By Kaitlyn Lawrence
HARLEM, Feb. 22-- Congressman Hakeem Jeffries was accepting questions from students at a lecture at The City College of New York (CCNY) when an impassioned member of the audience used the opportunity to confront the house minority leader.
Jose Vega, a 24-year-old activist from the Bronx, attended the lecture hosted by CCNY’s Colin Powel School where Hakeem Jeffries was speaking. But he wasn’t there to be an audience member.
At first, Vega spoke playfully with Jeffries, a Brooklyn native. “I’m a proud Bronx boy, not to compete with you,” he said. But his tone quickly shifted.
Vega confronted Jeffries about a United Nations (U.N.) Security Council meeting that happened on February 21. At the meeting, Russia asked the U.N. to conduct an independent investigation into the September explosions along the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea. This request came after American investigative reporter Seymour Hersch published an article earlier in the month claiming the United States was responsible for the explosions.
“If it is proven that the United States bombed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, … will you call for the United States to acknowledge and admit that that was an act of war against Germany and Russia?” Vega asked Jeffries.
But Vega’s concerns were bigger than the pipeline. “And I’m asking you this because this may be the only way to prevent the rest of us from being killed in a thermonuclear war. And I don’t wanna be fried,” he said. “Don’t you think the media should be reporting on whether or not this is true? And don’t you think you should be inquiring?”
Vega fears that if Hersch’s claims are true and the U.S. does not get in front of the issue, Russia may respond with a retaliatory act of war.
Representative Jeffries answered that he had “no information to suggest that the United States was involved in bombing the Nord Stream pipeline.” Then he and Vega went back and forth while Jeffries tried to ask him to “hold on.”
“Sir, sir, please” the moderator, Dean Andrew Rich stammered.
“You weren’t given information cause [Hersch] explicitly says you weren’t briefed on it,” Vega shouted.
But Hersch’s claims are controversial. Many question the credibility of his accusations because the article relies heavily on a single anonymous source. And news sources are weary to publish the accusations as facts because they lack evidence.
“So, here’s what I’ll say about... President Biden’s leadership generally as it relates to the Ukraine and Russia,” Jeffries started to respond. But Vega cut him off.
“We committed an act of war... We have to hold Biden accountable,” he said. “This is bullshit!”
Then the event organizers cut off his microphone. But he just started shouting at Jeffries about his concerns.
The audience looked shocked when Vega started to approach the stage, but he didn’t let that stop him. “I kinda don’t care what people think about it,” he told The Paper in an interview the next day. “I know what’s right.”
Vega is a self-proclaimed member of the LaRouche Organization. And this was not his first time confronting a political figure. In the past, he similarly confronted Kamala Harris, Alexandrea Ocasio Cortez, and Ritchie Torres at public events.
When it was clear Vega was not going to let the issue go, three security officers escorted him out of the event. Jeffries attempted to continue speaking while some members of the audience shouted protests.
“I’m gonna ask if you can join me in a round of applause for Representative Hakeem Jeffries?” a red-faced Dean Rich asked the stunned audience.
But Vega wasn’t finished. “We need peace” and “How about accountability?” he shouted before being escorted out of earshot.
The Paper interviewed Vega the day after the incident, and he explained that he doesn’t regret his methods. He even cited Jeffries to justify them. “Refer back to Hakeem Jeffries speech earlier in the talk where he said sometimes when you see injustice, its ok to get into a little bit of good trouble.”
Though he believes in using his Freedom of Speech to hold political figures accountable, he doesn’t resent the event organizers for their response. “They’re trying to control their event. I can’t blame them,” he told The Paper.
The dramatic incident was cut out of the event videos published by the Colin Powell School a few days later. As was a comment made right after by Ikeda Feingold, the daughter of Dr. Stanley Feingold, the namesake of the lecture series Jeffries spoke at.
“That got feisty,” she said smiling. “But I’m not sure my father would have hated it.”