Ralph Northam Blackface Photo Was First Surfaced by GOP Operatives

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

The photo from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page showing a picture of a man wearing blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood was first posted on the conservative news site Big League News. According to the Wall Street Journal, that site was founded in 2017 by Patrick Howley, who previously worked for Breitbart and The Daily Caller. But the GOP connections go deeper than that.


From the Journal:

Soon after its founding, a majority share in the site was bought by Mustard Seed Media, a North Carolina-based company whose owners include political consultants Reilly O’Neal and Noel Fritsch. Both have done work for Republican candidates whose views often align closely with Mr. Trump’s. [...]

Among Messrs. Fritsch’s and O’Neal’s clients have been Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore—who faced allegations of sexual misconduct and assault on teenage girls—and Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart, a backer of the preservation of Confederate monuments. Mr. Stewart narrowly lost in the 2017 primary to Republican establishment candidate Ed Gillespie, who in turn lost in the general election to Gov. Northam.

“Big League doesn’t shy away from the fact that it is partial to America First Trumpism,” Fritsch told the Journal. “We have criticized Trump in the past, but most of our stuff—like the mainstream media liked to see Barack [Obama] and Hillary [Clinton] succeed, but they don’t tell you—we like to see America First succeed. There’s no beating around the bush.”

To be clear, the source of the photo doesn’t change the fact that it’s deeply offensive and racist, and that Northam should resign. (The fact that he hasn’t could be damaging to the Democratic Party as a whole.) But it’s worth knowing who first discovered this photo and why.

One under-discussed element of this story is what was happening in Virginia politics in the days before the photo came out.

Last week, Virginia’s legislature was debating a bill that would have made late-term abortions, which are generally sought by women whose fetuses are non-viable, easier to obtain. Currently, third-trimester abortions are allowed in Virgina if a woman’s doctor and two other doctors agree that continuing the pregnancy would result in the mother’s death or “substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” The bill, sponsored by Virginia lawmaker Kathy Tran, would have allowed those decisions to be made by the woman’s doctor alone, and would have removed the words “substantially and irremediably” from the law.


Anti-choice conservatives pounced on this bill, and comments that Northam made about it, absurdly accusing Northam and, in some cases, all liberals, of supporting infanticide. In reality, almost all late-term abortions are due to fetal abnormalities that would make a fetus unviable after birth. The bill didn’t pass, as everyone expected.

But the kerfuffle may have inspired the right to try to get Northam out of office. Howley told the Journal that a “tipster” alerted him to the photo after his site posted several articles about Northam and his supposed support of “infanticide.”


None of this in any way absolves Northam of appearing in blackface (even if he denies he was in the photo, he admitted that he had used blackface to do a Michael Jackson impersonation at a dance contest). If anything, it’s an indictment of Northam’s campaign staff and the Virginia Democratic Party that his past wasn’t thoroughly vetted before they decided he was a viable candidate. But it is important and disturbing to see how far-right, anti-choice media was able to come together so quickly to do opposition research more competently than the entire political establishment.