A new member of Virginia’s Republican State Central Committee apologized over the weekend for posting anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric on Twitter and Facebook — much of which echoed incendiary comments by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Burke resident Fredy Burgos, an ardent Trump supporter who was elected to the committee in May, called Islam a “death cult organized by Satan,” compared Muslims to Nazis and said “immigration control from Islamic countries is a must.” He labeled Muhammad Ali a “racist black supremacist” and adopted Trump’s controversial criticism of the Mexican heritage of U.S.-born District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, asking on Twitter, “Isn’t this Judge an ‘Anchor Baby’?”
After the state party chairman, John Whitbeck, told Burgos he did not approve of the comments, Burgos deleted them and apologized. In interviews, several members of the committee condemned what Burgos had written.
“The vast majority of Republicans in Northern Virginia embrace diversity and view it as a good thing,” said Kyle McDaniel, who also represents the 11th Congressional District on the committee. “It is incredibly disappointing to see one of our leaders in Northern Virginia espousing views that simply do not reflect our beliefs.”
Still, the incident highlights the challenges Virginia Republicans face as they seek to expand their base in a way that could help Trump capture the White House this fall and increase the chances for the election of a Republican governor in 2017.
On the one hand, Trump’s campaign — including his calls to deport all undocumented immigrants and ban many Muslims from the country — has energized Republicans frustrated by illegal immigration and resentful of changing demographics in such places as Northern Virginia. On the other, such rhetoric can alienate potential GOP voters in the swing state, especially those who are ethnic or religious minorities.
“When you use blanket terms like ‘Nazi,’ it just diminishes the value of the discussion,” said Jim Hoeft, editor in chief of the Bearing Drift conservative blog, which condemned Burgos’s comments in an editorial last week. At the same time, Hoeft said he thinks Trump is tapping into frustrations felt by many Virginia Republicans and has become “a voice of what they have been wanting to express for a very long time.”
Trump easily won the Virginia primary but trailed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in much of Northern Virginia.
Corey A. Stewart, who chairs Trump’s Virginia campaign and also has criticized Curiel on Facebook, defended Burgos’s right to express his opinions online — although he said he strongly disagrees with the anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“There’s gotta be room in the Republican Party for varying opinions,” said Stewart, who is chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and said he plans to run for governor next year. “We just can’t police the views of every Republican out there.”
Burgos, a former candidate for state delegate, is the Canadian-born son of Chilean immigrants. He posts regularly in English and Spanish about illegal immigration in the United States. After a Trump rally in Richmond in June, he posted a video of himself pushing a protester who was calling on the crowd to show more sympathy to refugees.
“Code Pink tossed out by yours truly,” he wrote to his roughly 160 Twitter followers, in a post that also used degrading epithets to describe the protester.
One of the first to express concern about Burgos’s postings was Nadia Elgendy, 19, a U.S.-born Muslim from Springfield who represents college students on the GOP Central Committee.
“Bigotry doesn’t have a place, not only in America and Virginia, but in the Republican Party,” said Elgendy, a student at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.
Elgendy attempted to read a statement of complaint at the Central Committee’s meeting in Charlottesville on Saturday. The state party’s executive director, John Findlay, stopped her, saying they had to stick to the agenda. Elgendy went home and posted the entire statement on Facebook.
Kasia Neilsen, 21, who previously held Elgendy’s position on the committee, said party leaders should note the way millennials have reacted to the postings.
“I’m going to be in office in 10 years, and we’re not going to have people like Fredy represent the party,” she said. “If you believe in these comments, then you’re not a Republican.”
In the apology he posted online, Burgos said his words were “misconstrued,” but added that the state party needs “my diverse perspective, rough edges and all.”
In an interview, he characterized the incident as a family disagreement within the party, but stood by his argument that all forms of immigration should have a more stringent “vetting process.”
Jeff Ryer, a committee member from Williamsburg, said he had never heard of Burgos until people began complaining about his comments. After hearing part of Elgendy’s statement, Ryer said, he walked over to her to learn what offended her.
“I was appalled,” Ryer said, arguing that it’s important for Republicans to forcefully condemn the remarks if they want to be able to credibly condemn Democrats who say equally offensive things.
“We have to hold ourselves to the same high standard,” he said. “If we’re going to take on the Democrats, we need to make sure our own house is in order.”