When Rose Hamid and longtime friend Jibril Hough set out Friday for Rock Hill, S.C., in a 2013 red Camaro, they had a clear mission: to stand up to Donald Trump and his rhetoric on Muslims and immigrants.
They could hardly have predicted how well the night would go. First security at Trump’s rally removed Hough, a convert to Islam and a Charlotte mosque spokesman, when he chanted, “Islam is not the problem!” Then Hamid, 56, was escorted out after she rose to her feet in silent protest—wearing a T-shirt with the message “Salam I come in peace” and a yellow star bearing the word “Muslim” affixed to her chest.
The evening ended with Hamid, a Charlotte flight attendant, on CNN fielding questions from host Don Lemon, a chyron under her image telling the story of her dramatic previous hours: “Muslim woman kicked out of Trump rally.”
But while individual passion and good intentions drive just about any activism and advocacy, the flight attendant’s journey from anonymity to Internet meme wasn’t just the spontaneous protest of a lone “Muslim woman,” as the media are portraying it.
“It is paint-by-number provocation,” said Nancy Snow, author of Information War, propaganda scholar, and professor of public diplomacy at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies. “The headline ‘Silently protesting Muslim woman’ is completely misleading. This is clearly orchestrated and designed to serve as counterpropaganda to what is seen as Trump’s anti-Muslim propaganda.”
“The way you get headlines today is to do stunts like this. It’s theater,” she said.
Indeed, the activists behind the protest told The Daily Beast the CNN moment was carefully orchestrated, down to the detail of the flight attendant matching her turquoise-colored headscarf with her T-shirt. The activists are connected by years of local activism post-9/11 on issues including civil liberties, war, Palestine, “Black Lives Matter,” and immigration, and have been working for months on their anti-Trump organizing campaign.
We can call the Rock Hill protesters, who numbered eight activists in total, the Anti-Trump Eight.
“We’ve been working toward this moment for months,” one of the activists, Marty Rosenbluth, 57, an immigration lawyer in Hillsborough, S.C., told The Daily Beast the day after the rally. “Keep in mind that Rosa Parks was not a seamstress on her way home from work who just got tired one day. Her protest was also planned out and well choreographed.”
On Saturday night, as Hamid was waiting for a flight, she told The Daily Beast that she planned out her role in the protest for days in detail, first designing a T-shirt at her son’s clothing business, picking the color blue partly because she had a matching head covering. “I knew, as a woman wearing hijab, that would have impact,” she said.
“Did we go there to cause trouble and get attention?” Hough told The Daily Beast. “There may be some truth to that. Dr. Martin Luther King had to strategize to get media attention. These things are orchestrated.”
After hearing Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric on immigrants and Muslims, the activists decided to launch their first action last month, on Dec. 4, when Trump hosted a rally at Dorton Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Rosenbluth had worked for years with Hough and Edith Garwood of Amnesty International.
They shouted, they screamed, and they got thrown out, but they didn’t get much media attention. An NBCNews.com article, “Trump Interrupted Ten Times at North Carolina Rally,” failed to mention their protest.
The activists regrouped for a second shot: a town hall on Dec. 12 at the University of South Carolina campus in Aiken, S.C. Noticing that their shouts were being used as grounds for removal, they decided to turn (mostly) to silent protest. Rosenbluth told the team about an image from Europe that he thought they could use to illustrate their cause: an eight-pointed yellow star that was reminiscent of the six-pointed Star of David that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. Swiss Muslims had used the yellow star with “Muslim” written across it in protests in 2011, an action that Jewish leaders had protested as offensive appropriation of Holocaust imagery.
Rosenbluth started a Facebook page, “Go Yellow Against Hate,” and the team created its own stars, with “No Racism” and “Stop Islamophobia” written on some. For “the anarchist types,” Rosenbluth uploaded “Go F@*% Yourself, Racist,” with the swear word spelled out.
In Aiken, with the team spread across the venue, turning their backs on the GOP frontrunner in protest, some Trump fans swarmed Hough when he shouted, “Islam is not the enemy! Close Guantanamo!” The yellow star came out. “As Hough was being escorted out, he held up a geometric symbol with the word ‘Muslim’ inscribed on it,” the Charlotte Observer reported. “He said Trump’s recent remarks about banning Muslims from the United States are reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s actions toward Jews.”
On New Year’s Day, Hough took the battle to Trump Tower in Manhattan, where he stood, in yellow-tinted sunglasses, a leather jacket, and a handwritten sign, “Islam is not the enemy.” That protest passed without much media notice.
But then the activists learned they had another shot: a Jan. 8 rally in Rock Hill, S.C. At a Jan. 3 meeting near Amélie’s French Bakery & Café in Charlotte, they cut, laminated, and labeled stars. Hamid wrote in: “Please make me one. I plan to be there.”
The flight attendant, the daughter of a Colombian mother and a Palestinian father, got into her friend’s red Camaro late in the afternoon on Friday. Hough, who converted to Islam in 1991 and rose in the community ranks to become spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte, had come to Islam through hip-hop and was also a former chairman of a controversial organization, the now defunct Islamic Political Party of America.
In line for the Rock Hill rally, Hamid stepped away from her friend so Trump security officials would not spot the two of them together. “I planned to stay as long as possible to create as many connections with people as long as possible,” she told The Daily Beast.
About 5 p.m., Hough posted a photo of himself on Facebook, telling friends, “Already been spotted by the Trump Storm Troopers…”
As the candidate talked about Islamic extremism and said, “We’ve got a problem,” the mosque spokesman shouted out, “Islam isn’t the problem!”
Soon enough, security pulled him out of the rally.
Meanwhile, stage left a bit, Rosenbluth took to Facebook to post a photo of himself with the caption “Guess where I am!”
He had just met Hamid for the first time, though he had known of her for years, and they moved down further than the other five activists. As Hough shouted, Hamid stood up in protest, with Rosenbluth beside her.
In response, security pulled him out and then the flight attendant, finally expelling the row of five remaining activists.
Outside the venue, Rosenbluth updated his Facebook friends: “Once again we got them to disrupt their own rally.”
Later on Facebook, he told Hough: “It was an honor and a pleasure to protest with you sir.”
“I just shut down the Trump rally for the second time,” the mosque spokesman wrote.
A friend from Charlotte joked: “Sorry Jibril, you didnt make CNN yet.”
The Anti-Trump Eight regrouped at a restaurant, where the flight attendant got a call from CNN. Hamid and her friend piled back into the Camaro to return to the rally, where media trucks were lined up. She did the interview, with her friend off camera.
Within an hour of her CNN appearance, Muslim activists and others started spreading the message of the protest, and the flight attendant had become the movement’s own meme: “#RoseHamid #Respect your courage & bravery.”
The Democratic Women of Union County, N.C., proudly announced her as its Monday morning breakfast speaker.
After midnight, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a controversial Washington, D.C.-based Muslim organization, issued a press release with the subject line “CAIR Asks Donald Trump to Apologize to Muslim Woman Abused by Crowd, Kicked Out of Rally.”
But Hamid told The Daily Beast: “It’s not about me. Trump doesn’t need to apologize. I’d like him to reframe his thinking.”
Hough also said an apology wasn’t necessary, though he did call for a new Trump security strategy for dealing “respectfully” with protesters.
Meanwhile, from Australia to India, the image of the flight attendant’s silent protest shot around the world. Unfortunately, as the weekend ended, this round of “agitprop” ended as political theater usually does: with more polarization, partisanship, and trash talk, including the hashtags “#PaidSpokeswomanforIslam and #Hack for the flight attendant—and “#HeilTrump” for the aspiring president.