Every election cycle has its characters who emerge out of the woodwork and become part of the election story, like Joe the Plumber eight years ago and Ken Bone this year with his famous red sweater.
Add Moustafa Bayoumi, Brooklyn College associate professor of English, to that list.
During the second presidential debate in St. Louis, which was staged as a town-hall forum, Republican candidate Donald Trump, whom many later mocked for seeming to hover ominously near Democrat Hillary Clinton, called on Muslims to report suspicious things they see in their community.
Bayoumi took to Twitter, saying, “I’m a Muslim, and I would like to report a crazy man threatening a woman on a stage in Missouri.”
Shared more than 90,000 times, media dubbed it the night’s most viral tweet. As a result he went from around 1,500 followers before the to debate to over 15,000 afterward.
“A lot of supporters felt like I had encapsulated the election for them,” Bayoumi told Clarion.
He said that at the time he was inspired not just by the way Trump seemed to hover over Clinton but the absurdity of the notion that Muslims had to police themselves.
“Part of the reason the tweet was so successful was it somehow manages to ridicule Trump by making fun of misogyny and his Islamophobia at the same time,” he said. “It connects those two groups he has been very bigoted against.”
It wasn’t just that Bayoumi’s words carried far and wide in cyberspace. He reportedly inspired an entire tweet-storm, via the hashtag #Muslimsreportstuff, by Muslims mocking Trump’s call for the Islamic community to police itself. For example, poet and activist Zainab Chaudry tweeted, “Creepy orange clowns sighted recently across the country. Some say they saw one pacing the debate stage tonight.”
Bayoumi said he was motivated particularly by the way Trump seemed to physically threaten Clinton throughout the debate, but his choice to bring some levity to the situation seemed to make his tweet soar.
But Bayoumi wasn’t able to bring his humor to the final debate. At press time, he was scheduled to be flying to Canada during the third debate.