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Update: Youngkin expresses regret over “unauthorized” tweet attacking 17-year-old

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin on the campaign trail in South Richmond. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Editor's note: This story was updated Feb. 7 at 10:44 p.m.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin expressed regret on Monday for a tweet sent by his official campaign account attacking a 17-year-old high school student, some 36 hours after it was posted.

“On Saturday night, an unauthorized tweet came from a campaign account,” Youngkin wrote in a tweet Monday morning. “I regret that this happened and it shouldn’t have. I have addressed it with my team. We must continue to work to bring Virginians together. There is so much more that unites us than divides us.”

In a tweet that was deleted more than 12 hours after it was posted, the “Team Youngkin” Twitter account posted a photo of Patrick Henry High School senior Ethan Lynne alongside former Gov. Ralph Northam juxtaposed with a racist photo from Northam’s yearbook.

“Here’s a picture of Ethan with a man that had a Blackface/KKK photo in his yearbook,” the tweet said. It was a reply to Lynne’s earlier posting of a VPM story regarding the resignation of a historical interpreter from Virginia’s Executive Mansion who’d been focused on telling the stories of enslaved workers. The story – and Lynne’s initial tweet, which had been shared over 24,000 times as of Monday morning – contained a mistake. VPM corrected the error on Saturday evening after Youngkin’s spokesperson noted it, over two weeks after VPM first contacted Youngkin’s office to verify the claims. Lynne quickly updated his tweet thread with the update.

The “Team Youngkin” tweet, originally posted at around 5 p.m. Saturday, was deleted Sunday morning at around 8:30 a.m., according to Lynne. He said he hadn’t heard directly from the governor or his office as of Monday morning

“While he acknowledged the situation, Governor Youngkin did not apologize and did not condemn what happened over the weekend,” Lynne said in a text message on Monday morning. “I still hope he does, and that he will take time to recognize the culture of toxicity he has created within his first month of office.”

Youngkin’s statement marks a shift in tone from this weekend, when his campaign communications director defended the tweet. Matt Wolking, a consultant at Axiom Strategies, which helped run Youngkin’s campaign, stopped short of apologizing in a statement Sunday morning.

“It was brought to attention that this Democrat Party official repeatedly elevated by [state] Senator Louise Lucas as a source of official Democrat Party communications is actually a minor, so the tweet was removed,” Wolking said in a statement. Wolking declined to say if he was responsible for the tweet but said the governor had not seen or signed off on it.

Lynne’s Twitter bio lists him as a high school senior. Lynne said he is currently an unpaid intern for Sen. Scott Surrovell (D-Fairfax). Lynne said he’d been active in the party as an unpaid campaign volunteer since he was 10 years old. He worked as an intern for the Democratic Party of Virginia and led former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s “High Schoolers for Terry” initiative as part of McAuliffe’s 2021 campaign for reelection. 

“I was appalled and shocked that the governor would attack a minor who was also a constituent and leave the tweet up for over 12 hours,” Lynne said in an interview.

Lynne said the photo in the Team Youngkin tweet appeared to have been gathered from a tweet he posted in October.

Youngkin campaigned on reforming Virginia’s education policies and defending “parent’s rights,” but early moves – including an executive order allowing parents to send kids to school without masks – have sparked backlash and a slew of lawsuits. A judge temporarily blocked the mask rule in an order on Friday.

Lynne has quickly added thousands of followers since Youngkin’s inauguration by repeatedly criticizing his policies. His tweets have been boosted by Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia, and Senator Lucas (D-Portsmouth), among others, who’ve steered followers to Lynne’s account. The high schooler said he writes his own posts.

Lucas, Swecker and a slew of other Democratic politicians in Virginia came out to defend Lynne over the weekend.

“.@GovernorVA disappointed you would use your official twitter account to bully a teen for nothing more than retweeting an article about you,” Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) tweeted on Saturday. “I've learned you need a thick skin in this biz, and you need to learn that too.”