The former co-chairman for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign in Virginia traveled to Syria Wednesday and promised to show support for President Bashar Assad, who U.S. officials have repeatedly said has lost legitimacy to rule the war-torn county.
Virginia state Sen. Dick Black is a part-time senator who has no official role in U.S. foreign policy. Still, he has met with Assad government officials and said he would advocate for a better relationship between the U.S. and Assad, according to Syria’s state news agency.
"I will be Syria's voice," Black said, according to the news agency.
An aide for Black told the Associated Press that he resigned as co-chair for the Cruz campaign in Virginia shortly before his trip. In a resignation letter dated April 21, Black said he was resigning to “avoid any possible distraction” related to his endeavor.
Black said in the letter that he was traveling to Syria “in an attempt to restore peace and prevent the slaughter of Christians and other minorities at the hands of the armies of terrorists rampaging across the country.”
Black has also called anti-Assad fighters “a group of terrorists” that are fighting against a legitimate Syrian government.
“Many people misunderstand the situation in Syria, and refuse to believe that all the groups fighting against the Syrian regime are terror groups,” Black told the Jerusalem Post. “I know that Syrian President Bashar Assad wants to have a modern state, where people would enjoy freedom of religion.”
Black has been strong advocate for Cruz and was recently elected to serve as a Cruz-supporting Virginia delegate at the Republican National Committee's convention this summer.
Cruz hasn’t advocated using force to remove Assad as the leader of Syria.
"If we are to defeat our enemies we need to be clear-eyed that toppling a government and allowing radical Islamic terrorists to take over a nation is not benefiting our national security interests," Cruz said at the Republican Jewish Coalition forum in December, referring to President Barack Obama's Syria policy goals. "Putting ISIS or Al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of yet another state in the Middle East is not benefiting our national security."
Last year, Black said the Virginia Capitol Police alerted him to a threat against him by the Islamic State for his support of Assad. The state senator was featured in a magazine published by the Islamic state.
Black posted a link on Twitter on Wednesday to article written by an Iranian state-run TV news agency, which quoted Black as saying the Syrian civil war would "come to an end if the U.S. stops training terrorist in Jordan, Saudi Arabia" and other countries.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Black "is entitled to his views, but they do not reflect this administration's policy on Syria."
The outspoken Republican lawmaker is one of the most vocal social conservatives in Virginia’s General Assembly, and has drawn nationwide attention for his opposition to abortion and gay rights.
The former Vietnam War veteran and military lawyer dismayed Republican leaders in 2003 by sending fellow lawmakers small, plastic likenesses of a fetus to underscore his opposition toward abortion.
The state senator raised eyebrows in 2014 when he sent a letter to Assad praising him. It was posted on the Syrian president's Facebook page.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.