The tiny community finds the Republican front-runner’s rhetoric ‘very sad’ ahead of Saturday’s primary. ‘He’s no different from the KKK,’ said one resident
“Well how would you feel?”
Ramadan Saeed Shakir is the mayor of Islamville, an all-Muslim town of about 300 people located in the northern woodland of South Carolina. He is talking about Donald Trump – specifically, what Donald Trump has been saying about Muslims.
Trump criticized Pope Francis on Thursday, describing the pontiff as “disgraceful” after the pope said it would be un-Christian to build a wall between the US and Mexico, but when the billionaire Republican front-runner has addressed religion during his presidential campaign it has mostly been to focus on Islam.
Since entering the race in June 2015, Trump has said he would introduce a database tracking all Muslims in the US. He has said he would ban Muslims worldwide – an estimated 1.6 billion people – from entering the country.
To a certain extent, other Republican candidates have followed his lead. Ben Carson has said no Muslim should be president, Jeb Bush has called for only Christian refugees to be admitted from Syria, and most Republicans have taken to using the charged term “radical Islamic terrorism”. Trump and other candidates are holding a swath of events across South Carolina, ahead of Saturday’s Republican primary, creating an uneasy atmosphere for the residents of Islamville.
“Of course we feel uncomfortable and unsafe,” said Shakir. “It’s Islamophobia.”
Islamville, located in York County, about eight miles from the North Carolina border, is not so much a town as a collection of homes. There are no shops or businesses, no high street.
There is no sign telling you that you have arrived – just a green metal gate that says “no trespassing”. Beyond that a dirt road slopes downwards into a wood. There are cars parked on small driveways, children’s toys scattered about in front of some of the homes. You can see trailers dotted about between the tall, leafless trees.
Islamville’s residents are all US-born African Americans. Shakir, 36, has lived in Islamville since the community was established by the Muslims of America organization 34 years ago. There are sister towns across the US, including Islamberg in northern New York, which serves as the headquarters of Muslims of America.
“It’s very sad that one of our national presidential candidates is speaking so much ill will about Islam and Muslims. Not just American Muslims but around the world,” Shakir said.
“It’s unfortunate that the media is giving him that platform,” Shakir said of Trump. “He’s no different from Jon Ritzheimer, the KKK, any of these bigots.”
Ritzheimer is currently being held over his part in the armed occupation at the Malheur wildlife refuge in Oregon. In November 2015 he posted a video online detailing his plan to drive from Arizona to Muslims of America’s headquarters. In the video, in which he was holding a gun, he said planned to confront people in Islamberg. He was foiled when the FBI issued an alert to New York police.
A Trump supporter, Ritzheimer attended one of the billionaire’s rallies in Arizona in December, where an online video shows him confronting Muslim protesters.
A recent poll showed that Trump’s supporters were more likely to be intolerant of other religions.
Among his South Carolina backers, 80 percent supported banning Muslims from entering the US, while 62 percent agreed that there should be a national database of Muslims, according to a Public Policy Polling study. The figures were lower for every other Republican. Only 44 percent of Trump supporters believed it should be legal to practise Islam in the US, compared with 33 percent who thought it should be outlawed.
The nearest city to Islamville is York, around 12 miles south. Driving along the tree-lined roads from Islamville to York it is striking how many churches you encounter. There are Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran, a contrast to the all-Muslim town up in the woods.
But chatting with people along the main street – which runs for one block – most were keen to distance themselves from Trump’s message on Muslims, if not his actual campaign.
“Donald Trump doesn’t need money for political backing. He’s got his own money so he doesn’t have to watch what he says and be politically correct,” said Ken Moran, 46. “He’s got my vote hands down. And my wife.”
Moran was drinking Bud Light in the Wing King cafe, which serves chicken wings.
“Everyone should have the choice to practice their own faith,” he said. “For me, you always form your own opinion. I don’t stereotype, I don’t group people. But at some point some organization is going to feel offended or targeted about any topic.”
Across the road is the Men’s Shop, a clothing store that has been open since 1948.
“I really wouldn’t say he’s much for Christians either,” said a 22-year-old man called Matt. “I think he’s just for what Donald Trump wants.”
Matt, who declined to give his last name, was shopping for shoes. He is a Christian, he said.
“Everybody needs to be shown an amount of grace,” he said. “It’s ridiculous that he’s making people feel that way. He’s not going to get my vote.”
Ronnie Bailes, the shop’s owner, seemed baffled by Trump’s support.
“I’m just amazed he’s still got the votes,” he said. “Most of us are perplexed by this.”
Bailes did not believe that Trump was speaking for the majority of his fellow South Carolinians.
“It’s just his rhetoric. There are too many good southern ladies and gentlemen who believe in civil discourse,” he said.