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Donald Trump

Donald Trump launches Twitter attack on US civil rights leader John Lewis, who questioned his legitimacy as president

Lewis cited ‘Russian interference’ in the election as his reason for skipping the presidential inauguration for the first time since becoming a member of Congress in 1987

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 January, 2017, 10:18am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 January, 2017, 10:03pm

US president-elect Donald Trump lashed out on Saturday at a prominent civil rights leader and lawmaker who said he is skipping next week’s inauguration ceremony because he sees the New York businessman’s election as illegitimate.

Trump aimed his latest Twitter blast at long-time congressman John Lewis and the majority-black district in Georgia he represents, drawing widespread criticism just days before the holiday honouring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jnr.

A park near the monument to King was the endpoint on Saturday of the first major protest in Washington ahead of Trump’s January 20 inauguration: nearly 2,000 people rallied both in honour of King and against the president-elect.

I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton
congressman John Lewis

Lewis, whose district includes Atlanta and surrounding areas, on Friday became the most high-profile Democratic lawmaker to boycott Trump’s inauguration.

“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis told NBC’s Meet the Press talk show in an interview on Friday.

Early on Saturday, Trump fired back at him.

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results,” Trump said on Twitter. “All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!”

Lewis, 76, is known for his decades of work in the civil rights movement, and marched with King at the August 1963 rally in Washington at which King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. The son of sharecroppers, Lewis took part in so-called Freedom Rides – challenges to segregated facilities at bus terminals in the South.

On March 7, 1965, he led a march in Selma, Alabama that ended in an attack by state troopers on the protesters that later became known as “Bloody Sunday”.

At least 16 House Democrats have publicly stated they will not be attending Trump’s swearing-in at the US Capitol next Friday, with several indicating their absence will be an act of political protest – but Lewis is the most prominent.

In his interview with NBC, Lewis cited what he called Russian interference in the November 8 election as his reason for skipping the presidential inauguration for the first time since becoming a member of Congress in 1987.

“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” he told the network, in the interview which will air in full on Sunday. “You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong.”

US intelligence organisations have accused Russia of cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and distributing hacked emails from senior Clinton aides in an effort to influence the US election.

Trump has acknowledged that Moscow likely meddled in the election, but has refuted any notion that it helped him defeat Clinton.

On Twitter, Lewis earned support from Democratic colleagues – and a few Republicans.

“Ahead of #MLKDay2017, let us remember that many have tried to silence @repjohnlewis over the years. All have failed,” said House Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

Unfortunately when they elected Obama president, black people mistakenly thought that meant that this country was more tolerant of different races
Valerie Williams, protester

“Rep. John Lewis was beaten, bloodied & arrested 40+ times marching for civil rights,” wrote Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. “He is a true American hero and represents the best of us.”

Without directly denouncing Trump’s comments, Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska linked to a photo of Lewis at a civil rights march, with the message: “John Lewis and his ‘talk’ have changed the world.”

On Saturday, some 2,000 demonstrators, the majority of them black, marched along the National Mall – the grassy esplanade that is home to major museums and monuments – to the park near the Martin Luther King Memorial.

Some chanted, “We will not be Trumped.”

“We won’t go back,” said civil rights leader Al Sharpton, calling on marchers to fight to defend the accomplishments of Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House. “We want this nation to understand what has been fought for and gained. You are going to need more than one election to turn it around.”

Many of those gathered expressed pessimism about the incoming Trump administration.

Valerie Williams, a black woman who travelled to the nation’s capital from New York for the march, said she feared that for the next four years, “nobody in the government is going to have my concerns at heart.”

“Unfortunately when they elected Obama president, black people mistakenly thought that meant that this country was more tolerant of different races,” she said. “But we saw over the past eight years that it just made some people that were probably inherently racist upset, and all those people came bubbling to the top.”