Republicans at all levels in Virginia are pushing back against left-wing "mob" mentality, cancel culture, violent rhetoric and attempts to normalize radical leftist thought after a pro-critical race theory speaker appeared to wish death upon conservative parents in Fairfax County last week.
Amid dueling rallies for and against CRT last week, a Fairfax County PTA leader was recorded on video suggesting parents who oppose the race-based philosophy should "die" – and county Democratic chair Bryan Graham appears to have been part of the crowd that applauded the line.
The scandal drew rebukes from local GOP committee members, candidates for state office and even members of Congress.
"I think probably the more startling thing isn't what was said, it’s the fact the crowd cheered," said Jason Miyares, the Republican candidate for Virginia attorney general. "In other words, it wasn’t just a misstatement – that seemed to be a sentiment that at least those in the crowd largely agree with."
The Cuban-American candidate told Fox News Friday that critical race theory, paired with a lack of civility from the left when it comes to public discourse, will pose a national security threat down the line.
"I was at an event where a Marine came up to me and said, listen…‘How do you as a country recruit young men and women to be willing to serve and possibly die for the country if they're told from the early stage that somehow their country is inherently broken, and evil, and racist and can't be redeemed?’" Miyares recounted.
It's an idea he scoffed at, he said, because his mother fled to the U.S. from Communist Cuba in search of a better life – which she found.
Steve Knotts, the chairman of the Fairfax GOP, said left-wing counter-protesters had shown up that day in order to disrupt a conservative rally against critical race theory and prolonged school closures.
"The Democrats have been taken over by the radical left for sure," Knotts told Fox News Friday. "This is acceptable speech to them. This is the way that they want things to be."
Knotts said the left-wing rally had sought to disrupt a previously scheduled rally for parents who gathered to demand critical race theory be kept out of the county’s schools and to call for school reopenings.
"This was a counter protest to our Open FCPS and Stop CRT rally," he said. "And of course, they were out there trying to interrupt. They were out there walking through our portion of the school [grounds]."
He said he sees the tactics as a common way to take the wind out of outspoken conservatives in the Fairfax community and elsewhere.
"They're afraid to speak up," Knotts said. "They're afraid of being ostracized or losing their job. They're afraid of the mob mentality. And that's where I'm really trying to work hard to have conservatives, Republicans, libertarians, independents all come together and say this stuff just doesn't make sense."
Mike Ginsberg, the Republican Party of Virginia’s 11th District representative for the State Central Committee, agreed.
"The challenge for us, the challenge for everyone, is that any time anybody disagrees with this type of educational approach, they're branded as a racist or a heretic or what have you, and the ad hominems start to flow," he said. "And a reasoned discussion never takes place."
Republican Rep. Rob Wittman, of Virginia’s 1st Congressional District, said Leete’s words left him "appalled."
"Claiming that those who stand against critical race theory are ‘anti-children,’ ‘anti-teacher,’ and ‘anti-education’, among other things, shows how much animosity she has for those who do not agree with her -- these actions and words are extremely divisive and disappointing," she said. "Wishing death on those who do not agree with you only causes more harm, and it is not the way we work toward a brighter, more hopeful nation."
Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, placed some of the blame on the former Democratic governor who is now running to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam.
"Terry McAuliffe has encouraged this type of divisive rhetoric his entire campaign," he said. "He’s called critical race theory a ‘right-wing conspiracy,’ and never denounced the Virginia Parent Teacher Association officials’ vile remarks, just goes to show Terry McAuliffe will say or let anything go just to get elected."
A member of the grassroots Parents Defending Education group shared the "let them die" video over the weekend. It shows Fairfax NAACP member and former Virginia PTA Vice President of Training Michelle Leete receiving cheers at a left-wing rally with her remarks – including from some county Democratic officials like Graham.
"There is no place in our political debate for the kind of rhetoric we just saw in Fairfax," said Nicole Neily, the group's president. "And there should be no place for political officials cheering on that rhetoric. Our public schools exist for the benefit of our kids and our communities, and despite the behavior of certain people to the contrary, our schools are not owned by special interests or a tiny political fringe."
In the video, Leete outlined a long list of traits she disagreed with.
"Let's deny this off-key band of people that are anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-equity…anti-admissions policy change, anti-inclusion, anti-live and let live," she said. "Let them die."
Asra Nomani, the anti-CRT activist who shared the video, said she tried to identify people applauding the line. One of them, wearing a pink shirt, appears to be Graham, she wrote. A different vide of the same event shows him wearing the same distinctive pink shirt.
According to the Washington Post, Leete said she meant to wish death on the various "ideals" from conservative parents, not the parents themselves. But blowback over the incendiary speech resulted in her resignation days later.
"That statement does not reflect the values of Virginia PTA," the state’s parent teacher associated said after the video went viral. "We believe in diversity, equity and inclusion. However, we also know words have power, and that it is important to understand the impact of our language."
The incident comes as Republicans are trying to wrest back control of Richmond politics, where the Democrats currently hold majorities in the state Legislature as well as control of the governor’s office.
"This is kind of symptomatic of his far-left liberal monopoly we have in Richmond, where you have one-party rule, that is completely controlling our state government and our education system, and it’s trickling down," Miyares said. "I think Virginia voters have a really unique chance this fall to let their voice be heard, to try to break this liberal monopoly."
After all, he said, millions of people around the world still uphold the United States as a beacon of freedom.
"The great irony we’re facing right now is, in my mother’s homeland in Cuba, you have people marching in the streets of Havana waving the American flag," Miyares said. "But then you have people here that are essentially saying that flag isn't worth standing for, that flag isn't worth holding your hand over your heart for. And we can't survive as a nation if we're having that mentality."
Fox News’ Sam Dorman contributed to this report.