'This is America' air traveler says guilty of yanking Muslim's scarf

Published: May 14, 2016
Man grabbed the back of the hijab and "pulled it all the way off," leaving her head exposed. PHOTO: REUTERS

Man grabbed the back of the hijab and "pulled it all the way off," leaving her head exposed. PHOTO: REUTERS

A North Carolina man admitted on Friday that he ripped off a Muslim woman’s head scarf during a flight to New Mexico last December after saying, “Take it off! This is America!”

Gill Payne, 37, pleaded guilty in US District Court in New Mexico to one count of using force to intentionally obstruct the woman from freely exercising her religious beliefs, prosecutors said.

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“No matter one’s faith, all Americans are entitled to peacefully exercise their religious beliefs free from discrimination and violence,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

An attorney for Payne said by e-mail: “Mr. Payne has taken responsibility for his actions and is sorry for them. He is ready to begin the healing process and move forward.”

Payne admitted that on a flight last December, he approached the aisle where the Muslim woman was seated shortly before landing in Albuquerque, and stopped next to her seat, Prosecutors said.

Payne then told the woman, a stranger identified in court documents as K.A., to take off her hijab, saying something to the effect of “Take it off! This is America!” prosecutors said.

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Payne then grabbed the back of the hijab and “pulled it all the way off,” leaving her head exposed.

“As a result, K.A. felt violated and quickly pulled the hijab back up and covered her head again,” prosecutors said in a statement.

A sentencing hearing for Payne has not yet been set, prosecutors said.

However, under the terms of a plea agreement struck with prosecutors and accepted by a magistrate judge, Payne will likely serve two months of home detention as well as probation, Payne’s attorney, Amber Fayerberg, said. The judge could also impose a fine, she said.

The guilty plea comes in the wake of a number of anti-Muslim incidents in the United States.

Earlier this week, a Muslim advocacy group said a California student was embarrassed and distressed after her name was incorrectly listed as Isis, the abbreviated name of the Islamic militant group.

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In late April, a New Jersey school board member resigned after drawing fire over anti-Muslim Facebook posts, including one saying, “America needs to get rid of people like you.”

In the wake of deadly attacks by militants in Paris and California last year, Donald Trump, now the presumptive Republican White House nominee, called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.


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Reader Comments (8)

  • Tp
    May 14, 2016 - 9:16PM

    Vanitha Gupta, Head of the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division delivered justice to the Muslim lady. A bit of an irony.Recommend

  • Sidster
    May 14, 2016 - 10:19PM

    what is so Ironic in regards to Vanitha Gupta helping a fellow American of different religion. in US one does not ask question in regards to religious or ethnic background before rendering aid in a distressful situation.
    what do you think this guy admitted his guilt because he felt sorry. the suspect admit guilt because there were people in flight that backed up Victims claim of civil right violation by Suspect. Recommend

  • Vicky cooper
    May 15, 2016 - 12:55AM

    Time for Muslims to come back home, specially Pakistanis who had a homeland created for them, why did they ever leave ?Recommend

  • G. Din
    May 15, 2016 - 2:52AM

    “…the suspect admit guilt because there were people in flight that backed up Victims claim of civil right violation by Suspect.”
    And, how do you know that? Did anyone get up and remonstrate with the suspect?Recommend

  • sunny
    May 15, 2016 - 7:55AM

    This incident proves my points “We Pakistani people should work hard and make Pakistan a better place than UK, US and EU” .Recommend

  • RA
    May 15, 2016 - 8:09AM

    The same would be true if the tables were turned and there was a Muslim in her position. The US is a country run by law. Yes, it is not perfect, and there is a lot of racism and bigotry here. And yes, people can do stupid things, like this man, but that doesn’t mean they will get away with it. People get justice here mostly, and more than most other countries, including Pakistan. Nowadays there is a lot of anti-Muslim propaganda in the West because of ISIS, al-Qaida, and Taliban type political movements that have given Islam a bad name. This is causing a lot of anxiety and stress among people here in the US that think that Islam is a threat to them. These types of feelings are fueled by a combination of stupidity and totally un-Islamic violence on the part of so-called Muslims, and anti-Muslim forces, like fundamentalist Christians, the Indian lobby, and the Zionist which have a strong voice in the US media.Recommend

  • Bunny Rabbit
    May 15, 2016 - 12:06PM

    Why cant Ms integrate into their host country. HAve they not heard- be a roman in rome . Recommend

  • Integration
    Aug 8, 2016 - 2:20AM

    @Bunny Rabbit:
    Integration does not mean giving up one’s personal identity. Recommend

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