Story by Chris Graham
A man who identified himself as a supporter of Democratic Party Senate candidate Jim Webb was escorted from a George Allen campaign event in Staunton today after interrupting the start of a local press availability with the senator to ask him a series of questions that included a racial slur.
“Have you ever used the word ‘nigger’?” the man asked the Republican incumbent after Allen had finished up speaking to a local chamber of commerce group.
After repeating the question, the man – who was carrying a tape recorder, a notebook and a pen and introduced himself to the senator only as a “law student” – then asked Allen about a Confederate flag and noose that he keeps in his office.
Allen at first requested that the man wait to speak with him until after he had addressed questions from the members of the media who were awaiting the start of the press availability.
Allen campaign aide David Snepp then asked the man to leave after he became combative – and the man was later escorted away by an employee of the Holiday Inn-Staunton where the event was held.
The man left the premises before the end of the senator’s meeting with members of the press – briefly leaving details about his identity and any possible connection that he might have to the Webb campaign a mystery.
A report in The News Virginian in Waynesboro this afternoon identifies the man as Mike Stark, a first-year law student at UVa.
The Augusta Free Press
has not independently confirmed the man’s identity.
Ben Carter, the president and CEO of the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce, which hosted Allen’s visit, told the AFP that the man had purchased a ticket to the luncheon that preceded Allen’s remarks to the chamber group.
A Webb campaign volunteer who witnessed the incident told the AFP that the man had introduced himself to him earlier as being a Webb supporter and University of Virginia law student.
The volunteer, who declined a request from the AFP to identify himself, said the man is not affiliated with the Webb campaign. Webb campaign press secretary Jessica Smith reiterated that in an interview with the AFP this afternoon.
“The person who asked Sen. Allen those questions is not affiliated with us. And we’re not sure that we know who he is,” said Smith, who was briefed on the incident by the volunteer who was at the event.
“It certainly sounds like there is somebody who is upset and trying to create a situation there. It’s clear that after the last couple of weeks that there are a number of people who are upset with Sen. Allen because of his remarks. But I have no idea who he is. He’s certainly not on staff with us – that’s for sure,” Smith said.
The reference to “remarks” has to do with the lingering controversy over comments made by Allen to a Webb campaign volunteer earlier this month at a campaign event in Southwest Virginia in which the senator identified the volunteer, who is of Indian-American descent, by a nickname apparently derived from a word for monkey that is used as a slur against North Africans.
Allen shrugged the incident off when asked about it during the press availability that followed it.
“I’m just going to keep advocating what I think is important – which is, protect our freedom, make sure this is a land of opportunity for all, and also to preserve our foundational values,” Allen said in response to a reporter’s question on the incident and its place in the context of what is becoming a negative campaign.
“But my opponent’s campaign, generally speaking, all we ever do get is something negative. But I’m going to try to keep motivating and inspiring people with positive, constructive ideas and visions for our country,” Allen said.
Allen also addressed the controversy over his use of the word macaca that has made national headlines and is attributed for tightening what had been a double-digit gap in the polls between the senator and the challenger to a three-point margin in one poll released earlier this week.
“I’ve said all I care to say about it – and I’m moving forward,” Allen told the AFP. “I’ve apologized for the insensitive remark – and that’s all I’m going to say about it. There’s nothing more that needs to be said. I’ve said all I need to say – and I’m moving forward. And I think the people of Virginia expect us to discuss – or all I know is I’m going to do this – is discuss issues as I did here today.”