“If you don’t get out of here, I’m going to hit you!” barked the 40-something-year-old angry white man at Arish Singh. What did Singh do that made this man want to beat him up? Singh had simply objected to Donald Trump’s Muslim bashing at a campaign rally Sunday in Muscatine, Iowa.
Singh is a brave soul and a beautiful representative of the Sikh faith. He went into the belly of the beast—a Trump rally —wearing his traditional Sikh turban and sporting a beard, both considered articles of faith to Sikhs.
Singh isn’t Muslim. In fact, many Sikhs have been assaulted in recent years by bigots who thought they were Muslims, with over 700 attacks recorded since 9/11 in the United States, including murders.
But as Singh explained to me, “Social justice and defending people in need is part of the Sikh faith. You don’t have to be a Muslim to stand against anti-Muslim bigotry. Everyone should stand up against bigotry and hate regardless of the target.” Singh was not only upset with Trump’s demonizing of Muslims but the fact that recently a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was ejected from a Trump rally for simply standing up in silent protest. Singh felt compelled to do something.
And so Singh set out Sunday night to do just that. Singh, who was born and raised in Iowa but who now splits his time between the Hawkeye State and Chicago, set out with his friend Taylor Williams to attend Sunday’s Trump rally. They had written two simple words on a big white sheet: “Stop Hate.” Singh planned to unfurl this sign if Trump engaged in demonizing any minority groups. But with Trump, it’s not really a question of if but when.
So about 20 minutes into Trump’s speech he began his recitation of how scary Muslims were. He painted a picture that Muslims—even Muslim Americans—were all a potential threat who could at any moment shoot even their friends. That is when Singh yelled out: “Why do you give shelter to white supremacists?!” He then opened up the sheet.
Within seconds, security and a Trump aide grabbed Singh and began escorting him to the door. Trump can then be heard bellowing, “Bye!…Goodbye!” as the crowd cheered in unison: “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
While being physically removed from the venue, Singh feared that the angry chanting crowd could “descend upon” him at any moment. It was tense. And once Singh was outside the auditorium and standing in the stairwell, that’s when the angry white man threatened to beat him up. Unsurprisingly, the threat was directed only at Singh, not to his white friend Williams, who was at that time the one holding the “Stop Hate” sign.
The local police then escorted Singh and Williams out of the venue where the police threatened to charge the two with “inciting a riot.” You see, interrupting Trump could inspire violence, as we saw a few months ago when Trump’s white supporters beat up a black protester while calling the man a “monkey” and the n-word. And even worse Trump publicly defended this assault on Fox News. So who knows what Trump supporters could do if they get even angrier, or Trump suggests they do something?
Meanwhile back in the venue, Trump made a joke, which seemed to be targeting Singh’s religious turban. Trump commented to the crowd, “He wasn’t wearing one of those hats was he?” I know there’s a debate over whether Trump was mocking Singh’s turban or not, but given Trump’s recent history of hateful comments directed at Latinos and Muslims, and his defending the assault of a black protester, at this point it’s certainly fair to assume Trump was again mocking a minority to the delight of his white supporters.
I asked Singh, who is a writer and a comedian, why he chose to yell out specifically about Trump giving shelter to white supremacists? Singh explained that he was greatly alarmed that white supremacists had openly been calling voters to support Trump in Iowa and that Trump had failed to denounce these hatemongers.
In those prerecorded phone messages, a well-known white supremacist leader urged voters in Iowa to support Trump because Trump understood that “we need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture.” And Trump has been a boon to white supremacist groups, which have seen a “Trump bump” in membership because they are excited by his hateful campaign rhetoric directed at minorities.
Singh fears that Trump’s words could do more than embolden haters—they could inspire violence. He pointed to the Latino immigrant beaten up in August by “passionate” Trump supporters in Boston as an example. And Singh expressed his concern that Trump could foster a climate that could lead to more Sikhs being attacked or even killed, such as in 2012 when a self-proclaimed white supremacist shot and killed six Sikhs in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
“It’s scarier today for kids growing up who wear a turban or who look Muslim than when I was a kid,” Singh noted. He explained that even in Chicago, which is a diverse city, just last week someone called him a “terrorist” while he was walking along the sidewalk.
Being physically thrown out of a venue while being mocked and threatened by angry Trump supporters and ridiculed by Trump may dissuade some, but not Singh. He’s planning to do even more, commenting that “Trump is emboldening right-wing white supremacy and a response is needed, even if that means I’m arrested for civil disobedience in calling it out.”
It’s people like Singh, not Trump, who make America great. Here’s hoping that the Singhs of our nation prevail.