WOODBRIDGE, Va. — Corey Stewart stands at the end of a long driveway that leads back in time, to his 18th century plantation manor hidden in woods behind a modern housing development. Mr. Stewart, the Republican Senate nominee from Virginia, treats the brick home like a living museum, complete with buttons from Redcoats, a Civil…
WOODBRIDGE, Va. — Corey Stewart stands at the end of a long driveway that leads back in time, to his 18th century plantation manor hidden in woods behind a modern housing development. Mr. Stewart, the Republican Senate nominee from Virginia, treats the brick home like a living museum, complete with buttons from Redcoats, a Civil War soldier’s belt buckle and a room dedicated to George and Martha Washington, who were once visitors.
Both Mr. Stewart and his opponent, Senator Tim Kaine, were born in Minnesota, which makes it all the more unusual that Mr. Stewart has styled himself as a champion of the Confederacy and its statues, and, as he puts it, “taking back our heritage.”
This has made him a popular figure with white nationalists, much to the horror of many Virginia Republicans. While Mr. Stewart has disavowed some on the extreme right, interviews with dozens of his friends, colleagues, supporters and fellow Republicans yielded a portrait of a political opportunist eager to engage the coarsest racial fringes of his party to advance his Trumpian appeal.
Some white nationalists volunteer for Mr. Stewart’s campaign, and several of his aides and advisers have used racist or anti-Muslim language, or maintained links to outspoken racists like Jason Kessler, the organizer of last year’s violent rally in Charlottesville, Va. Mr. Stewart has not distanced himself from those aides.
immigrants — and back causes that are championed by white nationalists. President Trump’s own language and policies have energized Mr. Stewart and other far-right candidates, and Mr. Trump has high approval ratings from Republicans, but it is not clear how many rank-and-file voters will embrace like-minded politicians like Mr. Stewart.
Mr. Trump has enthusiastically endorsed Mr. Stewart — tweeting in June: “Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!”— and the candidate is comfortable defending the president’s most controversial comments. Sitting in the living room of the historic brick home he bought in 2012, Mr. Stewart praised President Trump’s statement that there were “very fine people on both sides” at the Unite the Right white nationalist protests in Charlottesville last August.
“I don’t think he said anything bad there,” Mr. Stewart, 50, said during a 90-minute interview last month. “In fact I was one of the few people in the country that actually said pretty much the same thing.”
He does not accept that slavery was at the heart of the Civil War.
“We can debate about the causes of the Civil War,” he said, adding, “But the causes of it were much more complex” than only slavery.
once accused Mr. Stewart of “racist” language, resigned.
But many Republican leaders haven’t publicly disavowed Mr. Stewart, mindful that Mr. Trump is supporting him, and that the president has strong influence with the party base — many of whom supported Mr. Stewart in the primary.
Virginia has not elected a Republican statewide since 2009 and voted for Hillary Clinton over Mr. Trump in 2016. With its strong economy and elite public university system, Virginia has become a symbol of Southern moderation and tolerance, but the far right sees an ally in Mr. Stewart who will push back against the leftward drift and demographic changes underway in the state.
running well behind Mr. Kaine in the polls as well as fundraising. “I can’t self-finance my race. And I don’t have the support of the establishment. So I have to be my own guy.”
‘I wanted more’
Even as a teenager growing up in Duluth, Mr. Stewart was known for his ambition.
“I had many kinds of debaters,” his high school debate coach, Jack Armstrong said. “Corey was a street smart debater,” he said, adding, “by the time he was a senior he was ranking with some of the best in the state.”
began questioning arrestees about their immigration status, then turning them over to federal agents.
Frank Principi, a Democrat on the board, said the county began to “detain people who did not look like us — different skin, different clothes, different language” and became known asCondado del Diablo,the devil’s county.
Many found the ease with which Mr. Stewart adopted hard-line views unsettling, starting with colleagues at work.
“Some of the partners at the firm didn’t like that very much,” Mr. Stewart said of his immigration stance, adding, “it became uncomfortable.”
He left in 2009 and began doing international trade work largely on his own. He also refashioned himself as a booster of the Confederacy, especially in his unsuccessful 2017 race for governor. He has appeared at the Old South Ball, an antebellum-dress event in Danville, and likened his own political crusade to that of Confederate rebels.
