RICHMOND — Although Jeff Sessions came to town Wednesday to talk about crime, the attorney general didn’t invite top Virginia lawmakers. But his appearance did invite protests.
About 70 people angered by Sessions’s visit with state and federal law enforcement officers had gathered outside the downtown SunTrust building by shortly after 9 a.m., bundled against the 25-degree cold.
Just down the hill from the State Capitol, two delegates and a state senator — all Democrats — told the crowd that Sessions was not fit for his office.
“Mr. Sessions, please do us all a public service by owning up to your history — from your attempt to intimidate black voters to your refusal to tell the truth to the Judiciary Committee about your contact with Russian officials — and step down from this highest office of the land,” Del. Delores L. McQuinn (D-Richmond) said to cheers.
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, joined the protesters, who were told by building security to stay outside on the sidewalk as Sessions spoke on the fourth floor.
Neither Northam, Gov. Terry McAuliffe or Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring — all Democrats — were invited to the event with Sessions, Northam noted. “To have him come to Richmond, our back yard, and not even issue an invitation to us, I think, is unacceptable,” Northam said.
He blasted Sessions for failing to disclose his meetings with the Russian ambassador during his confirmation hearing. “To have the highest-ranking law enforcement agent in the country unable to tell the truth is unacceptable, so I’ve called on him to resign,” Northam said.
Northam’s rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, former congressman Tom Perriello, has also called on Sessions to resign. Perriello was not at the protest.
All around Northam, protesters held signs, chanted and marched to the rear of the building in search of Sessions’s motorcade. Having missed him, they continued on around the block. One woman banged on a skillet with a wooden spoon as the crowd chanted, “Sessions out of RVA!” and “No Sessions! No KKK! No fascist USA!”
“I just think it’s our civic responsibility to make our voices heard,” said Angela Lovett, 52, a retired military veteran from the Richmond suburb of Midlothian. After attending the Women’s March on Washington shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, Lovett said she felt a new urgency to get politically involved. Like others in the crowd, she said she had learned of Sessions’s visit through Facebook alerts.
“Like a lot of people, we’ve been appalled by this administration,” said her friend Moulton Avery, 68, who runs a nonprofit organization that promotes cold water safety. “Every single day it’s just another thing I thought I’d never see in my lifetime. This man Sessions — he’s just another wolf in front of the chicken house. He lies under oath to Congress, and it’s like no big deal. In any normal situation, he would’ve been out.”
Avery held a sign that said “Liar Liar Pants on Fire” and “LGBTQ Rights are Human Rights.”
Montigue Magruder, 30, of Richmond, said he was less concerned about allegations that Sessions had communications with Russia and more concerned about his record on civil rights.
“Quite frankly, I think he promotes white supremacy,” said Magruder, who is African American and works in elder care. “He opposed the Voting Rights Act, and that impacts people like me,” he said.
Calling the Russia issue “a bunch of red baiting,” he said that “we need to oppose him on his actual track record . . . how he’s intimidated black voters and what not.”
Nearby, Margaret Doyle held a sign that said “I stand with Coretta,” a reference to the letter Coretta Scott King wrote about Sessions in the 1980s and that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was prevented from reading on the Senate floor during Sessions’s confirmation.
“Obviously, Jeff Sessions is not qualified to be our attorney general. He perjured himself. He lied! He lied, and he should resign,” said Doyle, 58, who owns a catering company in Richmond. As she spoke, drivers motoring by on Main Street honked their horns and sent up a round of cheers in the crowd.