A Virginia state lawmaker interrupted President Donald Trump as he delivered remarks in Virginia on Tuesday, telling Trump “you can’t send us back” in a response to Trump’s racist attacks on a group of Democratic congresswomen.
The protest came as Trump delivered remarks commemorating the 400th anniversary of representative democracy in the Western Hemisphere, the formation of the Virginia General Assembly in 1619 in the Jamestown colonial settlement. A group of black Virginia state lawmakers decided to boycott the speech amid Trump’s continuing attacks.
Trump has stoked racial divisions in recent weeks, first by telling four congresswomen of color they should “go back” to their native countries – even though three were born in the US – and more recently by attacking Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, the black lawmaker who represents parts of Baltimore.
Standing toward the front of the audience in the center aisle, Virginia Delegate Ibraheem Samirah unfurled a sign that said “Deport Hate” and “Go back to your corrupted home.”
“Mr. President, you can’t send us back. Virginia is our home,” Samirah said before he was drowned out by boos and escorted out by police. Trump paused and then continued with his prepared remarks after Samirah was led out.
The protest came moments after Trump turned from focusing on the history of the Jamestown settlement – the first permanent English settlement in North America – to acknowledge the stain of slavery and racial discrimination on early US history.
“In August 1619, the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies arrived in Virginia,” Trump said. “It was the beginning of a barbaric trade in human lives. Today, in honor, we remember every sacred soul who suffered the horrors of slavery and the anguish of bondage.”
He also acknowledged it would take the Civil War and another century after that for the country to “extend the blessings of freedom to all Americans.”
But the remarks are unlikely to signal Trump is backtracking from his stoking of racial tensions. Before leaving the White House on Tuesday for the Jamestown event, Trump repeated his attacks on Cummings and his sweeping characterization of West Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”
Trump on Tuesday said he did not regret the remarks and called Baltimore “an example of what corrupt government leads to.”
Trump has made clear he believes his attacks on Cummings are politically shrewd, rejecting the possibility that he could be alienating moderate voters with his attacks and insisting he is “helping myself” by pointing out “the tremendous corruption” for which he has provided no evidence.
Some White House aides, meanwhile, have privately expressed discomfort at the Cummings broadside and concerns that they are misguided given that Cummings is a far less savory target than the four progressive Democratic congresswomen Trump previously attacked.
Samirah, the member of Virginia’s House of Delegates who protested Trump on Tuesday, told CNN he decided to protest due to Trump’s attacks on those Democratic congresswomen – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar – and his own black and Palestinian heritage.
He said he chose to make his protest following Trump’s remarks on slavery.
“Hearing him say – somebody who’s instituting systemic discrimination against the very black people that he’s referencing – my temperature went up,” he said. “I had to get up and make sure it was very clear that he does not stand for me, he does not stand for Virginians. This is my home and I’m here to stay.”
Samirah apologized earlier this year amid accusations of anti-Semitism over social media posts he said he made in college, saying, “I regret and apologize for” the comments. His posts included likening financial support of Israel to financial support for the Ku Klux Klan.
Samirah claimed Democratic lawmakers discussed different modes of protesting the event prior to Trump’s speech.
“I think everybody planned to protest in advance, a lot of people came, planned to sit down, to not clap for the President when he’s speaking. There are people who walked out,” he said.
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, rebuked Samirah for his “disrespectful outburst” and accused him of violating the legislative body’s rules.
“I am disappointed by Delegate Ibraheem Samirah’s disrespectful outburst during the President’s remarks,” he said in a statement. “It was not only inconsistent with common decency, it was also a violation of the rules of the House.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the 400th anniversary Trump’s speech commemorated.