Virginia’s lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, made a bizarre and unexpected speech late last week during a statehouse ceremony for historical victims of lynchings within the state, comparing himself to the victims of the racially motivated attacks.
Fairfax has been laying low lately, avoiding media scrutiny after being accused of two incidents of sexual assault, and both victims have spoken out about their allegations publicly. Vanessa Tyson says Fairfax pressured her to perform oral sex on him in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Meredith Watson, a college classmate of Fairfax, claims Fairfax raped her two decades ago, while the pair were students at Duke University.
Fairfax denied both allegations, and the issue briefly disappeared from headlines until he brought it up again in his unexpected speech on Friday.
“I’ve heard much about anti-lynching on the floor of this very Senate, where people were not given any due process whatsoever, and we rue that,” Fairfax said during a commentary period for legislation expressing “deep regret” for victims of lynchings that took place in Virginia between 1877 and 1950, according to the Associated Press.
“And we talk about hundreds, at least 100 terror lynchings that have happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia under those very same auspices. And yet we stand here in a rush to judgment with nothing but accusations and no facts and we decide that we are willing to do the same thing,” he added, clearly referencing his own case.
The AP reports that “stunned Senators sat in awkward silence” at the remarks.
When reporters spoke to members of the state legislator later, the reviews were mixed.
“That is the worst, most disgusting type of rhetoric he could have invoked,” the Republican House majority leader told media. “It’s entirely appropriate for him to talk about due process and we would intend to offer him every ounce of it, and he’s welcome to take advantage of that anytime he would like.”
Others were more conciliatory. Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Del. Lamont Bagby, who has been supportive of Fairfax thus far, said he heard “similar” remarks about the allegations against Fairfax from his constituents and sees the lieutenant governor’s complaints as legitimate.
Fairfax is one of three Virginia Democrats facing a scandal. The state’s governor, Ralph Northam, allegedly appears in a medical school yearbook photo of a school party, where he is dressed either as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, or in “minstrel-style” blackface makeup. Northam denies that he is either person pictured, but has since taken the liberty of engaging in a “listening tour” of minority communities in Virginia in lieu of resigning his position over the clearly racist photo.
The state’s Attorney General is also accused of donning blackface while in high school. He, too, has refused to resign his position and is waiting out the news cycles.