Justin Fairfax: Virginia lieutenant governor stuns senators by comparing himself to lynching victims

Chris Riotta

The lieutenant governor of Virginia has likened himself to a lynching victim while battling accusations of sexual assault and calls to resign from his post amid a series of scandals impacting the state’s top lawmakers.

Justin Fairfax made the controversial statements during a surprise speech on Sunday, lashing out against his critics in the state Senate as 2019 legislative session was coming to a close.

“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,” Mr Fairfax said, referencing legislation the General Assembly passed expressing “profound regret” for lynchings in Virginia between 1877 and 1950.

“And we talk about hundreds, at least 100 terror lynchings that have happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia under those very same auspices,” he added. “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.”

Stunned senators sat in awkward silence when he finished his five-minute impromptu speech.

Mr Fairfax, who is black, has been accused by two women of sexual assault. Both of the alleged victims are African American.

Earlier this month, Vanessa Tyson publicly accused Mr Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex in his hotel room during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004. Her lawyer said last week that she plans to meet with prosecutors in Massachusetts to detail her allegations.

Meredith Watson has also publicly accused Mr Fairfax of sexual assault. She issued a statement accusing him of raping her 19 years ago while they were students at Duke University.

House Republicans announced plans Friday to hold a public hearing where Mr Fairfax and his accusers can testify, a move that he and some Democrats have panned as a political ploy.

Mr Fairfax has indicated he won’t participate in the hearing, leaving it an open question whether Republicans will try to compel him to testify. He has said the accusations should be investigated by law enforcement.

Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats and both white, are embroiled in their own scandal after acknowledging they wore blackface in the 1980s.

Mr Northam has also resisted widespread calls to resign and instead said he intends to devote his remaining years in office to addressing the state’s deep and lingering racial divisions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report