The disturbance at the Middle Eastern restaurant morphed within minutes from bizarre to a violent, one-sided assault.
Jason Kendall was walking down State Street about 3 p.m. Saturday when he saw a woman standing inside Al Aqsa Restaurant in Salem, Ore., according to Fox affiliate KPTV. The Mediterranean food joint is a few blocks from the state’s Capitol and Willamette University.
Kendall said he thought the woman was being held hostage because “of the type of shirt she was wearing,” the news station reported. He would later tell police that holding women hostage was “what Arabs do.”
So he walked into the restaurant and told the woman that she was “free to leave,” according to KPTV.
Then he started yelling because he saw a “Saddam Hussein-looking guy” inside the restaurant, according to the Salem Statesman Journal.
“Go back to your country, terrorist,” he told the man. “Get out of America.”
Local media said employees were able to get Kendall to leave, but not for long.
He allegedly returned a few minutes later with a pipe — he told officers that it was his “horn of Gabriel” and that he was walking a “warrior’s path” — and started beating the man who he said looked like Hussein in the head.
Police arrived and arrested Kendall, charging him with assault, unlawful use of a weapon and intimidation. He remained in jail on Sunday with bail set at $65,000.
According to the Statesman Journal, the intimidation charge stems from Kendall’s alleged threat to inflict injury “based on his perception of the race or national origin of the employee.”
Lt. Dave Okada told the newspaper that police are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.
“These crimes don’t happen very often in our community,” Okada told the newspaper. “Our community really does come together and supports each other.”
Kendall is scheduled to appear before a judge on Friday. The incident is one of four suspected hate crimes that have occurred in Salem since Donald Trump was elected president, the Statesman Journal reported.
In the month after the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded 1,094 bias-related incidents. Of those, 42 were in Oregon. The group said reports peaked after the election, then tapered.
“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” he said.