NEW YORK — Donald Trump on Monday joined about 60 members of his newly-formed “diversity coalition” for a photo op in Trump Tower aimed at countering criticism that the real estate mogul’s presidential campaign has inflamed racial tensions and stirred Islamophobia.
About 60 individuals representing a cross-section of minority communities who have largely rejected the criticism of Trump’s contentious campaign rhetoric — including African-Americans, Hispanics and Muslims — gathered in the lobby of Trump’s Fifth Avenue building.
Trump was slated to sit down with the group to hear their ideas for how the brash billionaire can better convey his message to minority communities whom Trump has pledged to win over.
Instead, the Republican-frontrunner went in front of the mob of cameras and reporters awaiting him in the lower level lobby of Trump Tower and — flanked by a dozen black and brown faces — offered two minutes of remarks before returning to his 26th floor office in the same building.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s special counsel at the Trump Organization who helped organize the meeting, said Trump ended up not meeting with the group because he needed to leave New York City for an evening rally in Buffalo. Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, spotted outside Trump Tower after the brief meet-and-greet, said he would not be leaving for Buffalo for another two hours.
In his remarks, Trump touted the gathering as a testament to his ability to unify what he views as a divided country.
“This is real diversity,” Trump said. “It’s really about bringing people together.”
The gathering included black, Muslim, Sikh, Hispanic and Native American Trump supporters — all of whom readily chatted with reporters and rejected criticism that Trump’s campaign message has any undertones of prejudice.
“The only one that doesn’t talk about race — that’s looking at everybody through the same lens — is Donald Trump,” said Darrell Scott, a Cleveland-based pastor and the CEO of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump.
The coalition members also included Sajid Tarar, a Muslim American from Maryland who formed a Muslim Americans for Trump group.
Tarar insisted that Trump is “not a racist” and “not prejudiced,” but conceded that Trump’s rhetoric about Muslims has contributed to Islamophobia
“He’s added to it, there’s no question about it,” Tarar said.
Still, Tarar insisted that Trump is “not against all Muslims” and said he understands Trump’s call to temporarily ban Muslims — though he called it impractical and suggested Trump would pivot toward more specific solutions after the Republican primary season.
But while Tarar is trying to rally Muslims to Trump’s campaign, other members of the coalition did not shy away from biting criticism of Islam.
Rabia Kazan, a former Turkish journalist who said she “grew up Muslim” but declined to say what her current religion is, praised Trump’s call to temporarily ban Muslims from the United States and slammed Muslim culture as one that fosters violence against women.
“Islam hates America,” Kazan said, adding that moderate Muslims need to speak out more emphatically against radical terrorist groups like ISIS.
“Like Trump said, Islam has an issue,” she added.
Scott, one of the coalition’s leaders, said the group would be Trump’s “eyes and ears on the ground” in minority communities.
Scott, who said he speaks regularly with Trump, suggested the Republican front-runner was receptive to hearing ideas from the group to address issues affecting minority communities, including crime, education and urban renewal initiatives.
That didn’t happen Monday as Trump shuffled into an elevator with his security detail after his photo op, ignoring shouted questions about whether and when he was meeting with the council.
Scott shrugged off the cancellation.
“His schedule is tight so if we don’t meet today, we’ll talk to him tomorrow or the next day,” Scott said. “It’s no big deal.”