For several years, Fredy Burgos has been a controversial but tolerated figure within Virginia’s Republican Party — a verbal bomb thrower whose attacks against Muslims, immigrants and others have turned off moderates while reflecting a new brand of conservatism in the era of Donald Trump.
But in the wake of a wave of Democratic victories last fall that was fueled by anti-Trump sentiment in Northern Virginia, party leaders — worried about losing more voters — moved to force Burgos off of the state central committee this week after he posted a Facebook comment suggesting Jews should not run for political office.
“There’s only so many times that somebody can be given forgiveness for making offensive statements,” said John Whitbeck, chair of the state party, who, along with Rep. Barbara Comstock and a chorus of other Virginia Republicans, called on Sunday for Burgos to immediately resign.
“It makes it much harder for us to convince voters that we’re the party of tolerance and respect for all religions and religious freedom when our own people in our leadership are saying that,” said Whitbeck, who in 2013 faced his own controversy over an anti-Semitic joke.
Burgos, who also holds an elected position on the Fairfax County party committee, says his comments were misconstrued. He responded to a question for comment by sharing another Facebook post, where he wrote: “As an evangelical Christian, nobody loves the Jewish people and Israel more than I.”
The original post borrowed from Trump, using the headline “Make Fairfax Great Again.”
Below that, Burgos shared a 19th-century quote from John Jay, the country’s first chief justice of the Supreme Court, asserting that it is the privilege of a Christian nation “to select and prefer Christian rulers.”
The comment came as Burgos was campaigning for Tim Hannigan, who is running to become the next chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee. Hannigan’s rival in next month’s election is Mike Ginsberg, who is Jewish.
Ginsberg declined to discuss Burgos.
Hannigan, whose campaign website sells red “Make Fairfax Great Again” trucker hats, said he removed Burgos as a campaign adviser after learning about the post. But he cautioned against a rush to judgment that would lead to booting a fellow conservative out of the party.
Quentin Kidd, director of Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy, said Burgos’s post and the swift condemnation by Republican Party leaders reflects a challenge the party faces in Northern Virginia.
With the area’s changing demographics favoring Democrats in recent elections, Republican officials have had to adopt more moderate stances, particularly amid the flashes of white nationalism that appeared during last year’s gubernatorial race and during the violent riot triggered by a neo-Nazi rally in August in Charlottesville — events which have driven some people out of the party.
That would explain why Comstock — who has been distancing herself from Trump as she heads into a potentially tough reelection bid in November — would respond so quickly to a social media post by a relatively unknown figure like Burgos, Kidd said.
In a statement, Comstock said Burgos’s “bigoted, backwards views have no place in the Republican Party — the party of Lincoln and Reagan.”
Comstock and other Republicans are walking a fine line between guarding against perceptions that their party holds such views and alienating a conservative base that may agree with some of them, Kidd said.
“I’d imagine that, if they had their druthers, this would go away, but there is an element of the Republican base where these views are strongly held and firmly believed. And they’re going to have to deal with it because I don’t think this stuff is going away,” he said.
Ginsberg, 43, said local Republicans need to bring in greater diversity to the party to reverse a string of Democratic victories in recent elections.
“I think of the party as a spectrum where everybody has different views on things,” he said. “I think we all agree on a lot of things.”
Hannigan, 68, said the Republican leadership must embrace its various factions.
“We need to be reaching out to all kinds of people who have an interest in Republicans and not pushing them away,” he said.
Whatever direction the Republican Party of Virginia takes, Burgos isn’t likely to play a role in it for too much longer, Whitbeck said, particularly as the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and other groups call for his ouster.
Burgos hasn’t said whether he will voluntarily step down, but the process for forcibly removing him — involving a petition and a two-thirds vote of committee members — is already under way, Whitbeck said.
For the next party central committee meeting in March, “I have multiple people who’ve indicated that they’re going to start collecting the signatures needed to put this on the agenda,” he said.