LOS ANGELES, CA, USA—Approximately 25 demonstrators protested against U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) as she campaigned for president in Los Angeles, CA on March 30.
Waving signs reading “Tulsi, Prince$$ of the R$$” and “Stop Supporting Fascism in India,” the group included Christians, Dalits, and Sikhs. They distributed flyers alleging that Gabbard is “an ally of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The flyers explained, “The RSS is a paramilitary in India which was founded in 1925 and grew with inspiration from the Nazis and Italian Fascists. They have created affiliated groups all over the world. Today, they rule India through the BJP political party.”
“I came here because I want to preserve American values o freedom and justice,” said local Sikh businessman Harjeet Singh. “Foreign interference in our U.S. elections worries me, especially when it comes from India’s RSS and BJP which are responsible for massacring so many minorities in India.”
Inside the town hall event, which was hosted at the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, several hundred people gathered to hear the aspiring presidential candidate. “We will change the course of our future to one where we have a government that is truly of, by, and for the people,” said Gabbard. She promised to “bring the principles of honor, and integrity, and respect back to the presidency.”
After Gabbard spoke, she took three questions from the audience. Pieter Friedrich, an analyst of South Asian affairs, rose to ask about her alleged ties to the Indian paramilitary organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
“Hawaii resident Michael Brannon Parker says he has known you since you were a child and he introduced you to the RSS, a violent paramilitary in India,” said Friedrich. “Vijay Pallod of Texas is a leader in RSS-affiliated groups in the USA, and he confirms that he met you through Michael Brannon Parker. In your first two terms in office, you also met the RSS spokesperson at least three times. And you spoke at many RSS events, including two in India. When did your collaboration with the RSS begin and how much money have they given you?”
As Gabbard paused before answering, an audience member yelled, “Speak up.” She then replied, “I’m a soldier, and I took an oath. One oath in my life.” As she spoke, a demonstrator outside shouted, “An oath to the RSS.” She continued, “That was an oath to serve and protect this country, to put my life on the line for the people of this country.” She added, “We stand for aloha, we stand for diversity, we stand for peace.” While most of the audience remained seated, she stated, “Thank you everybody for standing with me.” Finally, she concluded, “It is this kind of attacks that are rooted in religious bigotry that we must stand together and condemn.”
“I didn’t mention any religion,” commented Friedrich later. “I asked about a paramilitary organization modeled after those of Italian and German fascists. Why is she tarnishing Hinduism by calling questions about RSS money ‘bigotry’?”
Gabbard’s event ended. As the audience left, dozens interacted with the demonstration outside. Some gathered to listen as several demonstrators spoke through a megaphone.
“I am a representative of the black community,” said demonstrator Jada Bernard. “It is sad to say that, in 2019, white nationalism is an issue for the black community. The diversity of America must be protected.” He explained, “In this country, white nationalism has a history with the KKK and other groups, and the RSS of India has been known as the KKK of India.”
Referencing the recent white nationalist terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, Bernard pointed out that accused terrorist Brenton Tarrant said he was inspired by Anders Breivik of Norway. Breivik killed 77 Norwegians in 2011. “This white nationalist said that white nationalists all over the globe should strengthen their ties with the RSS,” said Bernard. “So what we want to do is bring this issue of white nationalism to Tulsi. And we want to say, ‘Why are you spending time with the RSS? Why are you taking money from the RSS? Why are you speaking at RSS events?’”
“It’s sad to see Tulsi refusing to acknowledge the extreme violence of the RSS,” remarks Arvin Valmuci, a spokesperson for U.S.-based human rights group Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI). “We remember the most recent pogrom against Christians, in 2008 in Odisha, where even the Chief Minister of the state said that the RSS was guilty. It’s even more shameful that Tulsi, as participants in the protest told us, refused to answer any of the questions about her links to the RSS.”
The flyer distributed by demonstrators posed a series of questions for Gabbard, which included:
– The United Nations says that the RSS is an “ultranationalist” group promoting “Hindu extremism.” The U.S. State Department says that the RSS is responsible for violence against Christians and Muslims in India. How do you feel about the RSS?
– Why was BJP spokesperson Ram Madhav at your wedding, why did you meet him earlier when he was the RSS spokesperson, and how many times have you met Ram Madhav?
– When you met the BJP President in 2013, you got thousands of dollars in donations from Overseas Friends of BJP leaders. When you spoke at BJP banquets in Atlanta and Los Angeles, the organizers made calls from the stage for people to donate to your campaign and you again got thousands of dollars. Why did you allow a foreign political party to do Russia-style interference in your election?
– You released a video saying you were honored to be the Chairperson of last year’s World Hindu Congress in Chicago. The head of the RSS was the main speaker at the event. Then you quietly backed out at the last minute. You have spoken at many RSS events before, so why did you back out of speaking at this one?
– Why have you never made any statement acknowledging the suffering of India’s Christians, Dalits, Muslims, and Sikhs? When members of all of these communities accuse the RSS and BJP of attacking them, why do you frequently go to RSS and BJP events?