As some in GOP amplify election conspiracies, Riggleman says Republicans ‘have a duty to speak out’

By: - November 12, 2020 12:03 am

A campaign table at a polling station in Buckingham County, Va., Nov. 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

On Twitter, former GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock has deemed some conspiracy theories about a stolen election “tin foil hat stuff.”

Soon-to-be former GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman agrees. And he’s concerned other Republicans may be validating untruths by staying silent.

If you see things that are false, or you see things that could be damaging based on hyperbole or conspiracy theories, you have a duty to speak out,” Riggleman said in an interview with the Mercury Wednesday. “It’s what you’re supposed to do as an elected official.”

After losing a GOP primary this year that limited him to a single term in Congress, Riggleman has openly condemned conspiratorial thinking on the right, most notably by taking on the fringe QAnon movement.

In the past week of commentary since former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden defeated Republican President Donald Trump, Riggleman’s seen a similar unwillingness to separate reality from fantasy, both from “grifters” seeking personal gain and from elected officials who know the election’s over but don’t want to say anything that might cost them politically.

“We’ve been through a lot of presidential transitions,” he said. “In two months, we’re going to have a new president. Period.”

U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, campaigns in 2018 at Richmond International Airport with Vice President Mike Pence. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia Republicans who still potentially have something to lose by angering Republican voters have been less eager to publicly dispute baseless claims that the presidential election was fraudulent.

Some have lent credence to the fraud claims. Others have tried to strike a middle ground by saying post-election challenges need time to play out. 

On Tuesday, the Republican Party of Virginia emailed supporters asking them to give money to an “election integrity fund” because the election is “under attack by corrupt Democrats.”

“We cannot stand idly by and let them get away with this!” read the email from RPV Chairman Rich Anderson, which also asked for donations to support Republicans in next year’s gubernatorial race.

Claims of widespread voting fraud in the 2020 election have been repeatedly debunked by media outlets and election officials. That hasn’t stopped President Donald Trump from insisting he won the election, even though unofficial numbers show former Vice President Joe Biden won the popular vote and will win the Electoral College. So far, none of the Trump team’s legal challenges have gained serious traction in the courts.

More than a week after Election Day, few prominent Virginia Republicans have said they accept Biden’s victory.

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, asked his Facebook supporters to contribute to President Donald Trump’s post-election fund, saying: “If there is the possibility of illegal activity both sides have a duty to request intervention from the courts.” 

The rhetoric on the fundraising page he linked to went further, using the phrases “fraud,” “steal” and “left-wing mob.” The fine print at the bottom of that page notes that half the money raised would go to a “recount account” and half would be used for “general election debt retirement until such debt is retired.”

Congressman-elect Bob Good, who defeated Riggleman in a Republican primary earlier this year in central Virginia’s 5th District and bested Democrat Cameron Webb in the general election last week, also took to Facebook to declare his continued support for Trump.

If we allow this to go unchallenged, neither Republicans nor others playing by the rules will ever again win a close presidential election,” Good said.

Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, told his Facebook followers he had signed onto a letter asking Attorney General Bill Barr what he was doing about “widespread reports of irregularities.”

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Montross, issued a general statement on the importance of election integrity.

“In accordance with each state’s laws, every legally cast vote should be counted and every ineligible vote should not,” Wittman said.

Efforts to reach Good and the incumbent Republican congressmen were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, a Republican candidate for governor in 2021, has perhaps been most brazen in perpetuating the fraud claims. But her comments at a protest over the weekend claiming, without evidence, that fraud had occurred in Virginia drew little public pushback from other elected Republicans.

In a statement this week, the Democratic Party of Virginia said the state GOP has ”let conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists take over their party.”

“The rest of the country is working hard to move on from the national nightmare of the last four years, but Virginia Republicans seem intent on going down with the ship,” said DPVA spokesman Grant Fox.

There have been no documented examples of fraudulent ballots in Virginia. However, there have been a few claims that Republican observers were improperly prevented from watching election officials conduct business, most notably in Chesterfield County outside Richmond.

In a statement to the Mercury, Virginia Elections Commissioner Chris Piper said his agency will be conducting its usual post-election report to identify what can be improved going forward.

“Virginians voted in record numbers this year in the midst of a global pandemic and election officials across the Commonwealth should be praised for how smoothly the election was conducted,” Piper said.

Even though he lost his seat this year and is waging a battle against disinformation with mixed success, Riggleman said he’s convinced “the sky’s not falling.” Biden will be president, he said, but Republican gains in Congress will mean divided government. And hopefully, he said, a retreat from the fringes and a move toward moderate governance.

“The crazy elements are going to have to be suppressed with common sense,” Riggleman said.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.