Court documents have revealed that a man from North Carolina tore the hijab off a Muslim woman and screamed “This is America!” during a Southwest Airlines flight late last year.
A New Mexico federal court documents were revealed Friday, reports The Huffington Post
According to the report, 37-year-old Gill Parker Payne of Gastonia, North Carolina, was pleaded guilty in the federal court to a misdemeanor hate crime charge of using force to intentionally obstruct the woman’s free exercise of her religious beliefs.
In a plea agreement, Payne admitted to being aboard a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Albuquerque, New Mexico, on December 11, 2015, when he saw a woman wearing a hijab sitting a few rows in front of him.
The incident took place just three days after presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald Trump called for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the US. It also came less than two weeks after the terror attack in San Bernandino, California, and one month after the terror attack in Paris.
In a statement, head of the Civil Rights Division at the US Department of Justice Vanita Gupta said: “No matter one’s faith, all Americans are entitled to peacefully exercise their religious beliefs free from discrimination and violence.”
“Using or threatening force against individuals because of their religion is an affront to the fundamental values of this nation,” she said. “The Civil Rights Division will continue to be vigilant in protecting the religious liberties guaranteed to all Americans.”
Amid a surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric in December 2015, Islamophobic hate crimes, like the one committed by Payne, tripled. According to a recent report from the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University, 2015 saw the highest number of anti-Muslim hate crimes since 2001.
In the past four months, The Huffington Post has also documented the widespread discrimination, harassment and violence faced by American Muslims.