A candidate for school board in Loudoun County, Virginia, accused his rivals of sending out fake campaign texts in his name.
In a tweet on Monday, Nick Gothard, who is running for school board in the Broad Run district, shared a screenshot of the alleged text in which he is purported to have endorsed “children friendly drag shows.”
“I organize and participate in children friendly drag shows,” it says, alongside a picture of someone in a Pride shirt with a child.
Gothard, however, denied sending out any such texts and instead claimed that school board member Andrew Hoyler and candidate Tiffany Polifko were responsible.
“Voters are tired of disgraceful and dishonest attacks like this @tiffanyforbr @andrewhoyler,” Gothard tweeted. “If you have a vision for our community, share it. If all you have are hateful and lying attacks, get out of the way of those who are ready to do the work.”
In response, numerous Twitter users claimed to have received the text in question and argued that the messaging was part of a coordinated effort to smear Gothard, who has been a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ community.
“I just received this same text message a few minutes ago,” one user wrote. “I assumed it was sent by an opponent or negative group. It seems like an abuse of text communications to send this kind of misinformation to people.”
But both Hoyler and Polifko are denying any involvement. In a post on Facebook, Hoyler attempted to distance himself from the scandal.
“To set the record straight, I have never purchased or considered randomly texting voters as I hate when I get those texts myself,” Hoyler said. “My campaign finance reports will show EXACTLY where every cent I receive gets used—and you won’t find any expenditures on this type of advertising.”
In an emailed statement to the Daily Dot, Polifko accused Gothard of making false accusations.
“Nick Gothard is falsely accusing me of bearing responsibility for the texts regarding him and ‘child-friendly drag queen shows’ in an attempt to smear me and without evidence of my participation in this activity,” she said. “I did not authorize or approve of these texts.”
Many online are pointing fingers at the local organization known as Parents Against Critical Theory (PACT), a self-described grassroots advocacy group “that is adamantly opposed to Critical Race Theory in all forms.”
The image featured in the text reportedly came from a YouTube video of the 2022 Loudoun Pride Festival that PACT had posted online days prior. Not only that, users noted that Polifko is a known member of PACT as well.
PACT referenced its previous posting of the video on Tuesday but did not mention the allegations surrounding the text messages.
PACT went on, though, to ape the language of the text, saying people should blame “Gothard (who helped put on the event).”
Despite the finger-pointing, no substantial evidence at this time has linked the text messages to any candidate or group.
Loudoun County has been at the center of intense debates over the district’s transgender-inclusive policies, especially concerning the use of public bathrooms. The matter became a flashpoint in fall 2021 as the Virginia governor’s race played out, with some believing the ire around the policy helped propel Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) into office.
In remarks to the Daily Dot, Gothard stated that his team is currently investigating the origin of the texts.
This post has been updated with comment from Gothard.
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*First Published: Oct 11, 2022, 1:40 pm CDT
Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.