The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Under fire for Farrakhan donation, D.C. lawmaker Trayon White says he’s ‘not backing down’

D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) took to Facebook Live on April 21 and criticized media coverage over anti-Semitism allegations. (Video: Trayon White Sr./Facebook)

A defiant D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) on Saturday took to Facebook Live to tell his followers that he was “under attack” by the media and vowed to push back against any effort to reprimand him as criticism mounted over allegations of anti-Semitism and a donation he made to the Nation of Islam.

For the past month, White has been trying to survive a national uproar and local political fallout after he spread conspiracy theories that the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family, controlled the climate and government.

His efforts to make amends began unraveling last week after The Washington Post reported that he abruptly left a guided tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and that he donated $500 to a Nation of Islam convention where the group’s leader, Louis Farrakhan, bashed Jews — spending that has drawn the scrutiny of campaign finance officials.

Three fellow council members — Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) — have called for him to be formally reprimanded over the donation. And several Jewish groups that have previously urged forgiveness for White said his financial support for Farrakhan was unacceptable.

On Saturday, council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) called on the Office of Campaign Finance to “quickly complete its review” of White’s donation. An aide to Allen said the council member wants the review to be completed before deciding whether White should be reprimanded.

“We should all speak with one voice that there is no room for or tolerance of hate speech,” Allen said in an email. “I’m disappointed that Councilmember White has not made this more clear in his own words, and I believe his use of these funds is inappropriate and unacceptable.”

In a Facebook Live video, White said he was done apologizing and stood by his donation to the Nation of Islam.

“I am not resigning, I’m not backing down, I’m not discouraged, I’m not depressed, so run all the media stories you want because my people are going to support me,” White said.

“I know some of my colleagues call for me to be censured. We going to have problems, we going to have major problems, because people are going to start coming down to the Wilson Building standing up,” he said, referring to the District government building. “No longer are we going to be kowtowed into being silent about the things that matter.”

White’s 35-minute video was filmed at the Southeast intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Malcolm X Avenue in the heart of his ward. The freshman lawmaker, elected in 2016, periodically stopped speaking midsentence to greet constituents.

Why Trayon White’s allies at home stood by him after Rothschilds scandal

During the video, White said he donated to the Nation of Islam’s Saviours’ Day gathering in Chicago from his constituent services fund because two local members asked him to. When The Post asked him about the donation on Thursday, White said he didn’t know about it — contradicting his treasurer, who said the lawmaker ordered it.

At the convention, Farrakhan made anti-Semitic comments, calling “powerful Jews” his enemy and blaming Jews in Hollywood for the existence of transgender people.

“Now, do I agree with everything that the Minister Farrakhan say? No I don’t, but I don’t agree a lot with what my own brother and sisters do,” White said in the video on Saturday. “But guess what? That’s my brother, that’s my sister, that’s my mother, that’s my uncle, that’s my father. So you can choose your friends. But my grandmother taught me you can’t choose your family.”

His comments come as lawmakers wrestle with the local influence of the Nation of Islam, which has long performed community service in Southeast Washington, as anti-Semitism rises globally.

“I want Trayon and my colleagues to renounce Farrakhan. That does more for me than a reprimand,” said council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), who — along with Nadeau — is one of two Jewish members of the council. “Farrakhan cannot be welcomed in our city at any venue if we want to truly be inclusive and tackle racial inequity.”

Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) said White has “considerable work to do to regain the trust of the Jewish community.” Still, he called for understanding for his colleague.

“It would be easy to react with scorn and anger. But at a time when powerful forces seek to tear our nation apart . . . we must all strive to find within us patience and understanding for the mistakes of others,” Todd said in an email.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, which has led the charge to educate White on anti-Semitism, released a blistering statement Friday saying the group’s patience is running out.

“Councilmember White must clearly and unequivocally repudiate anti-Semitism, Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam’s hateful creed, and dramatically change his behavior,” the organization said in a joint statement with the American Jewish Committee of Washington, D.C. “Time will tell if he can move forward from these incidents or if these events will indelibly undermine his ability to lead.”

Jews United for Justice, a progressive group and one of White’s first major supporters, released a statement Friday calling on the lawmaker to request a refund for the donation to the Nation of Islam.

The group also criticized The Post’s coverage of White’s visit to the Holocaust Museum in Southwest Washington, arguing the lawmaker needed space to learn and that questionable statements were blown out of proportion.

“We are disappointed and angry that Councilmember White stepped away in the middle of one opportunity for bridge building,” the group said in a statement. “And we are also disappointed and angry that some Jewish leaders are choosing to see this set of events in the worst possible light rather than working through the new and growing relationships that this process is meant to build.”

In his video, White said it was a “lie” that he left the museum early.

“Once I found out a reporter was following me, I stepped off from the group so I can see the rest of the museum by myself. We went on our own path,” White said.

White claimed that he told a Post reporter he did not want media present during the tour. But the reporter, who came to the museum, which is open to the public, after learning of the tour from White’s chief of staff, was never asked to leave. When a rabbi accompanying White on the tour texted the lawmaker to ask where he was, White said he hoped to see her outside the museum and that he had to attend a community event soon.

When The Post asked White outside the Holocaust Museum why he had left the tour, he placed his phone to his ear and did not answer. White’s chief of staff did not answer the same questions, which were submitted a day before the article was published.

Speaking on Facebook Live on Saturday, White compared himself to former mayor and Ward 8 council member Marion Barry — whose close ties to his constituents helped him survive years of repeated political scandal.

“They spent $40 million trying to take down Marion Barry,” he said. “This is nothing. I am built for this.”

White said in the video that he never learned about the Holocaust in school. A recent study by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 22 percent of American millennials surveyed had never heard of the Holocaust. And 41 percent of respondents and 66 percent of millennials could not identify Auschwitz as a Nazi concentration camp or extermination camp.