RICHMOND, Dec. 22 — Virgil Goode is used to having people mad at him.

His Democratic Party bosses pitched a fit when he challenged Chuck Robb in the 1994 U.S. Senate primary. They steamed in 1996 when he forced his party to share power with Republican lawmakers in the state legislature. And they seethed in 1998 when he voted to impeach President Bill Clinton.

Goode responded with a shrug, and by switching parties, becoming a Republican member of Congress after decades as an independent-minded Democratic state lawmaker and representative of Southside Virginia.

Now, by taking aim at a newly elected Muslim member of Congress from Minnesota, the Democrat-turned-Republican congressman has sparked the ire of immigrant groups and invited unwanted attention from national TV networks and newspapers.

“That’s Virgil exactly,” said state Del. Allen W. Dudley (R-Franklin), who grew up with Goode and attended Franklin County High School with him in the mid-1960s. “He’s very strong in what he believes and doesn’t mind speaking what he believes.”

What he believes now, according to a letter he wrote to a constituent, is that Muslims should not be elected to Congress. He was responding to a decision by Rep.-elect Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to carry a Koran into his swearing-in ceremony next month.

“If American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran,” Goode wrote in the letter dated Dec. 7 and reported this week. “I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary.”

Ellison was born in Michigan and converted to Islam.

In a news conference Thursday, Goode said “the letter stands for itself” and added, “I do not apologize, and I do not retract my letter.” In an interview on Fox News, he noted that one constituent he talked to “thinks I’m doing the right thing on this.”

Goode did not return calls seeking an interview Friday.

His letter and subsequent refusal to apologize have infuriated and energized advocates for immigrants and his political adversaries. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) called on President Bush yesterday to condemn Goode’s comments, which were characterized Thursday by the head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations as “ignorant and divisive.”


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