A protest on Sunday against plans to build a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan nearly turned violent when a man apparently mistaken for a Muslim wandered through the crowd.
Anti-Muslim demonstrators had gathered near the former location of the World Trade Center to protest the planned center called Park51, which includes a prayer facility, two blocks from the disaster site.
When an African-American man turned up amidst the demonstrators, the crowd appeared to turn on him. Protesters closed in on the man, chanting “No mosque here!”
The man can be heard protesting, “I’m not even Muslim!”
The moment was caught on videotape:
Moments later the man managed to break free of the crowd. According to creator of the YouTube video, the man was identified as Kenny, a union carpenter who works at the World Trade Center site.
According to news reports of the rally, there was more than one moment that threatened to turn violent. The New York Times recounted this altercation:
Around noon on Sunday, Michael Rose, a medical student from Brooklyn, approached some of the hundreds of protesters who had gathered near ground zero to rally against a mosque and Islamic center planned for the neighborhood.
Mr. Rose, 27, carried a handwritten sign in favor of the mosque — “Religious tolerance is what makes America great,” it read — and his presence caused a stir. An argument broke out, punctuated by angry fingers pointed in the student’s face.
One man, his cheeks red, leaned in and hissed that if the police were not present, Mr. Rose would be in danger.
Before any threats could be carried out, the police intervened, dragged Mr. Rose away from the crowd and insisted that he return to the separate area, one block away, where supporters of the project had been asked to stand.
Minutes later, as Mr. Rose was still shaking off the encounter, he turned to find the red-cheeked man back at his side. The man had followed the student up the street, and the two now stared at each other for a tense moment.
Then the man stuck out a hand and, in a terse voice, said, “I’m sorry.”
Also, Salon’s Justin Elliot spoke with the man who filmed the above YouTube clip, Aaron Webber, 32:
“I got the distinct impression that this rally transcended anti-mosque sentiment. It was in fact very anti-Islam. One guy had a sign that said ‘Islam=slavery,’” Webber said.
When Webber asked the man if he was serious, Webber said the man replied: “it’s an evil cult and America must destroy it.”
“It was also very anti-Obama. It was not that Obama himself is a terrorist, but people were expressing that he was enabling the terrorists,” Webber said.