An event listing for the Virginia Tea Party’s “Backlash to Socialism” summit makes no mention of Glenn Youngkin. The aspiring governor is absent from a photo gallery of the event, and there’s not a peep about it on his Facebook page, where he posted pictures from a different event that same day.
But Youngkin recorded an address that played at the event, which was sponsored by the far-right John Birch Society and featured a keynote speaker who went on a conspiratorial diatribe about supposed communist infiltration, according to videos reviewed by The Daily Beast.
Youngkin, Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, is running a tight race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. In a bid to flip the democratically held office, Youngkin has pitched himself to the state’s moderates and independents, and maintained a careful distance from the GOP’s more extreme voices. But Youngkin’s path to victory also requires support from Donald Trump’s base—and video from the June 26 Tea Party event suggests that Youngkin is privately comfortable courting more fringe votes.
Reached for comment, Youngkin spokesperson Matt Wolking told The Daily Beast, “Glenn Youngkin did not attend this event and was not aware of other speakers or sponsors.”
Youngkin delivered his remarks to the Tea Party event via a pre-recorded video. A person familiar with the internal deliberations of the Virginia Tea Party, who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity, said that Youngkin was not on promotional materials because he only confirmed his appearance shortly before the event, and because he spoke via a pre-recorded video.
“It is such a pleasure to be speaking with you today at the Virginia Tea Party Summit,” Youngkin said in a video reviewed by The Daily Beast. “Even though I’m unable to join you in person, please know I am with you all in spirit.”
Youngkin went on to call McAuliffe “an extremist.”
“McAuliffe is also waging war against people of faith,” Youngkin told the audience. “He actually said that ‘so-called religious freedom legislation is just a license to discriminate.’ He is committed to making it impossible for all of us to live out our faith in peace. Make no mistake, McAuliffe is an extremist. He’s a dangerous, dangerous threat to our constitutional rights, more so than we’ve ever seen here in Virginia.”
Meanwhile, other fringe voices were in attendance. The Tea Party event was headlined by Trevor Loudon, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has characterized as a “far-right conspiracy theorist from New Zealand.” He’s “known for seeing communist infiltrators everywhere and claims the political left are working with so-called Islamists to overthrow the United States,” the watchdog group says.
During his address, Loudon claimed communist infiltrators were rigging Republican primaries to elect insufficiently conservative candidates. “The communists in Alaska went through all the Eskimo reservations and got them to vote for Lisa Murkowski against the conservative,” Loudon alleged.
During another tangent about communists, Loudon also argued against armed action because “the military is not on our side. The leadership is not on our side.”
“Can you imagine if we did march on Washington, how long it would be until the Democrats brought their Russian and Chinese and Iranian friends onto American soil?” he said. “You think they’re gonna let the revolution slip away because of a few guys with AR-15s? No they’re not.”
Loudon wasn’t the only event attendee to voice fringe views about state politics. Virginia lawmaker John McGuire, a frequent Youngkin campaign surrogate, was recorded at the same event expressing his belief that communists had infiltrated the Virginia General Assembly. “I think it’s worse than you think,” McGuire was recorded telling a woman who asked about “pervasive infiltration from communist China.”
McGuire added that he wasn’t sure whether Virginia Republicans were immune from communist infiltration.
Among the Tea Party event’s sponsors was the John Birch Society, a far-right group that first organized around anti-communist campaigns, and is currently involved in anti-mask demonstrations. An event attendee told The Daily Beast that the John Birch Society was occupying a table inside the summit.
On his Facebook and Twitter pages, where he frequently posts pictures of campaign events, Youngkin’s only event photos from June 26 are from a campaign stop at an agricultural fair. He likewise does not appear to have promoted the Tea Party event in advance.
Youngkin’s bid for both conservative and moderate voters requires him to walk a careful ideological line. During his primary campaign, when he faced challengers to his right, he declined to state whether he believed President Joe Biden won the 2020 election fairly (after winning his primary, Youngkin said he thought Biden’s win was legitimate). This month, he skipped a “Take Back Virginia” event featuring Trump (via a phone call) and Trump adviser Steve Bannon. At that event, attendees pledged allegiance to a flag that had flown at the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Youngkin later criticized the flag’s presence at the rally.
Still, Youngkin has made less-publicized approaches to the far right, including his speech at the Virginia Tea Party event. This month, Youngkin appeared on a show hosted by Seb Gorka, a former Trump official with longstanding ties to the far right.
In an undercover video released this summer, Youngkin also hinted that he was putting on a ruse to win moderate voters. Approached by activist Lauren Windsor, who was posing as an anti-abortion activist for her web-show Undercurrent, Youngkin suggested that he would go “on offense” against abortion providers once he was elected.
“The short answer is, in this campaign, I can’t. When I’m governor and we have a majority in the house, we can start going on offense,” Youngkin said. “But as a campaign topic, sadly, that won’t win the independent votes that I have to get.”