Republican state senator in Virginia challenges report he edited yearbook with blackface picture




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The slew of scandals rocking Virginia state government expanded to the Republican Party on Thursday as a local newspaper confirmed that State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment was one of the editors of a 1968 Virginia Military Institute (VMI) yearbook that contained numerous racial slurs and at least one blackface picture.

In response, Norment, 72, suggested he was the victim of a smear campaign intended to distract from the multiple allegations of past racism and sexual assault surrounding the state’s highest-ranking Democratic officials.

The Virginian-Pilot reported first reported that Norment was the managing editor of The Bomb, which included a photo of a man in blackface standing with others in costumes and used the racial slurs “Chink” and “Jap” to describe a student from Thailand.

A caption under one photograph read, “He was known as the ‘Barracks Jew’ having his fingers in the finances of the entire Corps.”

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In a statement, Norment condemned the use of blackface; he also asserted he was not featured in any of the photographs and did not take any of the pictures.. He said he was one of seven people who worked on the yearbook and “cannot endorse or associate” himself with everything in it.

Virginia's State Senate majority leader, Thomas Norment, R-James City County,  shares a laugh with Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, during a Senate session in Richmond on Thursday. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Virginia’s State Senate majority leader, Thomas Norment, R-James City County,  shares a laugh with Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, during a Senate session in Richmond on Thursday. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“The use of blackface is abhorrent in our society and I emphatically condemn it,” Norment said in a statement on Thursday, after earlier telling reporters he did not want to discuss the topic. “As one of seven working on a 359-page yearbook, I cannot endorse or associate myself with every photo, entry, or word on each page. However, I am not in any of the photos referenced on pages 82 or 122, nor did I take any of the photos in question.”

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Norment continued: “As my comment on Page 236 notes, I supported the integration of VMI. And in 1997, I led the effort to have my alma mater include women for the first time.”

VMI permitted black students to enroll beginning in 1968. While regulating student speech is challenging — “they’ve got their First Amendment rights,” the school’s communications director said — multiple layers of faculty review have since been added to the yearbook’s editorial process.

Norment, in his statement, suggested that Democratic operatives were hoping to distract the public.

Virginia Military Institute (1968) yearbook photographs.

Virginia Military Institute (1968) yearbook photographs.

“With 114 editions of The Bomb available online dating back to 1885, I am not surprised that those wanting to engulf Republican leaders in the current situations involving the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general would highlight the yearbook from my graduation a half-century ago,” Norment said. “Despite all of the distractions from the continuing controversies involving our statewide elected officials, I am intent on fulfilling the work of the people of Virginia by passing a fiscally responsible budget that provides tax relief for working families.”

First, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam was embroiled in controversy over a blackface photograph that appeared on his 1984 yearbook page. Contradicting previous statements, Northam held a news conference in which he said he was “convinced” he was not in the racist photo on his yearbook page. He also acknowledged having colored his skin black for an event he attended as pop star Michael Jackson.

Then, a rape allegation against the next official in the line of succession, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, surfaced — and Fairfax insinuated Northam’s team could be behind the leak.

In a bizarre twist, Fairfax has since retained the same law firm that represented now-Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was going through the confirmation process and faced decades-old sexual misconduct allegations.

On Wednesday, Virginia Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring — who previously called for Northam’s resignation — admitted to wearing blackface during a college party in 1980.

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And then on Thursday, an aide told Fox News that Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., was made aware of the allegation of sexual assault against Fairfax more than a year ago.

The aide said that Vanessa Tyson — who this week issued a statement detailing her accusation that Fairfax sexually assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention — initially just said there was a #MeToo allegation involving Fairfax.

Fox News’ Adam Shaw and Ellison Barber contributed to this report.

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