Amid a boycott by some members of Virginia's legislative assembly and a brief protest by one of its lawmakers, U.S. President Donald Trump commemorated Tuesday the 400th anniversary of the body's first meeting in Jamestown, Virginia.
"It's a tremendous honor to stand on these historic grounds as the first president to address a joint session of the oldest lawmaking body in all of the Western Hemisphere, the Virginia General Assembly," Trump said. "On this day, 400 years ago, here on the shores of the James River, the first representative legislative assembly in the New World convened. By the devotion of generations of patriots, it has flourished throughout the ages. And now that proud tradition continues with all of you."
As Trump was in mid-sentence later in the address, Democratic delegate Ibraheem Samirah shouted, "Mr. President, you can't send us back! Virginia is our home! Mr. President, you cannot send us back! Virginia is our home!"
Other audience members booed the Palestinian American dentist and some chanted, "USA, USA" and "Trump, Trump, Trump."
Samirah was led out of the venue by police while holding three placards on top of another, reading: "Go back to your corrupted home. Deport hate. Reunite my family and all those shattered by systemic discrimination."
Later in a Twitter post, Samirah said he had disrupted Trump's speech "because nobody's racism and bigotry should be excused for the sake of being polite."
The Virginia Republican Party has released a statement accusing Samirah of being anti-Semitic.
Responses by Democrats
Others who opposed the invitation made to Trump by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, stayed away.
"The current President does not represent the values that we would celebrate at the 400th anniversary of the oldest democratic body in the Western world. We offer just three words of advice to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation: 'Send Him Back,'" wrote state Democratic leaders.
But some Democrats did attend.
Adam Ebbin, a senator who represents the Arlington-Alexandria area in the general assembly, explained in a message to his constituents he chose "to participate in a uniquely Virginian celebration of diversity and progress — even if the guest speaker is antithetical to these ideals. I will not let a would-be despot drive us from the room on a day to honor democracy. I will not follow the chaos or buy into his divisiveness."
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus boycotted the event.
"It is impossible to ignore the emblem of hate and disdain that the president represents," the caucus said in a statement. The group also referenced attacks by the president on lawmakers of color in their reason for boycotting the event.
Trump in his speech noted the connection between Jamestown and the slave trade.
"It was the beginning of a barbaric trade in human lives," he said. "We remember every sacred soul who suffered the horrors of slavery and the anguish of bondage."
Trump noted that "in the face of grave oppression, and grave injustice, African Americans have built, strengthened, inspired, uplifted, protected, defended and sustained our nation from its very earliest days."
He also quoted the late civil rights luminary, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., saying after the Civil War, which ended slavery in the United States, it would take another century for the nation to "live out the true meaning of its creed and extend the blessings of freedom to all Americans."
Trump has faced harsh criticism in recent days for his verbal attacks on racial minority lawmakers and has rebutted accusations he is a racist.
A new national survey finds 51 percent of voters think Trump is racist while 45 percent do not.
The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted several days after Trump said four congresswomen of color should "go back" to the countries from which they came, even though all are U.S. citizens and only one was born outside the country. The last survey day for the poll included the time he launched a new attack on Congressman Elijah Cummings.
Trump has repeatedly criticized Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, for conditions in Baltimore, a largely African American city, which Trump said is rodent-infested.
In remarks to reporters Tuesday, Trump said many people, without specifying who, in Baltimore are calling to thank him for taking on Cummings and exposing corruption in Maryland's largest city.