The Muslim call to prayer rang out through Times Square in New York City on Sunday afternoon as a large, mixed-faith crowd of merchandise hawkers, social activists, organizers, curious tourists – and genuine protesters – declared their allegiance with Islam.
“I am a Muslim, too!” the group chanted several times at the anti-President Trump rally organized by hip hop mogul Russell Simmons and a local rabbi and imam.
“We are here, unified, because of Donald Trump, so we won’t speak too harshly of him tonight – today. We want to thank him for bringing us together,” Simmons said.
Simmons used to be friends with Trump, and the two men reportedly socialized nearly every weekend at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Trump even wrote the foreword for two of Simmons’ books, and Simmons has said he was with Trump during Trump’s first date with now-First Lady Melania Trump.
But a rift developed when Simmons said he would “rather Kim Kardashian be president” than Trump, after the business magnate announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination. The two haven’t spoken since 2015, Simmons told The New York Daily News. Now, instead of speaking to Trump, Simmons only speaks out against his ex-buddy.
“We are here today to show Middle America our beautiful sides,” Simmons said on Sunday. “And through our beautiful actions and intentions, that they have been misled. That the seeds of hate that were small, and maybe just ignorance, cannot be watered, and that hate cannot grow.”
Simmons was followed by actor-vist Susan Sarandon, who told the crowd that “if you are silent, then you are complicit” in the “dismantling” of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
“We will fight hatred with love,” she said. “We will fight bigotry with inclusivity.”
But though Sarandon spoke of love, many of the messages printed on signs and emanating from the speaker’s podium carried a decidedly intolerant tone.
One protester yelled at “fascist” police officers engaged in directing crowd control for being “un-American” and “squelching” freedom of speech.
Trump was drawn as both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini on different signs, and a college-aged man held a sign that crossed out the “Love Trumps Hate” slogan and replaced it with “Smash The State.”
Chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go” and “No wall, No Muslim ban, no fascist USA” were frequently encouraged, and host Dean Obeidallah, a comedian, contrasted the crowd in New York City with those who turned out for Trump’s Saturday campaign rally in Florida, describing the Trump crowd as “all different shades of angry white people.”
While profiling or so-called “bans” based on race and religion were often decried, there was one notable exception: white males. Even Simmons, in the press release for the event, said, “Everyone except white privileged males are in immediate danger.”
An activist who also served as a social media team member for The Women’s March wore a pin with the words “F— the police.”
Elsewhere, disinformation or misrepresentation was rampant, particularly when it came to Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting travel from seven countries – an order that made no mention of religion, but has nevertheless gained a reputation as a “Muslim ban.”
One imam termed the order a “ban for Muslims,” while signs carried the slogans “No ban” or “No Muslim ban.”
Rabbi Marc Schneier called it a “Muslim refugee ban” and said “in the United States it is open season on Muslims.”
“To announce a discriminatory ban against countries that, actually there is no data that says that is where terrorists have come from in this country,” protester Vicki Sell told Fox News, when asked what specifically Trump has done that had troubled her.
But numerous convictions of Somali immigrants accused of trying to aid terror groups, and the case of Iraqi jihadis discovered in Kentucky several years ago renders that argument flat.
There were also hiccups in the program.
Several times the crowd chants were drowned out and interrupted when the public address system appeared to accidentally switch on, blaring a big band version of “New York, New York.” One early speaker, attempting to deliver a put down against Trump, unwittingly acknowledged that he helped build the New York skyline. After screams from the crowd, the man backtracked.
Inside the two fenced-in pens housing close to an estimated 1,000 people – far from the 5,000 expected – anti-Trump buttons were in high demand, and available for $2 each. Other protesters dressed up as caricatures of Trump, walking by event organizers who had a seemingly never-ending supply of posters to hand out.
“Free posters! Hold ‘em up high! Stick ‘em to a wall!” one woman implored.
But not everyone was at the rally to declare they, too, were Muslims. Some just wanted to see a protest firsthand.
One family who was approached for an interview politely turned it down.
“Sorry,” the mom said. “We’re just tourists.”