Despite denouncing racist Hampton official, Virginia GOP’s actions have long alienated Black voters

It’s no revelation that many African Americans, in Virginia and nationwide, view the Republican Party as hostile to their aspirations and well-being. The news that a GOP electoral official in Hampton Roads hurled a racial slur at two Black military veterans, and blithely suggested a return to “a good public lynching,” reinforce the view of such enmity – if not outright violence.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin and other Republicans quickly demanded David Dietrich, the electoral board chair in Hampton since January, resign following the recent publicity about his February 2021 Facebook post. The Hampton Circuit Court formally noted his resignation Monday.

Dietrich had verbally attacked Lloyd Austin, who served four-plus decades in the Army and is the nation’s first Black secretary of defense, and Russel Honore, a retired Army lieutenant general who led the review of the U.S. Capitol’s security after the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.

Questioning their loyalty is both absurd and offensive.

The Republican Party of Hampton, on its Facebook page, expressed its outrage at Dietrich’s missive and copied the text of the disturbing 2021 post. Dietrich had said Honore was “a Black nationalist” and called the two men “enemies of the people.”

The electoral official then went on to describe both military veterans this way: “They are nothing more than dirty, stinking n——s.”

That’s how Dietrich distilled the essence of two men who, combined, spent three-quarters of a century serving in the military and defending this country. Among his military tours, Austin fought in Iraq.

“As governor, I serve all Virginians,” Youngkin tweeted April 9, before Dietrich had quit. “I won’t accept racism in our Commonwealth or our party. The abhorrent words of a Hampton Roads official are beyond unacceptable and have no place in Virginia. It’s time to resign.”

Some background on electoral boards: The political parties in a locality recommend nominees. The chief judge in the judicial circuit then selects the members. Usually, two members of the three-person electoral board are in the same party as the governor.

Their duties include holding meetings, approving and recommending locations of polling places, and determining official results.

It’s not clear how the Hampton GOP learned of the 2021 Facebook comments. Hampton GOP Chairman Phil Siff declined an interview but referred me to a news release. In the statement on the Facebook page, the party said it “unequivocally condemns all forms of racism and bigotry, and specifically condemns the language employed by Mr. Dietrich.”

Siff had told another news outlet: “It’s not acceptable behavior for someone who’s going to be in that type of position.”

Indeed.

Dietrich would have helped oversee elections in a city that’s 50 percent Black, yet he held these noxious views. Fortunately, no elections were held during his short stint on the board.

This is no idle point, because some Republican officials around the country long questioned Joe Biden’s win after the 2020 presidential contest. Dietrich’s rantings were like-minded.

Youngkin’s criticism was warranted and welcome. Nor am I suggesting every Republican thinks as Dietrich does.

Yet, the governor and other elected Republicans have too often employed racial tropes and outright lies, after calculating such strategies would drive their base to the polls.

Racial reconciliation and equity be damned.

Youngkin ran his gubernatorial contest claiming “critical race theory” was harming public education. Conservatives had ginned up the catch-all phrase to incite their voters. The issue helped the political novice defeat Democrat Terry McAuliffe last year.

A Youngkin spokeswoman didn’t respond when I asked what the governor would tell Black Virginians who see the Hampton incident as more evidence the GOP is hostile to them.

The de facto head of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, used racial animus by Whites toward others even before his 2016 presidential campaign. He was, for example, the leading proponent of the scurrilous “birther” movement, saying Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States – and thus ineligible to be president.

Following his failed bid for re-election in 2020, Trump and his minions lied repeatedly about voter fraud. Trump specifically cited heavily Black cities including Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Atlanta as places he said the election was stolen from him.

It was a blatantly racist, stupefying attack. African-American voters have overwhelmingly supported the Democratic nominee for president for decades.

From 1968 to 2016, in fact, no Republican presidential candidate received more than 13 percent of the African-American vote; from 2000 to 2016, the Democrat averaged a whopping 91 percent of the Black vote. Biden won about 90 percent of the Black vote in 2020.

None of Trump’s claims on Black votes made sense – unless you don’t want those ballots to count.

Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first African-American woman selected to the U.S. Supreme Court, faced a slew of disturbing questions from Republican lawmakers. The inquiries had nothing to do with her specific background or the job as justice. The senators also showed disrespect by repeatedly cutting off the nominee’s answers during this year’s confirmation hearings.

Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of three Republicans who voted to confirm Jackson, noted: “I think there was a level of personal attack that was unwarranted.”

Back to the Hampton electoral board. Among Dietrich’s more-alarming comments was his shift to lynchings.

Given the history of vigilante terror in this country, the statement was deplorable. Tuskegee University notes 4,743 people were lynched from 1882-1968; 73 percent of the victims were Black.

A more modern-day allusion? Someone built and erected a hangman’s gallows during the attempted reversal of Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol.

