A number of demonstrators, some in Ku Klux Klan robes, have repeatedly interrupted the testimony of Jeff Sessions to a US Senate committee that will determine if he will be cleared to become the next attorney-general.
“No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” shouted three protesters, who were immediately escorted by security agents out of the Senate Judiciary Committee where the hearing was taking place.
The nomination of Mr Sessions as head of the US Justice Department has sparked ill feeling among organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which consider the senator a “racist” and criticise the hard line on immigration he has maintained during is 20 years in the Senate.
When Mr Sessions entered the chamber, two men stood on their chairs and displayed their Ku Klux Klan garb, while shouting their thanks to the senator from Alabama for “representing” them in the new government.
“What is this craziness? I’m a white man! You cannot take me out of here! I own this country! White people own this government!” yelled one of the protesters as security agents forced him out of the hearing.
Mr Sessions faced tough questions about some of his allegedly racist comments some 30 years ago when he was an attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and was accused of joking about the Ku Klux Klan and prosecuting activists who defended the civil rights of African Americans.
The hearing was the first in a series this week for nominees to Trump’s cabinet ahead of the January 20 inauguration.
On counterterrorism, Mr Sessions said he would not support banning anyone from the United States on the basis of religion, and said Mr Trump’s intentions were to block people coming from countries harbouring terrorists, not all Muslims.
During his campaign, Mr Trump at one point proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
Mr Sessions also said he would recuse himself from investigating Hillary Clinton’s email practices and charitable foundation if confirmed as attorney general, and he would favour the appointment of a special prosecutor for any such investigation.
“I have said a few things,” Mr Sessions said about his comments during the presidential race accusing former Democratic presidential candidate Ms Clinton of illegal activity. “I think that is one of the reasons why I should not make a decision in that case.”
Mr Trump said during the campaign that if elected he would ask his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Ms Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state and her relationship with her family’s charitable foundation.
“We can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute,” Mr Sessions said. “This country does not punish its political enemies but this country ensures that no one is above the law.”
Mr Sessions said he agreed with Mr Trump in opposing Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive action that granted temporary protection to immigrant children brought to the country illegally by their parents and would not oppose overturning it.
He also said he agreed with his many of his fellow Republicans that the military prison for foreign terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba remain open.
Mr Sessions several times defended himself against charges of racism. He said allegations that he harboured sympathies toward the Ku Klux Klan, a violent white supremacist organisation, are false.
“I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology,” Mr Sessions said in his opening remarks.
“End racism Stop Sessions,” and “End hate Stop Sessions,” read some of the signs carried by protesters.
Mr Sessions has opposed abortion and same-sex marriage as a senator, but said on Tuesday that if confirmed as attorney general he would follow the Supreme Court rulings that legalised both.