“You’ve got this guy who is a transplant coming into Virginia trying to out-Southern folks who’ve been here for 400 years,” said Brian Schoeneman, a Fairfax Republican and former legislative candidate.
keep open the sores of war.”
“The monuments weren’t contentious until the left started taking them down,” Mr. Stewart said, adding that “thankfully those efforts seem to have subsided.”
He claimed that “the ones who were most vehement in terms of taking down the monuments were not African-Americans. They were white liberals.”
But Kevin Chandler, president of the state’s N.A.A.C.P., called Mr. Stewart “treasonous” for his embrace of the Confederate flag.
“It symbolizes hate. It symbolizes white supremacy,” the Rev. Chandler said. “And something such as that should not be displayed openly in the public.”
Over the years, Mr. Stewart became increasingly outspoken. He dismissed one Republican rival as a “cuckservative” and assailed David Hogg, the teen gun control activist, as “that punk” who has “been brainwashed.” He became an ardent defender of Alabama’s Roy Moore amid allegations of sexual misconduct with underage girls. “I think they all disappeared since, didn’t they?” he said of Mr. Moore’s accusers. (They have not.)
At a board meeting this summer, one that Mr. Stewart did not attend, several speakers blamed him after Klan fliers landed on local lawns.
for his service to the South” and seeks to secure ”a future for white children.”
Gregory was asked about anti-Semitic chanting that took place at the rally.
“The only thing that I think I heard somebody say was that ‘Jews will not replace us,’” said Mr. Randall. “Wow, is that killing somebody?”
“Come on, it’s a chant,” he added. “The left chants stupid stuff all the time.”
Such associations have dogged Mr. Stewart. He called a Wisconsin Congressional candidate, Paul Nehlen, “one of my personal heroes,” long after Mr. Nehlen suggested American Muslims should be deported. Anti-Semitic rants finally prompted Mr. Stewart to disavow Mr. Nehlen.
“There’s a guy that everybody supported before we all found out that he was a lunatic,” Mr. Stewart said. “And many people said very kind things about him, even President Trump and Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin and Laura Ingraham.”
disparaging postings on social media. In an email, Mr. Shaftan called questions about his past remarks on race “absurd.”news conference with Mr. Kessler to oppose the Charlottesville City Council’s decision to remove a Robert E. Lee statue from a park.
By then, Mr. Kessler’s website included views associated with the so-called alt-right, a racist, far-right movement. During the news conference, Mr. Stewart said he had “nothing to do with that,” but accompanied Mr. Kessler to deliver a court petition. Mr. Kessler also participated in a Charlottesville rally in support of the Lee statue sponsored by Mr. Stewart, and was alongside him at another event, where Mr. Stewart says Mr. Kessler “just happened to show up.”
Mr. Stewart backed away from Mr. Kessler before Unite the Right last August. But afterward, in a Facebook video, he questioned why left-wing protesters shouldn’t share equal blame.
One of Mr. Stewart’s paid county staff members — Mr. Landrum — has maintained ties with Mr. Kessler, according to court documents. Mr. Landrum recently took part in a Facebook chat with about 20 people, including violent racists, planning a second Unite the Right rally later this month.
Mr. Landrum, who also worked in Mr. Stewart’s campaigns, commented only once on the chat, on May 17, with smiley emojis and profanity.
In a July deposition in a dispute with the city over a proposed rally this month in Charlottesville, Mr. Kessler described Mr. Landrum as a friend. “Have you had discussions with him in the last couple months?” Mr. Kessler was asked. “Yes,” he answered.
Mr. Stewart declined to comment, referring questions to Mr. Landrum, who did not return messages seeking comment. An attempt to reach him at his Woodbridge, Va., apartment resulted in a police complaint that a reporter for The New York Times entered his dwelling unlawfully, an allegation The Times has denied.
Mr. Stewart brushed off questions about the company he keeps, and returned repeatedly in the interview to his love of his adopted state’s heritage, and his admiration for the president.
“All these attacks, on all this Kessler stuff and everything else like that, most people are just, they don’t believe it,” he said. “They are so used to the left calling Trump and other conservatives as racists and bigots.”
“I’m not going to back down from my controversial positions,” he added. “If I were to do that my base would be gone. And so my strategy is just, continue to speak the truth, even if it is controversial.”