symbols that a person might wear to an opponent’s rally in order to discredit them by association, the Confederate flag is curiously mild. Many southerners still treat it as a mainstream symbol of southern pride, not as a form of racial antagonism. The Lincoln Project could have sent its plants out to Youngkin’s bus with Confederate flags but seemingly concluded that they needed something more incendiary and less ambiguous, which is how they arrived at the torches carried at the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville four years ago. A lefty who wanted to make Youngkin look bad could have written “White Power” on his jacket or sewed on a swastika patch or added QAnon slogans or, hell, even carried a “Let’s Go, Brandon” sign.
Which, judging by the overbaked media reaction to the incident on Southwest Airlines, is at least as offensive as the rebel flag.
Instead jacket guy went with a common (if not as common as it used to be) symbol of the south and/or of the Confederacy. He could be a plant. But it’s not hard to believe that he isn’t.
Especially when populist Republican legislators who don’t even represent Virginia are tweeting idiocy like this:
Good morning. Today is election day in Virginia. Check in if you already voted Republican. Also, if you have family and friends who haven’t voted, please send them a reminder via text or call. Let’s go Old Virginia! Make General Lee proud.
— Wendy Rogers (@WendyRogersAZ) November 2, 2021
“Make General Lee” proud? Exit question: Is Wendy Rogers a Democratic plant?