The NAACP chapter in Prince William County is condemning Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart for what it sees as his dangerous alliance with white nationalists after the violence Aug. 12 in Charlottesville.
Meanwhile, residents of a historic black enclave in the county are praising Stewart (R) for fighting to keep Dominion Energy from building power lines through their Carver Road neighborhood.
Stewart, who recently launched a bid for the U.S. Senate, has become both friend and foe to African Americans in the state’s second-largest county — an enigma to some as he seeks momentum in his sharp-edged, long-shot campaign to unseat Sen. Tim Kaine (D) in 2018.
“It confuses the living hell out of me,” said Nathan Greyson, a resident of Carver Road, near Haymarket, who credits Stewart for helping to block plans for Dominion’s transmission lines. “I know for a fact what he has done for us. But for him to step out like that and say those things? It’s like I know where his heart is, but I don’t know where his mind is.”
Stewart won support from white nationalists during his nearly successful campaign to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination this spring. That effort was rooted in calls to save Confederate monuments, the same cause that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville on Aug. 11 and 12.
The Republican, who has chaired the county board since 2006, appeared during the gubernatorial campaign with some of the “alt-right” leaders who organized the racially charged “Unite the Right” march that led to the death of Heather Heyer, 32, on Aug. 12. After a march participant was accused of striking Heyer and others with his vehicle, Stewart accused Democrats and the media of ignoring violence by liberal counterprotesters.
Last week, he vowed to fight a proposal to rename two Prince William schools named after Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who he called a “good and honorable and noble man.”
The Rev. Cozy Bailey, president of the Prince William County chapter of the NAACP, said leaders have become increasingly agitated over what they consider to be incendiary language from Stewart, including his blaming the trouble in Charlottesville on “violent leftists.”
“Our bottom line is white supremacy, the alt-right and neo-Nazis are not welcome in Prince William County,” Bailey said. “Why am I concerned that they may feel welcome in Prince William County? Because we have a chair of our Board of Supervisors who continues to make statements that give the impression that they would be welcomed.”
African Americans in Prince William County are predominantly Democrats and are not likely to vote for Stewart, but he says he has a good relationship with the community nevertheless.
Stewart pointed to the Carver Road battle, in which he called Dominion “a corporate bully” for plans linked to a new computer data center in the area that could uproot the descendants of former slave Livinia Blackburn Johnson, who have lived on the land for at least 118 years.
“My activities statewide and nationally have nothing to do with my role as chairman of the Board of Supervisors,” Stewart said. “I’m not a member of the alt-right movement. Nobody really knows what that is.”
The NAACP group talked last week about organizing a community march against Stewart, but a proposal to have the event over the weekend fizzled.
Instead, some Carver Road residents joined a small rally on Saturday to protest the data center owned by a subsidiary of Amazon. (Amazon’s founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)
Bailey said an anti-Stewart march remains a possibility. The NAACP chapter has scheduled a news conference for Monday to denounce Stewart’s rhetoric and call on the rest of the Board of Supervisors to “repudiate” his actions.
“We find it reprehensible,” Bailey said in a statement announcing the news conference. “Mr. Stewart has an irrefutable track record of vitriolic rhetoric intended to fan the flames of racism that, unfortunately, still burn in many.”
Analysts say Stewart’s activities demonstrate his political savvy. He knows how to motivate the conservative base that almost propelled him to victory over Ed Gillespie in the June primary, but also recognizes opportunities to shield himself from charges of racism.
Siding with Carver Road residents in the Dominion battle allows Stewart to strike a more aggressive tone on the issue of Confederate monuments, said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.
“It’s tactically convenient that it’s through this African American community, not because he thinks he’s probably going to pick up a lot of their votes, but because it provides him with a counternarrative response to people who say, ‘You’re being racist,’ ” Kidd said.
Plus, Kidd said: “All politics is local. And part of that is taking care of constituent needs, and that’s a part of what this is.”
Elle “EJ” Scott, a local activist who has been working with the Carver Road residents, said some organizers were wary about accepting Stewart’s support — particularly since Stewart blocked a proposed power line route that was opposed by a more influential group of homeowners and would have steered clear of the Carver Road community.
“We know who Corey Stewart is,” said Scott, who is also vice president of the local NAACP chapter and said she would participate if the group succeeds in organizing a march against Stewart.
“When it comes to Carver Road, we really didn’t invite anyone else to come in there and help,” she said. “It just happened that he got involved.”