ASHBURN, Virginia — When Fawad Rahimyar learned Donald Trump was coming to his neck of the woods, he hopped on Facebook.
Rahimyar is a rising sophomore at George Mason University, and he’s Muslim. He was also a big Bernie Sanders fan during the Democratic primaries, and isn’t quite sure he’s ready to vote for Hillary Clinton. But he’s certain Trump would be a disaster. So with less than a day’s notice, he and a few other friends rounded up about two dozen people to infiltrate the Trump rally, cause a disruption, and do a bit of protesting.
They woke up early and waited in line for hours to get into the Briar Woods High School auditorium. After Trump started speaking, they turned their backs on him and held up their hands in peace signs. Rahimyar took off a plain black shirt to show the one he was wearing underneath. It read “Islam means peace.” They all got escorted out and spent the rest of the event outside, waving signs and arguing with Trump supporters.
Donald Trump really, really wants to win Loudoun County—the absurdly wealthy Northern Virginia county where the rally Rahimyar protested took place. Trump even said so in his speech. And he should; George W. Bush won it in 2000 and 2004, and Barack Obama picked it up in 2008 and 2012. Loudoun voters predict presidents. Trump seems to get that.
“Loudoun County is so important,” he told the crowd at the offset of the rally.
But—evidenced by his speech—he doesn’t understand it. At all. And if he wants to compete there, he’s going to have to learn quick.
Loudoun is the richest county in America. That’s due in part to the enormous amount of money the federal government spent on the War on Terror in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The place is replete with defense contractors, engineers, and rocket scientists. And it’s recession-proof; while the rest of the country struggled through the Great Recession, Loudoun kept sprouting up neighborhoods of McMansions, seemingly with a swimming pool in every backyard.
But Trump seems to think it’s part of the Rust Belt. Toward the end of his speech—to an atypically preppy, professional, clean-cut audience—the candidate bashed the county economy.
“You’re doing lousy over here, by the way, I hate to tell you,” he said.
That is empirically false.
He then listed a number of factory closures, including Ball Corp., which was five hours away in Bristol, as far from Loudoun as you can get without leaving the state. And he mentioned the closure of a Smithfield Foods Inc.
“Anybody used to work for Smithfield?” he asked the crowd.
It’s almost certain none of them did. The Smithfield plant that closed was in Hampton Roads, Virginia—three hours from Ashburn, in the southeast corner of the state.
As Trump was going through this list, a man in the front yelled about sequestration—the defense spending cuts that actually jeopardize Northern Virginia jobs.
“It’s true, it’s true,” Trump replied.
Then he went back to naming factories.
“Stanley Furniture closed its plant,” he continued.
Stanley Furniture did indeed recently close a plant, in 2014. That plant was in North Carolina.
He also mentioned the closure of a plant owned by Invista, a Koch Industries company that produces fabric and carpeting. That plant was two hours from Ashburn, and it closed eight years ago.
Then Trump discussed job losses in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
He wasn’t completely tone-deaf; the mogul also talked about increasing defense spending, particularly on the Air Force. But the bulk of his rally speech felt like it was being delivered in Youngstown, Ohio, or Harrisburg, Pennsylvania—he rambled about currency manipulation, NAFTA, unfair competition with South Korea, the perils of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and on and on. And while factory closures and globalization present very real economic hazard to many families around the country, they simply aren’t an issue in Loudoun.
Know what is an issue in Loudoun, besides defense spending? Protecting the rights of immigrants and other minorities. The population of voters like Rahimyar—young, well-educated members of ethnic or religious minorities—has grown rapidly in Northern Virginia over the past two decades.
In fact, the two demographic groups that Trump has done the most to isolate are also among the fastest growing in Loudoun: Hispanics and Muslims. Loudoun’s Hispanic population is also large and growing. Hispanics make up almost 14 percent of the county’s population, according to Census Bureau data from July 2015.
According to 2010 data from the Association of Religion Data Archives, only 15 U.S. counties have more Muslim residents than Loudoun. And only 10 counties had a higher percentage of Muslim residents. In the years since then, Loudoun’s Muslim community has only grown, both in numbers and political clout. The All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Virginia, is often frequented by politicians of both parties looking to court the community. It hosted Martin O’Malley on Dec. 11, 2015—the first mosque to get a visit from a presidential candidate this cycle.
Muslims living in Loudoun County won’t be hard to find. One woman who protested with Rahimyar outside his Briar Woods High School event was 18-year-old Azeeza Hasan, the valedictorian of the high school’s class of 2016.
“I feel like it’s important to show Trump what the make-up of this Briar Woods community and alumni—what they really are, how diverse it is,” she told WUSA9 reporter Peggy Fox.
“I think it’s just important to have Mr. Trump know we are here,” she added.