A gay man who condemned President Donald Trump’s immigration order as driven by irrational fear was himself charged with assault for blocking Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from entering a middle school in Washington, D.C., on Friday. The opposition to DeVos has ranged from legitimate criticism to irrational paranoia, which seems to have driven protesters to physically prevent her from doing her job.
“Some are afraid that the Syrian or Yemeni or Libyan or Sudanese or Iranian or Iraqi family fleeing conflict or persecution is instead coming to take our jobs or threaten our way of life,” 31-year-old protester Bilal Ahmed Askaryar wrote in an NPR article last month. Despite denouncing this fear as irrational, Askaryar allegedly engaged in an act of protest based on similar fears of Betsy DeVos.
Over the weekend, Askaryar was charged with misdemeanor assault and failing to obey an officer during a demonstration outside of Jefferson Middle School Academy, Politico reported. The paper also quoted a police report which said Askaryar was given “several lawful orders” to move out of the way of a vehicle, and then pushed an individual identified as “V-1.” Listed as a factor under one of the charges is “impeding/assaulting US government cabinet member,” Politico added.
Askaryar reportedly pleaded not guilty to the charges. The gay man came to the U.S. as a 5-year-old refugee from Afghanistan in 1990, according to his story in NPR. He reportedly became a naturalized citizen in 2000 and earned a graduate degree from American University. The Washington Blade, D.C.’s LGBT newspaper, identified Askaryar as a “gay D.C. resident.”
The fracas with DeVos took place on Friday morning. While the education secretary attempted to get into Jefferson Middle School Academy, a group of protesters blocked the entrance, heckled her, and even physically stood in the way of her vehicle. It seems Askaryar was the man who ran in front of the motorcade, holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign obstructing the vehicle.
This racial message was particularly interesting, since black leaders have praised DeVos for caring about children in their community. “She’s not African American, but she’s concerned about our children,” Dr. Dwight Montgomery, president of the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s organization), said of DeVos.
This protest should not have been surprising, however, coming after months of liberal attacks on DeVos. Since President-elect Trump chose her to head the Department of Education, liberals have branded DeVos a racist, an elitist, a foe of public education, a religious extremist, and even — in a harebrained attack — a supporter of child labor. Cynical conservatives would explain these attacks as a desperate ploy by teachers’ unions to retain their power in the face of DeVos’ outspoken support for school choice.
Indeed, the hysterical outrage at DeVos arguably mimics the kind of fear many Americans allegedly have of refugees from Middle Eastern countries, whether those refugees have been vetted or not. DeVos is not a racist, a foe of public education, a religious extremist, or a supporter of child labor. Similarly, most refugees are not terrorists in disguise. But the concrete threat of one part of DeVos’ agenda — like the threat of some terrorists in Europe who have indeed posed as refugees — seems to drive full-throated opposition.
When Trump issued his executive order temporarily halting refugees from seven countries of terror concern, Askaryar took to NPR declaring, “to me, this policy looks to be based on nothing but prejudice against Muslims.”
He attacked the practical effect of the order. “Refugees are by definition the most vulnerable people among us,” Askaryar wrote. “Families don’t choose to sacrifice everything they have and leave their homes unless their homes become like the mouth of a shark. Scapegoating people who are fleeing for their lives is an inhumanity that no person with a heart should be able to defend.”
First, Trump’s order is not “scapegoating” refugees, but rather attempting to set up a more thorough vetting process to ensure that no terrorists sneak into the country under the cover of refugee status. The order would indeed prevent refugees from entering the country for a limited time, and it is quite fair to criticize how the order works. But it does not demonize refugees.
More importantly, blocking a woman from doing her job, after she had already been vilified across the country and falsely accused of a great many things, seems like an “inhumanity that no person with a heart should be able to defend.” Whatever you think of DeVos’ history of donating to conservative causes, no person should be treated the way she was treated.
Askaryar used powerful words to conclude his article attacking Trump’s immigration order. “I’m an American, and that is not my morality. I hope it isn’t yours, either. History will judge us,” the gay man wrote for NPR.
Some of us might add that the treatment Betsy DeVos received (allegedly at Askaryar’s own hands) is not America’s morality. Is it that much of a stretch to apply his words to his own actions?
Click ‘Load More’ to see the video of the alleged assault.
— Sam Sweeney (@SweeneyABC) February 10, 2017
Here’s a longer video.