The GOP, in Virginia and elsewhere, can continue to alienate large swaths of the public with divisive, biased tactics and rhetoric. The strategy has been partly successful for decades, though less so in an increasingly racially diverse country.

Will the party shift to inclusion over expediency? Given the recent past, there’s no reason for optimism.


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

Democrats appear to be sick of playing by the rules as Republicans laugh in their faces and do whatever they want

Stick out your hand, Terry McAuliffe. Let me give you a proverbial “slap on the wrist" for the fawning video that Vice President Kamala Harris provided your gubernatorial campaign. It will be shown in 300 predominantly Black churches across Virginia on the Sundays leading up to the Nov. 2 election.

Virginians, you deserve a leader who has a vision of what is possible, and the experience to realize that vision," Harris says in the 2-minute-plus clip. “Terry McAuliffe is that leader."

Not exactly roof-raising, but OK. Former President Barack Obama and Stacey Abrams of Georgia are among the Democratic Party luminaries who will or have come to Virginia to get their guy across the finish line in this closer-than-expected contest.

Airing the Harris video by the faith congregations, though, may be a violation of the IRS law banning churches that are 501(c)(3) organizations from participating in political campaigns. You're encouraging them to be criminals, former (and would-be) Gov. McAuliffe!

By the way, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, last week touted the Biden administration's support for you, too. That's an apparent no-no under the Hatch Act, which prohibits most executive branch members from taking part in such campaigns. (Psaki said the next day she and Joe Biden take ethics “seriously" and that she would be more careful with her word choice, because “words certainly matter.")

That's not your fault, Terry, but I'm sure you're not minimizing the love from a president who's a Democrat — like yourself. Two slaps, maybe?

I'm being facetious, of course.

Federal statutes and rules involving politicking should be followed. Yet, when such law-breaking occurs continuously and without penalty, everyone knows there's little risk of getting in trouble.

One other thing: The fact Republicans and conservative commentators are pointing out the reputed misdeeds involving McAuliffe is especially galling. They've had no shortage of violations themselves, especially during the recently deposed administration of Donald Trump. The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says the Trump White House routinely ignored the Hatch Act.

News articles say the feds have rarely revoked a church's tax-exempt status. Maybe officials are squeamish about going after one faith community and not targeting another, or being accused of allowing one candidate religious support – but then cracking down on her opponent.

“More lately," the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times reported in early 2020, “the IRS has remained silent even as religious leaders on both sides of the spectrum have increasingy waded into political debates."

The Virginian-Pilot reported in 2018, for example, that dozens of churches here in the commonwealth have been donating cash to campaigns for years “and often to liberal Democrats, according to an analysis of campaign reports compiled by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project."

This means the actual risk to these churches, synagogues, mosques and others is practically zero.

Which brings me to the hypocrisy involving some GOP apparatchiks.

Exhibit No. 1 is Kayleigh McEnany, one of several White House press secretaries under Trump. “Why does the media not hold @PressSec accountable for potential Hatch Act violations?" she tweeted about Psaki. “She has twice advocated for political candidates from the podium."

McEnany clearly forgot about speaking in support of her former boss during his failed re-election campaign and urging an investigation into the “Joe Biden-Hunter Biden situation" while on the White House grounds in her role as press secretary. Twitter users called out McEnany for her apparent amnesia regarding her purported Hatch Act violations.

It was hard for me to keep up with all of Trump's lies, accusations and breaking of norms during his single term. The Washington Post even had a team of journalists documenting his tens of thousands of falsehoods.

So I simply forgot this nugget during his 2020 re-election bid: Legal experts said he shouldn't have campaigned at a megachurch near Miami early last year. About 7,000 supporters attended the event at King Jesus International Ministry.

In fact, Democrats are likely sick and tired of playing by the rules while Republicans laugh in their faces and do whatever they want – norms, laws and fairness be damned:

Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denied Merrick Garland even a chance at a hearing for a Supreme Court opening, even though Obama nominated Garland nearly eight months before the 2016 election. In 2020, under Trump, McConnell rammed through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett just weeks before the election.

GOP members of Congress — at the behest of their overlord, Trump — politicized what previously had been a pro forma certification of electoral votes after the 2020 election. Trump's exhortation of a mob of supporters led to the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but Republicans abetted the attack by their nonsensical objections during the certification process that day.

And so on.

McAuliffe must be desperate to win next month if he has to enlist Vice President Harris. Though an overwhelming majority of African-Americans usually vote for Democrats, I'd bet most folks would be uncomfortable sitting in the pews while hearing her video pitch – if not outright angry if they supported his opponent.

A McAuliffe campaign spokesperson declined to answer my question, by email, about the accusations that airing the video could jeopardize the churches' tax-exempt status.

But let's get real. The kerfuffle over the video doesn't equate with Republicans' repeated bad faith and hypocritical actions involving laws and procedures.

It's not even close.


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.