Republican State Senator Richard Black of Virginia has written a letter to Bashar al-Assad praising the Syrian president for his fight against "criminals linked to al-Qaeda" and thanking him for his "heroic rescue of Christians."
"You have followed the practice of your father by treating with respect all Christians and the small community of Jews in Damascus.... I am grateful for that," the letter reads. It concludes: "Until then, I pray that the Syrian armed forces will continue to exhibit extraordinary gallantry in the war against terrorists."
Assad has been accused of widespread human rights abuses in his country's three year long civil war.
Reached by cellphone, a man identifying himself as Senator Black confirmed to BuzzFeed that he had written the letter, which was dated April 1 (though it did not appear to be an April Fools' joke). It was addressed to Assad, but Black said it was "difficult" to get the letter to the Syrian president. He refused to elaborate further on his channels to Assad. "I had not published it because I didn't know how long it would take to get it delivered to President Assad," Black said. "I didn't want to just publish it in the newspapers without it ever being received. It accurately reflects my views on the Syrian situation."
Black received unofficial confirmation that the letter had been received by the government after a contact, who he declined to name, told him that the Syrian First Lady, Asmaa al-Assad, had posted it to her Facebook page. "The individual who wrote [me] wanted to confirm that it wasn't a prank," Black said. "I'm not much of a prankster."
When asked if he feared backlash over the letter's contents, Black said, "Anytime you take a stand there will be certainly people who disagree. But Al Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11 and I'm deeply troubled that we are now assisting al-Qaeda in Syria."
The letter created a stir on Twitter. Black has previously made controversial statements supporting Assad, and regarding his opposition to criminalizing spousal rape.
Black later posted the letter on SyrianPerspective.com. He has shared his views on the Syrian conflict to the pro-Assad forum before.
Black provided BuzzFeed with an original copy of the letter by email.
Gideon Resnick is a political reporter at BuzzFeed. His work has appeared in VICE, the Atlantic and the Daily Beast.