SARASOTA, FLORIDA — More than 650 people, mostly of them white and elderly, lined up along Sarasota’s upscale main street, waiting for their moment to shake the hand of GOP frontrunner Dr. Ben Carson and get his signature on his new book A More Perfect Union. Across the street, a small crowd of demonstrators held signs reading “Carson attacks the poor” and “Carson lies about Islam, using hate for votes,” and cheered and chanted at the line of supporters, as local police officers monitored the two groups.
The activists told ThinkProgress that the huge and growing number of Carson supporters in Florida and across the country makes them nervous. “It shows he is a threat on the national stage to all sorts of people,” Tampa Bay resident Brian Ellis told ThinkProgress. “To vulnerable communities, poor people, women, Muslims, LGBT people, and others.”
“We’re here to spread our own message over Ben Carson’s message of hate and bigotry,” Ellis said. “We wanted to make sure people in this community who are targeted by Ben Carson know we’re standing with them.”
— Alice Ollstein (@AliceOllstein) November 4, 2015
As Carson exited his massive bus, which has the cover photo from his book plastered across the side, the crowd screamed in delight and pressed forward to catch a glimpse of him. One elderly man, after standing for hours in the 90 degree-plus weather, fainted and had to be taken away in an ambulance. “Win, Ben, Win!” chanted dozens of supporters.
Across the street, Sarasota resident Minoo Parker, a special education teacher, shook her head in disbelief.
“He has made comments that are absolutely creating division and hate,” she said. “Like his comment that if Jews had had weapons then the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened, or saying we should limit the freedom of speech on university campuses. It frankly makes Americans look really horrible in the world.”
In September, Carson said in a TV interview that believing in Islam should disqualify an individual from the presidency, which prompted several civil rights groups to call on him to drop out of the 2016 race. Parker, who lived in Iran both under the Shah and the subsequent Islamic Republic compared Carson’s comment to the intolerant climate she experienced there. “I have seen how people can take advantage of religion and race and culture, and just create division and not do anything positive. America is going to be in trouble if somebody like [Carson] gets elected. It’s a very sorry time.”