How Brett Kavanaugh and the ‘complexifier’ of race help Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax

FILE- In this Sept. 25, 2018, file photo, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax gestures during remarks before a meeting of the Campaign to reduce evictions at a church meeting room in Richmond, Va. A California woman has accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her 15 years ago, saying in a statement Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, that she repressed the memory for years but came forward in part because of the possibility that Fairfax could succeed a scandal-mired governor. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Steve Helber/File/AP
Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax.

When it’s he said, she said — deny, deny, deny.

It worked for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And now, Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, is following that high-stakes precedent. Kavanaugh said the sexual assault of which he was accused by Christine Blasey Ford never happened. Fairfax insists his interactions with two female accusers were consensual.

The Kavanaugh defense, “complexified” by race, as Jeff Bezos might put it, is helping Fairfax fend off his accusers, at least for the moment. Fairfax is black. Until he was accused of rape, he looked like he might become the next governor of Virginia. The current governor, Ralph Northam, a fellow Democrat, was under pressure to resign following revelations of a racist photograph that appeared on his page in a medical school yearbook and a subsequent admission that he once wore blackface to a Michael Jackson dance contest. But Northam is refusing to go. Mark Herring, Virginia’s white attorney general, who also admitted to a past encounter with blackface, isn’t leaving either.


Who wants to force a black man out of office over sexual assault allegations while white men accused of racism are allowed to keep their power? A Virginia Democrat who planned to introduce an impeachment bill targeting Fairfax is backing off, citing the need for “additional conversations.” Of course, the Fairfax story raises issues beyond Virginia politics. As Janet Langhart Cohen, an author, playwright, former TV personality, and wife of former defense secretary William Cohen tweeted, “Only in America can a white man who is accused of assaulting women ascend to the White House and the Supreme Court, but a black man accused of same be asked to resign.”

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Yet what about the women who accuse Fairfax of assault? Don’t they deserve the same level of respect and public support as Blasey Ford, a white woman? The outcry over Fairfax seems muted. Shouldn’t every female politician and pundit who loudly and passionately declared their belief in Kavanaugh’s accuser be doing the same for Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson?

Tyson, an associate professor of politics at Scripps College, accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004 during an encounter at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. She recently released a statement describing in vivid detail how what she said “began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault.” Because of “the deep shame and humiliation” she suffered afterwards, she said she didn’t speak of it for years. Then, in October 2017, Tyson learned that Fairfax was running for lieutenant governor and decided to tell friends about the assault. As the #MeToo movement intensified, she approached The Washington Post, which decided not to publish her story.

When it looked like Northam would resign and Fairfax would be sworn in as governor, Tyson posted a message on Facebook that didn’t name him, but led to her public outing as his accuser. After Fairfax called her a liar, she released the statement through the same law firm that represented Blasey Ford.

A second accusation came from Watson, who charged that Fairfax assaulted her in a “premeditated and aggressive” attack in 2000, while both were undergraduate students at Duke University. She said she told classmates and friends of the attack after it occurred. Now she wants Fairfax to resign from office, she said through her lawyer.


When you read them, the accusations ring very true. However, Fairfax insists the charges are false and wants an FBI investigation. Both Tyson and Watson said they would cooperate — just like Blasey Ford. But remember, an FBI investigation ultimately helped Kavanaugh get the votes he needed to become a justice. None of the 10 witnesses interviewed could corroborate the allegations lodged against him.

The allegations against Fairfax are more recent, and the victims seem better able to document that they told other people. But under the Kavanaugh standard, when it’s he said, she said, what’s enough proof to force Fairfax to resign?

Protecting men from their female accusers is Kavanaugh’s most immediate legacy.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.