NEW DEHLI (Christian Examiner) – Donald Trump has received an unusual endorsement in the 2016 Republican presidential primary – that of the Hindu Sena, an ultra-nationalist and sometimes violent political movement in the world's second most populous country.
Members of Hindu Sena conducted a "hawan," or prayer service, for Trump on Wednesday, asking the "gods" to intercede on his behalf because of his promises to take on radical Islam. The threat of Islamic terrorism in India has come into sharp focus in recent years because of the growth of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and a new push into the country by the Islamic State. Hindu Sena, however, also opposes Christianity.
Members of the party believe Trump's measures, such as his call to halt Muslim immigration into the United States and destroy ISIS, make him the best choice for president of the United States. They also believe his efforts will have an effect globally.
"The whole world is screaming against Islamic terrorism, and even India is not safe from it," Vishnu Gupta, founder of the Hindu Sena, said. "Only Donald Trump can save humanity."
The members of the ultra-nationalist group lit offering fires and offered Sanskrit prayers around statues of the Hindu gods Shiva and Hanuman, but also turned their eyes to pictures of Trump, placing the characteristic red dot or "tilak" in the middle of Trump's forehead on each picture. In the Hindu culture, a red tilak on a man signifies the valor or auspiciousness of a king, a warrior or high government official.
A banner hanging above the group explained its support for the New York billionaire. Trump was their choice, it said, "because he is hope for humanity against Islamic terror."
"We want Donald Trump to win the presidential polls. He has promised to uproot Islamic terror and we support this ideology," Gupta said.
"I have been a follower of his speeches and the world needs a strong leader like him to be able to counter Islamic terror groups. Especially for a country like ours, which has bitter relations with our neighbors, we need a strong anti-terror policy to keep the terrorists at bay."
Ironically, on the same day Hindu Sena was praying for Trump and praising his anti-Muslim rhetoric, the candidate was moderating his stance on Muslims.
In an interview on Fox News, Trump was asked about the comments addressed to him by the newly elected mayor of London – Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim elected mayor of a major European city.
Khan called Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric "ignorant" and said he should, if elected president, allow Muslims into the country or Islamic radicals will use the ban as a pretext for attacks. Trump dismissed that idea because, he said, there is already a problem with radical Islam and terrorism. Khan, he said, is denying that fact.
"Well, I assume he denies there is Islamic terrorism. There is Islamic radical terrorism all over the world right now. It's a disaster what's going on. I assume he is denying that. I assume he is like our president that's denying its taking place," Trump said.
"We have a serious problem. It's a temporary ban. It hasn't been called for yet. Nobody's done it. This is just a suggestion until we find out what's going on. We have radical Islamic terrorism all over the world; you can go to Paris, you can go to San Bernardino, all over the world. If they want to deny it, they can deny it. I don't choose to deny it."
Trump said, however, that Khan would be allowed to enter the U.S. because "there will always be exceptions."
The idea that the proposed ban on Muslims was "just a suggestion" wasn't the only way Trump softened his stance. The candidate also said he hopes to establish a commission to study immigration policies and determine what action the government can take on Muslim refugees and immigrants. Trump is reportedly considering former Republican presidential candidate and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the chair of the commission.
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However, Trump faces an uphill climb with Giuliani, who has called his idea of a ban on Muslims "unconstitutional."
"I think we have to be very careful about who we let in. I don't think we should let any of the refugees in. I think they should be put in a safe zone in Syria, but if you do a ban on all Muslims, I have no question that you violate the First Amendment," Giuliani said in December 2015.
"The reality is if you let no one in, you could say well, they have no constitutional rights but once the government sets up a system, the government cannot discriminate in the way it applies that system. So the minute the government sets up an immigration system it can't use religion as a test or race or gender as a basis for why someone can't come in."
Some 50 lawmakers agree with Giuliani. They've co-sponsored a bill with Rep. Don Beyer [D-Va.] to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act before Trump has a chance to enact his ban. The bill would add a single phrase to current law:
"Notwithstanding any other provision of the immigration laws, an alien may not be denied admission to the United States because of the alien's religion or lack of religious beliefs.''
Trump's team further moderated the candidate's stance on Islam when it made changes to its delegate layout in the all-important state of California – the state that is likely to push Trump over the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the Republican nomination.
On Wednesday, a British newspaper reported that an "anti-Muslim" pastor was quietly stepping down as a delegate in California. Guy St. Onge, who was listed as one of three pledged delegates for Trump in California's 35th congressional district, said he voluntarily left the post to "take one for the team."
It isn't immediately clear what St. Onge meant, but he was originally on the list submitted by the Trump campaign to the secretary of state. What is known is that St. Onge, who describes himself as a minister, is alleged to have made comments indicating he would kill Muslims in his front yard (if they attacked him).
St. Onge reportedly surrendered his delegate post just after reporters contacted Trump's campaign to inquire about his past and the past of several others on Trump's list of pledged delegates – one of them a known white nationalist, William Daniel Johnson. Johnson, who once called for the revocation of U.S. citizenship for all non-white Americans, would have represented California's 34th congressional district.
The Trump campaign reportedly attempted to submit a corrected list of delegates – without St. Onge and Johnson – but failed to meet the May 9 deadline. A new list is posted on the California Republican Party's website. Neither St. Onge nor Johnson are on it.
St. Onge told a reporter he was no longer a delegate for Trump by his own choosing.
"I will take one for the team; loyal to a fault you might say ... Jesus loves you, but not the trouble you try and cause for others," St. Onge said. "I have spoken to the appropriate people, thank you. Have a great day and may God bless you."
On May 10, the Trump campaign issued a press release in which it claimed the list submitted to the state of California the day before included a "potential delegate" whose name was supposed to have been removed – presumably Johnson's.
"Upon careful review of computer records, the inclusion of a potential delegate that had previously been rejected and removed from the campaign's list in February 2016, was discovered. This was immediately corrected and a final list, which does not include this individual, was submitted for certification," Tim Clark, Trump's California state director, said in the press release.