PURCELLVILLE, Va. (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday hailed activist parents who are decrying school curriculums as un-American, equating instruction on the effects of institutional racism with “state-sponsored racism” and warning that such efforts might “indoctrinate” children.
The fight over schools has become a flashpoint in the Virginia governor’s race, where polls show a dead heat between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin ahead of Election Day on Tuesday. In his speech at Patrick Henry College, a Christian university about 50 miles outside Washington in Loudoun County, Pence echoed many of the criticisms Youngkin has made central to his campaign and praised activists in the surrounding suburbs for propelling a “movement spreading all across the country.”
“The eyes of the nation are on Loudoun County,” Pence told a crowd of hundreds in a gymnasium.
The former vice president has delivered speeches around the country on other policy matters and is widely thought to be preparing a 2024 presidential run. He did not appear with Youngkin or mention him by name on Thursday — but he didn’t have to. The GOP nominee has made fighting for “parental freedom” a key part of his closing argument, highlighting his support for allowing parents to object to lessons on certain books and his opposition to critical race theory, a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism.
Youngkin has tapped into the frustrations of parents’ groups in northern Virginia — many of them headed by officials with ties to the Trump administration, the Republican Party, or both — who have decried school COVID safety precautions, transgender policies and curriculums.
In recent weeks, Youngkin has seized on allegations of sexual assault at two different Loudon County high schools allegedly committed by the same student. The cases were widely publicized by conservative media, after the father of the first victim was arrested in an altercation with another parent at a school board meeting discussing transgender policy.
That led some activists to allege that school officials were more interested in punishing parents than stopping a student who has been charged with sexual assaults in separate schools.
Although the details of the case are still emerging, Pence seized on it, saying he was angered “to think those crimes happened because some adults cared more about politics than the well being of our kids.”
“Mike Pence peddling these divisive, hateful, right-wing lies shows that he and Glenn have more in common than their complete and total allegiance to Donald Trump,” McAuliffe spokeswoman Christina Freundlich said.
Pence repeatedly chided McAuliffe, who previously served as Virginia’s governor from 2014 to 2018, accusing him of supporting critical race theory. Although the academic theory is rarely taught, especially in elementary schools, Pence and other speakers at Thursday’s event said they’d heard anecdotal stories about young kids being made to feel bad about being white.
“Children as young as kindergarten are being taught to be ashamed of their skin color,” Pence said, adding that “critical race theory is nothing more than state-sponsored racism” and calling it an attempt to ”indoctrinate our youth into radical, left-wing ideology.”
In the final days of the campaign, McAuliffe has slammed Youngkin for using “racist dog whistles” to rally GOP base voters. Youngkin’s campaign released an ad this week featuring a mother who years ago sought to have the book “Beloved” banned from classrooms in suburban Washington.
The acclaimed 1987 novel by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison is about an escaped slave who kills her infant daughter rather than allowing the girl to be returned to the plantation.
The Virginia mother’s advocacy led to state legislation McAuliffe vetoed in 2016 and 2017 that would have let parents opt out of having their children study classroom materials with sexually explicit content.
McAuliffe has accused Youngkin of trying to “silence” one of America’s “most prominent Black authors.”
But Youngkin counters that the measures McAuliffe vetoed had bipartisan support among state lawmakers, meaning McAuliffe is now accusing his own party of racism.