To a South Asian onlooker, this could have been a scene from any other Desi function on a Saturday night. The booming Bollywood music beckoned a stream of families, wearing ornate saris and sharp kurtas, fragrant plates of samosa chaat in hand, toward the stage, replete with an extravagant display of lights and visuals.
But among the convivial crowds also stood a white man wearing a baseball cap and shirt that read “Hillary for Prison”. The placards waiting on empty seats called out “Trump for Hindu Americans” and “Trump Great for India”. Everyone was waiting for Donald Trump.
Three weeks before the election, Trump made a brief but rousing appearance at the Republican Hindu Coalition’s (RHC) Humanity United Against Terror charity concert, an event framed around raising money to combat “radical Islamic terrorism”, particularly for Hindus from Bangladesh and Kashmir.
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“I’m a big fan of Hindu, and I’m a big fan of India,” Trump told hundreds of enthusiastic attendees in Edison, New Jersey, a town known for its sizable South Asian population.
Terrorism made for a dissonant theme on a night filled with several upbeat music and dance performances by Indian choreographer Prabu Deva and Signature, the dance group known for competing on Britain’s Got Talent.
The introduction to the national anthem featured a simulated terrorist attack, in which two couples dancing on stage were suddenly attacked by two men covered in brown cloth, who were shouting and wielding toy guns with green lightsabers attached. Men dressed as US Navy Seals entered to defeat the terrorists. They all stood together for the Star-Spangled Banner before dancing to Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA.
Trump, after lighting Diwali lamps onstage with the RHC’s founding chairman, Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, said: “The Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House.
“Generations of Hindu and Indian Americans have strengthened our country,” he said. “Your values and hard work, education and enterprise, have truly enriched our nation.”
A group of men hold posters as they wait for Donald Trump at the event in Edison, New Jersey, on Saturday. Photograph: Kena Betancur/Getty Images
The Republican nominee went on to praise the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, as a “great man” and confused the 2001 Indian parliament attack with the2008 Mumbai attacks in his pledge to fight terrorism.
“We will stand shoulder to shoulder with India and share intelligence in keeping our people safe mutually,” he said.
The RHC supports Trump’s stances on immigration and terrorism, including his “extreme vetting” policy on incoming refugees, said Kumar, a businessman originally from Punjab.
“The Islamic extremist terrorists have declared a war on us. They have declared they will use every possible means to infiltrate into the US through refugees coming in who have nothing but a piece of paper with their name and not even a passport or birth certificate,” Kumar told the Guardian. “We should also monitor the mosques throughout the US and wherever the centers of this type of activity exist.”
Kamal Singh of Edison, New Jersey, said he believed Trump, who he referred to as “the big leader”, will stand with India in fighting terrorist organizations from Pakistan.