The National Diversity Coalition for Trump is not very large, but it is indeed diverse.
The group’s Web page features a technicolor photo gallery of men and women from many backgrounds: Vietnamese, Arab, Muslim, Indian, Turkish Cuban and Mexican American — even a Sikh man wearing a turban printed with Donald Trump’s signature slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
If such a group’s existence seems improbable given the Republican presidential front-runner’s attacks on undocumented immigrants and Muslims — and his deep unpopularity among women and minorities — Georgia businessman Bruce LeVell believes that is because people don’t really know the man.
LeVell is a black man on a mission to change what he thinks is an unfounded and unfair perception that Trump is racist. He dismisses accusations that Trump has exploited racial tensions. He is even trying to persuade other people of color to support Trump’s campaign for president. He sincerely believes, he said, that “Donald Trump is a really, really good guy.”
And on Monday, he and other members of the group he co-founded will hold a coming-out party at Trump headquarters in New York — with the candidate.
Of those who view Trump unfavorably, LeVell said: “I swear, I don’t know where that’s coming from. This man is no more racist than Mickey Mouse is on the moon!”
LeVell, 52, faces a huge challenge, given that Trump’s favorability ratings among women and minorities are not only underwater — they’re on the ocean floor. According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 91 percent of African Americans and 81 percent of Hispanics have an unfavorable view of Trump. Among women, the figure is 75 percent.
Despite those numbers — as well as images of African American protesters being beaten and tossed out of his rallies — the New York billionaire has throughout his campaign boasted an eclectic collection of supporters who defend him on cable news and speak at his rallies.
And LeVell, who owns a custom jewelry company in suburban Atlanta, has amassed his own eclectic group of Trump boosters — 34, to be exact, according to the website.
The coalition includes such familiar names as Omarosa Manigault, perhaps the most famous graduate of Trump’s reality television show, “The Apprentice.” The group also includes Pastor Darrell Scott, a Cleveland minister whose plan to announce the endorsements of more than 100 black clergy members for Trump imploded following outrage from other black religious leaders.
Dahlys Hamilton is listed as the chairman of Hispanic Patriots for Trump. Recently she announced on her Facebook page, in all capital letters, “I’m getting off ‘Lyin’ Ted’s’ Cruz ship and boarding the Trump train!”
The coalition also includes individuals who claim to represent Asian Americans, Turkish Americans, American Indians, Sikh Americans and Muslim Americans.
LeVell and other minority supporters use the same arguments as his white defenders: that the news media and Trump haters have taken his comments out of context and blown incidents at his rallies out of proportion.
“And I’m not being paid!” LeVell declared, a point he likes to make after a recent appearance on an urban radio station during which callers asked how much money he was getting to talk up Trump. “I make my own money. I have a five-star-rated business.”
LeVell said the group is not a political committee and will raise no money for Trump. Trump spokesman Hope Hicks confirmed that the group was created independently from the campaign. “They are not affiliated with the campaign,” she said, adding, “Mr. Trump is incredibly grateful for their support.”
LeVell was among those invited by Scott to the ill-fated endorsement event last fall in New York. During his visit to Trump Tower, LeVell said he saw he saw people of many races and ethnicities working in the billionaire’s headquarters, including several women in senior management positions. The imagery stuck with him.
“You can’t have all these folks in your campaign and your firm who are culturally diverse and say he’s a racist,” he said. “If you say he’s brash and rough around the edges, I agree with you totally. But I will stand in front of a freight train and defend that this man is nowhere near racist.”
He will do it in front of a crowd, too. After the New York trip, LeVell flew back to Georgia with Trump on the candidate’s private jet. At a rally that night in Macon, Trump called LeVell, a former Republican county chairman in Gwinnett County in suburban Atlanta, onto the stage. “Donald Trump is not a racist, guys,” LeVell assured the mostly white crowd.
In the past two election cycles, minority support for the Republican nominees dropped to near-record lows; 19 percent of voters of color cast ballots for Mitt Romney in 2012. Some GOP strategists predict that support will fall further if Trump is the nominee this year.
Simone Perry, a black tea party activist, says Trump’s rise is crippling the party’s efforts to attract more people of color.
“We can no longer claim to be the party of freedom when we nominate a fascist, and we can’t be the party of opportunity if we decide a racist can represent our values,” said Perry, strategic partnership manager for the Tea Party Patriots in Georgia.
Joseph Hunter, a black conservative blogger in Chicago, said he will not vote for Trump because of his rhetoric about Hispanic immigrants. Also, Trump isn’t a conservative, he said. “He’s a liberal!”
Baltimore-area businessman Chandhok Jasdip Singh is a member of LeVell’s coalition and the head of Sikh Americans for Trump. His friend Sajid Tarar started Muslim Americans for Trump. They say that Trump’s comments on immigrants and Muslims have been distorted to make him appear xenophobic; Trump just wants to keep the country safe, a goal they share.
Singh, 47, voted for the Republican nominees in 2008 and 2012. He said he chose to come to the United States from India 30 years ago to study for a business degree because he thought it was the greatest country in the world. But he fears it has lost its swagger on the world stage. “Make America Great Again” resonated with him so much so that he wears a turban bearing those words.
Last month, Singh and Tarar went to a Trump rally in Cleveland. It was two days after a rally in Chicago had been canceled and violent clashes with protesters had dominated the news. Singh said he was alarmed by the images and wanted to see for himself what it was like at a Trump rally.
“I was a little nervous,” he admitted. “I was the only person wearing a turban. There were 10,000 people there, and you wouldn’t believe the kind of support and love we got from his supporters. Not a single person asked us what the hell were we doing there. There was nothing racial going on there.”
Tarar said selling Trump to other Muslims has been a challenge.
“In the beginning it was completely no. People looked at me like I’ve done something wrong, like I’m a traitor against Islam and Muslims,” he said. Then, “I try to explain it to them. He has never mentioned American Muslims. So they say they will think about it.”
Singh explained it this way: “It’s like if you go to a wedding and they announce that the buffet is open, and everybody waits for somebody to go first and then they follow. Nobody wants to be the first one to pick up a plate. People waited for me and my business partner to come out in support of Trump, and now a lot of people are following.”