You may or may not have seen a GIF of a “woman” calmly shooting up two middle fingers in the air while being escorted out of a Donald Trump rally in North Augusta, South Carolina on Tuesday [February 16, 2016].
The 18-year old, who, to much surprise, was just a well-groomed guy with pretty enviable eyebrows, was Thomas Hill, a high schooler of Puerto Rican descent who wanted to speak out against Donald Trump’s now infamous anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“I have so many friends who are immigrants here, and I’m Puerto Rican,” Hill told ThinkProgress. “Trump’s policies about immigrants are really scary. I have always said that if you have a problem with something you should exercise your right to protest, so I thought I needed to practice what I preach, and let [Trump] know that people do oppose him.”
This woman was escorted from a Trump rally in North Augusta, South Carolina moments ago, middle fingers aloft. pic.twitter.com/W9EYszfiMI
— GIF The News (@NowThisGIF) February 16, 2016
Equipped only with a makeshift sign that read “Keep America Great, Keep All Immigrants” he set out to the rally among hundreds of Trump supporters where he stood for over an hour awaiting Mr. Trump’s arrival.
Thomas says a volunteer made sure to tell the crowd if they should see or hear protesters, not to touch them. Instead, supporters were instructed to drown them out by chanting Trump’s name.
— Burton Guster (@Pandaprints_) February 16, 2016
The warning apparently failed to resonate with two men who took physical action when Thomas Hill raised his poster on Tuesday.
“I held my poster up for about five minutes before someone came behind me and ripped it out of my hands,” Hill began. “When I attempted to put what was left of the poster up in the air, he pulled my arm, then grabbed my hoodie and started to choke me with it. I pulled him in towards me just to prevent him from choking me.”
Hill says no one attempted to stop what was happening. Instead, a second man, a police officer and war veteran, intervened to help out his fellow Trump supporter.
“He kept screaming at me that he was an off-duty cop and I had to do what he said. I didn’t see a badge and kept asking him for one. I put my hands up and asked him to let me go, but he refused. Finally, security arrived and walked me out of the room.”
While no video of the encounter has surfaced and not many have had the opportunity to hear of Thomas Hill’s motivations, a video of Donald Trump inviting the two men up to the stage, praising them for the actions went viral.
Though Hill says he was only jeered at and booed on Tuesday, he feels he still made an impact.
“When the protests [against Trump] were more prominent, early on, that seemed to jar people. They thought, ‘Oh, people do oppose him. I should listen to what they have to say too. But now he’s gotten more powerful and people are believing him more. I’m concerned what he’s saying could become widely accepted if we don’t speak up now.”