Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has been battling sexual assault allegations from two different women, likened his situation to “victims of terror lynchings” in a speech to the legislature Sunday.
In his six-minute speech, given on the last day of the legislative session, the 41-year-old lieutenant governor urged the Virginia lawmakers calling for his resignation to refrain from rushing to judgement, suggesting he was a modern-day victim of the Jim Crow-era laws, which led to the state-sanctioned murders of thousands of black men, many of whom were accused of crimes and were denied due process.
Fairfax, a Democrat, reminded lawmakers of the measure they passed unanimously earlier this month that acknowledged “with profound regret the existence and acceptance of lynching in Virginia” during the Jim Crow years between 1877 and 1950.
“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. “We talk about hundreds, at least a hundred terror lynchings that have happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia under those very same auspice, 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."
His comments left a bad taste in some lawmakers’ mouths. “This is the worst, most disgusting type of rhetoric he could have invoked,” said Republican House Majority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert, according to the Associated Press. "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."
Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Del. Lamont Bagby, a Democrat, was more measured in his response to Fairfax’s speech. “I always sort of take a step back when individuals compare lynching or slavery to anything that happens in modern time,” Bagby said, according to the New York Times. “I will say, there are individuals on both sides of the aisle and both chambers that will stand and not allow this to be a political lynching."
In the last month, two women have accused Fairfax of sexual assault. Vanessa Tyson, now an associate professor at Scripps College, said that what began as a consensual encounter turned into assault when Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex at a hotel in Boston during the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Tyson, who says she is a Democrat, says that she tried to go public with the allegations in 2017, after Fairfax won the election for lieutenant governor, and approached the Washington Post. The Post ultimately decided not to run with it because it was unable to corroborate her account. She’s since hired the same lawyer who represented Christine Blasey Ford, who was one of the women who accused Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
Less than a week after Tyson came forward, a second woman named Meredith Watson released a statement through her lawyer alleging that Fairfax raped her at a frat house in 2000 when they were both undergraduate students at Duke University.
Both Tyson and Watson are black women.
The allegations against Fairfax engulfed all three of Virginia’s three top elected Democrats into scandal. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam admitted to wearing blackface to a dance contest in the 1980s after a blackface photo of an unknown man was discovered in his medical school yearbook page. The state’s Attorney General Mark Herring, also a Democrat, admitted he also wore blackface in the 1980’s.
Northam has so far resisted calls to resign.
Fairfax’s seemingly impromptu speech on Sunday came just days after House Republicans announced plans to hold a public hearing, in which he and his accusers will be invited to testify.
Fairfax so far has not agreed to testify, and says that he will not comment on the allegations because he believes they should first be subject to investigation by law enforcement.
Cover: Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax presides over the Senate at the Virginia State Capitol, February 7, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)