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Outspoken Virginia state senator travels to Syria in support of Assad

Virginia state Sen. Richard L. Black visits the Syrian heritage site of Palmyra. (Syrian Arab News Agency/ via AFP)

A Virginia state senator with a history of controversial behavior has traveled to Syria on a three-day trip this week in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) has met with Assad government officials as part of an ongoing attempt to bring attention to what he has said are persecuted Christians.

“I am hoping to move us away from our insane policy regarding Syria. Syria has greater women’s rights and religious freedom than any nation in the Arab world,” Black said in a series of text messages to The Washington Post.

“We are allied with two of the most vile nations on earth, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are intent on imposing a [Wahhabi] fundamentalist government on the Syrian people,” he said.

Black added that he participated in a lengthy interview with Syrian television, but did not answer questions about how the trip was arranged or funded.

While meeting with officials in the war-torn nation Black said, "I will be Syria's voice," according to the state government controlled news agency.

A spokesman for the Senate Republican caucus, Jeff Ryer, could not say who is paying for Black’s travel, but he confirmed taxpayers are not footing the bill.

Messages left at Black’s legislative office have not been returned.

“Sen. Black is traveling to the Middle East as part of his long-standing efforts to protect the safety of Christians in that part of the world,” Ryer said.

Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) joked about Black’s tendency to step into controversial topics in Virginia and abroad.

“Most people would not be concerned about Dick Black going to Syria,” Saslaw said. “The biggest concern would probably be Dick Black coming back from Syria.”

This is not the first time Black, a Vietnam veteran and former Army lawyer, has had contact with the Assad regime. In 2014, he wrote a letter in praise of Assad that was posted on the Syrian president’s Facebook page.

Bashar al-Assad posts a letter of support from a Virginia state senator

Last year, a magazine published by the Islamic State put Black on its enemies list.

Black is one of the most conservative members of the General Assembly and recently made headlines for a testy email exchange with a Loudoun public school teacher over a bill related to the teaching of sexually explicit material in classrooms.

During the recent legislative session, Black kept a map of Syria on an easel by his desk in Richmond, using it as a prop to explain his opposition to the United States accepting Syrian refugees.

In an interview earlier this year, Black said he had reached out to “desperate and hopeless” Syrians but believes military-age male refugees are dangerous.

“I view it as operation Trojan horse,” he said at the time. “I think they represent a danger because they’re not refugees the way we think of refugees.”

He added, “I love the Syrian people. I answer mail from people in Syria. Times when they have been desperate and hopeless I’ve written to them.”

Black tweeted Wednesday evening from Syria that he resigned as the co-chair of Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in Virginia earlier in the month.

Asked why, he tweeted: “Because I don’t speak for Cruz on foreign policy and I knew the bias, liberal media would try to make it sound as if I do.”

Earlier in the day, Virginia Democrats accused Black of having “dangerously clueless views on foreign policy.”

“It is disturbing beyond words that Sen. Black would praise and promise support for a brutal dictator and mass murderer,” party spokeswoman, Emily Bolton, said in a statement. She said the trip reflects poorly on Cruz (R-Tex.), “who hand-picked Dick Black to serve as his campaign co-chair in Virginia after he praised Assad more than a year ago.”