“The Virginia Way, at the core, is what really keeps us from moving forward at the speed we need to,” Samirah said Friday in an interview.
His sudden notoriety — Samirah served just five days of this year’s General Assembly session after winning a special election — is a measure of the state’s changing political identity.
All 140 seats in the General Assembly are on the ballot this fall, and Democrats are pushing hard to overturn thin Republican majorities in both the Senate and House of Delegates. Trump’s racially divisive rhetoric has given progressive Democrats added impetus in calling for erasing the status quo.
In an essay posted online Friday by the Atlantic, Samirah explained his protest of Trump in the context of disrupting the Virginia Way.
“What the Virginia Way boils down to is comfort,” he wrote. “Republicans and some Democrats alike in Virginia are not used to their comfort being disrupted. And so I was expected to keep the Jamestown celebration comfortable despite the presence of the president.
“But this president is a racist and a bigot. That’s the uncomfortable truth.”
Samirah, 27, a Palestinian American dentist from Herndon, is only the second Muslim to serve in Virginia’s House of Delegates. He won his seat in February after his predecessor, Democrat Jennifer Boysko, won a seat in the state Senate.
Only five days were left in this year’s legislative session when Samirah was sworn in, so he has yet to introduce legislation. His moment in the spotlight Tuesday drew praise from some Democrats but also provoked grumbling. Some saw it as detracting from separate ceremonies the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus conducted that day in Richmond to protest Trump and to draw attention to the 400th anniversary of the first Africans arriving in the English colony.
Republicans viewed Samirah’s action as outrageous. Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) called him an “ill-advised little bastard,” and House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said Samirah was disrespectful and should be censured by his caucus.
House GOP leaders also revived charges that Samirah is anti-Semitic, which surfaced during his campaign based on social media posts critical of Israel. He has denounced those allegations. Samirah apologized for his words, which he said were “ill-chosen,” but he also said they were taken out of context as part of “a slander campaign.”
Since his protest in Jamestown, Samirah has received threats on social media, he said, and he is preparing to report them to the Capitol Police in Richmond.
“The way [Republicans] have responded to me is obnoxious,” Samirah said. “This noble decorum they’re trying to protect — how noble is it, the Senate majority leader calling me a bastard?”
As for charges that his actions violated General Assembly rules: “What’s more harmful to our democracy? A president that gets support from Russia . . . or me speaking out for a few seconds?”
He said Democrats who complained privately about his behavior were also misguided, and he denounced fellow party members for attending Trump’s speech and applauding during the address.
Samirah said Trump’s harsh treatment of immigrants inspired his protest, as well as the president’s insistence that four women of color in Congress “go back” to where they came from and his attacks on Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and the congressman’s majority-black district in Baltimore.
“This is clear, systemic discrimination,” Samirah said.
In his view, he said, the Virginia Way is a more subtle, insidious version of the same thing: stifling minority voices and snuffing out attempts to bring change.
It was on display, he said, during the special legislative session on gun control that Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called in June. Republican leaders adjourned after just 90 minutes without allowing debate or a vote on any bills.
“A large majority of Virginians” are ready for change, Samirah said, predicting that the results will be visible this fall.
“Kirk Cox is going to pay the price in the next election,” Samirah said, noting that a federal court has redrawn Cox’s district as part of a ruling against racial gerrymandering. Samirah has used his newfound celebrity status to urge people to donate to the powerful Republican’s opponent.
In his own district, Samirah is running unopposed.