Given the negative weight that Corey A. Stewart’s past ties to white supremacists have had on his Senate campaign, it might have been a no-brainer Saturday for the Virginia Republican to immediately condemn the swastikas painted overnight on the walls of the Washington region’s largest Jewish community center.
Instead, even after Sen. Tim Kaine (D) — his opponent in the Nov. 6 election — called the vandalism “insidious” on Twitter, Stewart spent the day applauding the Senate vote to confirm Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and attacking protesters angry about the decision.
“Ridiculous protesters,” Stewart tweeted, about demonstrators on Capitol Hill just before Kavanaugh’s confirmation, on a 50-to-48 vote. “This is the only job they can get with a gender studies degree! #ConfirmKavanaughnow. #Growup.”
After the Senate approved Kavanaugh, Stewart condemned Kaine for voting no.
“Sen. @timkaine & the Dems tried to destroy a good man w/ mob tactics and FAILED!” he wrote. “It’s payback time.”
The 19 swastikas that were painted on the walls near the entrance to the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia marked the second time in 18 months that the Fairfax County building was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti.
Kaine (D) responded by tweeting a photo of the swastikas.
“An insidious rise in hateful actions and anti-Semitism is happening in Virginia and across the country,” Kaine wrote at 12:42 p.m. Saturday. “We must meet it with fierce condemnation and an overabundance of love and unity. We cannot allow hate to fester.”
When reached by telephone for comment Saturday evening, Stewart said he was not aware of the incident.
“That’s the first I’m hearing of it, but that’s obviously terrible,” he said. “Where did this happen?”
After learning the details, he said: “Obviously that type of bigotry and anti-Semitism is not welcomed anywhere in Virginia.”
Whether Stewart was previously aware of the vandalism, his silence earlier in the day fed into the perception critics have of him as being sympathetic to white nationalists.
Stewart, who is trailing Kaine by nearly 20 points in most polls, has struggled to gain ground in the race, without much support from fellow Republicans.
He has been forced to repeatedly disavow known white nationalists such as Paul Nehlen, who Stewart once praised as “one of my personal heroes,” and Jason Kessler, an organizer of last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that led to the death of Heather Heyer, 32. Six months before the rally, Stewart appeared at a news conference with Kessler.
After the rally, he voiced support for President Trump’s decision to assign blame to “both sides” for the violence.
Later Saturday, Stewart tweeted condemnation of the vandalism at the Jewish Community Center.
“I just learned that @JCCofNoVA was a target of hateful vandalism today,” he tweeted at 6:43 p.m. “I have visited Israel; and my wife lived there for 2 years. We have come to feel a deep connection with the Jewish faith tradition. We strongly condemn today’s anti-Semitic vandalism, and bigotry of any kind.”
By then, Stewart’s critics were already calling him out on social media.
“Way too many politicians in Virginia are way too complacent about the rise of white supremacist violence and anti-Semitism,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) tweeted, in a not-so-veiled jab at Stewart. “The threat is real, it’s growing, and we have to take a stand.”
Another person asked whether Stewart had said anything about the swastikas.
“Most leaders have weighed in,” the commenter wrote. “Delays are not a good look.”