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Gold StarKhizr Khan, the father of fallen Army Captain Humayun Khan who repudiated then-candidate Donald Trump at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, told a crowd of Fluvanna residents that journalism keeps America free.

Khan, a Muslim American, spoke before a crowd of 150 people gathered at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church Monday night (Jan. 29). His rousing 40-minute speech was bracketed by standing ovations.

“The press is the voice of democracy,” he said to a journalist. “This nation will be forever grateful. Believe me, once these clouds are gone, you will see that the press has maintained its service to democracy, to our Constitution, to our nation, and it will be remembered. It will be written in history in golden letters, so thank you. Thank you for your service.”

The Gold Star father who offered the humbling words of thanks lost his son in 2004 when he was killed while on active duty in Iraq.

Khan told the crowd he has twice lived in countries that did not recognize what he called “human dignities.”

“Dictators don’t like free press and the rule of law,” Khan said. Speaking from the perspective of a dictator, he said, “These judges are no good; throw them out. I will decide what is good for the country.”

He paused. “You draw the conclusions of what we are facing today – without naming names,” he said.

The audience laughed darkly.

Khan said the current upheaval in America is one of the three most difficult times in the county’s history, alongside the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. “We are going through the same perilous time in our history today,” he said. 

But “whether we like it or not, I consider that we are fortunate that we have been chosen to stand and defend our democracy, defend our nation…defend the values that I grew up dreaming about,” he said.

Khan was a 22-year-old law student in Pakistan when he first read the U.S. Constitution. After examining the constitution of the Soviet Union, Germany’s constitution, and the Magna Carta, he felt stunned when he read the American document and its companion, the Declaration of Independence.

“What kind of people are these?” he recalled marveling. “We don’t declare independence… I have been in awe of you all and your ancestors since then.”

Khan urged his listeners to re-read the Declaration of Independence. “That document is an amazing reminder for us of what we have gone through to have these privileges, dignities and rights, and that we must preserve them for future generations,” he said.

Khan waved a copy of the Constitution during his iconic speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, in which he said that if it were up to Trump, Khan’s son, a Muslim, would never have been in America.

“Have you even read the U.S. Constitution?” he asked then-candidate Trump. “I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’ Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America – you will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

Trump drew sharp criticism when he responded by suggesting that Khan’s wife, Ghazala Khan, had stood silently on the podium because she had not been allowed to speak. He also sparked ridicule when he referenced sacrifices he has made that include creating “thousands and thousands of jobs.”

Khan, who lives locally off Route 20, now travels the country speaking to groups who want to see political change. He said his message changed dramatically last November.

People at “every event would ask me one question… It became a theme throughout the country… ‘Where do we go from here? What do we do now?’” he said. “And I would answer, ‘Contact your political leaders…and tell them your concerns, and demand that you want to hear them speak about your concerns, otherwise you will not…vote for them, you will not donate, you will not contribute.”

But the image of his “sisters, daughters and brothers” standing in the rain on Virginia’s Election Day last Nov. 7 became an inspiration “that I have taken with me throughout the nation thereafter,” he said. Virginians’ determination to vote remains etched into his mind.

“You went and you voted and you corrected the wrong that was done in 2016,” Khan said. “You have set an example for this nation, that when there is an anomaly that takes place through our democratic process, there is a way to correct it.”

Virginia’s closely-watched election of Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring – all Democrats – was seen across the country as a repudiation of Trump and Republicans.

“You have given hope to the rest of the country,” Khan said. “You have shown the way to the rest of the nation and the nation looks up to you with gratitude.”

Khan’s listeners were still lined up to shake his hand and have their photos taken with him long after people finished packing up their potluck dishes.

Lefty Lunch Ladies, a group of about 200 politically left-leaning Fluvanna women, sponsored the event.

Su Wolff, founder of the group, said that she felt inspired to book Khan while watching him at the Democratic National Convention. “I admired the man and knew we would love to hear from him,” she said.

Lefty Lunch Ladies, which began about seven years ago, met in people’s homes until participation ballooned. “Now we’re a force to be reckoned with,” Wolff said.

Four Democratic candidates running to unseat 5th District Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Buckingham) attended the event. Leslie Cockburn, Ben Cullop, Roger Dean Huffstetler and Andrew Sneathern stood to greet the crowd but did not formally speak.

Wolff drew attention to the religious diversity of the crowd by repeating a comment made by Fluvanna resident John Hammond: “Isn’t it great that we’re all here to hear a Muslim man booked by a Jewish woman in a Catholic church?”