A self-described white supremacist, who harassed Vermont state lawmaker Ruqaiyah “Kiah” Morris with so many racist messages that she resigned her post last fall, showed up at a press conference on Monday where she was speaking about that harassment.
His arrival immediately sparked objections from other attendees.
“No, no, no, no,” one woman can be heard saying in video of the press conference shared by the Burlington Free Press.
“Out, out, OUT!” another shouted.
“Why is this allowed?” someone repeatedly asked.
Local news reporters identified the harasser, Max Misch, when he arrived near the end of the event. He was wearing a black T-shirt decorated with Pepe the Frog, a cartoon that has been co-opted as a symbol of racism.
Morris, a Democrat who represented Bennington, spoke about the online abuse and threats she endured for two years as the state’s only black female lawmaker. She was joined at the press conference by her husband, James Lawton; law enforcement officials; and Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan.
Morris had been answering a question when she noticed Misch, stopped speaking and stepped back. Donovan then took over the lectern.
In protest, some people in attendance held up their coats to block Misch from view.
The state attorney general told the packed room that after a monthslong investigation ― and although the messages Morris received from Misch and others were “clearly racist and extremely offensive” ― his office would not prosecute the senders due to First Amendment protections.
Donovan shared some of the threats from a report on the investigation.
“Go back to Africa, it’s the only place you’ll ever be safe,” one message read.
The report noted that police once found “several” neckties, a possible lynching reference, in the cemetery adjacent to Morris and Lawton’s home ― neckties that Lawton believed had been stolen from him. Swastikas were also found painted in a wooded area near their home.
In August 2018, Morris said that she would not seek re-election to the state legislature, but would serve out her term. The following month she announced that she would step down due to the threats.
On Monday, Morris expressed her disappointment with the investigation but said she was prepared for the possibility that no legal action would be taken.
“All of the accounts of what happened to me and my family over the years are enormous in scale and historically rooted in a legacy of white supremacy, misogyny and inequity,” Morris said before the disruption.
“We did everything that we were told to do, reported everything, held nothing back and trusted in a system that, in the end, was insufficient and inept at addressing and repairing the harm done,” she continued. “In the end, we were told there was nothing to be done.”