- Although shaken by negative reactions, Palathingal is unapologetic about his support for Trump’s claims of “stolen election” and is proud to have carried the flag of his “mother nation” to the protest.
Amidst the massive attack on the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, January 6, by President Trump’s supporters, a video of the Indian flag being waved among several American flags took social media by storm. Sparking intrigue as well as enraged reactions from India and Indian Americans here, most of them questioning what the Indian flag was doing at what was termed as an insurrection in the U.S. capital.
Everyone wanted to know who it was that was holding the flag, once it was proved the video was not fake. And in no time, intrepid social media users tracked the identity of the man — Vincent Xavier Palathingal, 53, a Northern Virginia resident.
Having been called everything from Modi-bhakt to a terrorist, Palathingal talked to American Kahani about the Republican Party and his decision to carry the flag on that fateful day.
Born in Kumbalam in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, Palathingal completed his schooling from St. Thomas High School and Sacred Heart High School in Thevara. Graduating from the Thrissur Government Engineering College, he worked as a project engineer at the Kerala Industrial and Technical Consultancy Organization in Kochi and another year as a site engineer at Ali-Al Sheibani Associates in Al-Hofuf, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Palathingal had moved to the U.S. in 1992 as an international student, with his newly-wed wife, Asha, to pursue a Master’s in Civil Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. He became a naturalized American citizen in 2004.
Speaking about his why he went to the Capital on January 6 and about his decision to carry the tiranga, Palathingal says “January 6 was when the U.S. Congress was going to certify the electoral college votes. It was the last day to voice any objections. If not raised on that day, the presidential elections would be final and the new president would be inaugurated on Jan 20. These two dates – Jan 6 and 20 are very important for U.S. Presidential elections.”
Palathingal, who, like President Trump does believe the election was fraudulent, further adds, “There were objections from six states that were going to come. The Trump supporters were expecting the Congress to hold serious debate on the election fraud. We had expected about 12 hours of discussion, where all the proof on the rigged elections could have been presented.”
Condemning the violence Palathingal adds,” This would have been a good opportunity for the world to see where the fraud may have happened. All that was thwarted because of the violence.”
Palathingal had put a detailed post on Facebook on Thursday, claiming that he was there to protest a “stolen election.” The post, in which he claimed that he was not part of the violence, has now been taken down following widespread criticism from people inside and outside India for insulting the country by carrying the tri-color to a violent protest, in which five people have died.
So, the number one question most people had on social media was why the Indian flag? To this Palathingal says, “It’s very simple. I believe that President Trump has done tremendous good for India vis-à-vis China and the South-China Sea and against Chinese domination there, Kashmir, Pakistan, and the alliance established with India as a staunch ally.”
Elaborating on his four-point reasoning, Palathingal, speaking of the widely-criticized Modi-Trump friendship continues, “This strong alliance did not happen at this level under Bush, Clinton and even Obama. I believe these two compatible democracies should be together in world affairs and together can make this world better than it is today. President Trump really saw this potential and broke ground in extending his hand in friendship. President Trump has talked with much respect about India everywhere!”
“The second reason for the flag was that I wanted to ensure that this huge million-plus crowd that had assembled in Washington D.C. wasn’t just seen as racist white people, but regular patriotic Americans – white, black, brown – every color, religion and nationality, you can think of, doing their democratic, constitutional duty by participating in the process,” says Palathingal, adding, “flags of many countries were there — Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Israeli, Iranian etc. All these flags create the impression of this being a people’s movement. Not just a white, racist movement.”
A man of convictions, Palathingal, who has been to almost 5 Trump rallies till date says, “I also wanted to tell Indian Americans in particular and immigrant groups in general that the Republican party and the conservative movement is open to them,” adding, “I wanted them to see there was nothing to fear.”
Palathingal, an active member of the State Central Committee of the Republican Party in Virginia adds, “The Republican Party is very welcoming to all. It’s not like the media portrays us. And I wanted to let the immigrants there know this.”
Finally, Palathingal says, “The last reason for carrying the Indian flag there was to tell the mainstream American Republicans and the local white American patriots there that this is the way to embrace the minorities – show them love, affection and care in a more personable fashion. When I carry my flag to the rally, I’m an Indian and an American and I am accepted. That personal representation for minorities is very important and is important for the Republican Party to grow. When people come to America from other countries, due to the media narratives, they join the Democratic Party as they believe they will find more acceptance based on their skin color. That is destroying the opportunity for Republicans to be competitive. We (Republican Party) need to grow our numbers. I took the flag to show Republicans how to welcome minorities.”
Not apologetic for having taken the flag to the protest, Palathingal says, “Some criminals had infiltrated our event and incited the violence. It was a peaceful protest by one million people. All Trump rallies are fun. I do not regret the decision to take the Indian flag to the protest. I am a very proud Indo-American, who had supported Trump. Violence is not part of us.”
Touting a discredited conspiracy theory, Palathingal suspects that members of far-left organizations (Antifa) might have infiltrated the rally to create problems. “We don’t know who they are as their identities are yet to be revealed. But we believe some miscreants, possibly from the Opposition, infiltrated into our midst to create problems. The 50-odd people who scaled the walls and entered the building seem to be trained thugs. I don’t think they are Republicans because I know the Republican crowd and they would not do such things,” said Palathingal, adding, once the doors were opened by the miscreants some of the other protesters might have gone in due to the sudden excitement.
Palathingal said that he was outside the whole time, with his group of about 10 Indo-Americans. “We were far from the main door and when we saw people climbing the wall. We knew something was wrong. I had to call my wife who was home to find out what was happening inside the building. We were very peaceful outside and were singing the national anthem and patriotic songs.”
He adds, “I think the violence robbed from us any chances of a serious objection and a rational discussion in the Congress.”
Palathingal’s Facebook page showed a glut of angry messages, with netizen Suresh Madhavan alleging he had “disgraced India for your two minutes of fame” and Philip Joseph, apparently a U.S.-based Malayali and Republican, asking: “Who gave you the authority to carry the Indian flag in a riot before capitol hill?”
Even Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, who Palathingal met on two previous occasions, has questioned “Indians with the same mentality as that of Trumpist mob, who enjoy using the flag as a weapon rather than a badge of pride” and asserted, “That flag there is a warning to all of us.”
Standing his Ground
Definitely feeling the heat on social media, Palathingal was taken aback by the criticism. “I never expected this to happen,” he says perplexed, adding, “I decided to take the Indian flag at the last minute. I never expected violence at the rally or the controversy the flag created. Even my friends and community members have risen up against me. I didn’t plan the controversy, but I decided to not back down and address it head on.”
Palathingal spoke extensively to the media in India and in the U.S., explaining his stance.
In an interview with News18, Palathingal defended his decision to wave the Indian tri-color at the protest stating that the media is painting the protest as a riot, when it was by and large a peaceful protest. When asked what he thinks about Indians being against his actions, Xavier shot back at the anchor stating that he didn’t believe her claims and that she “made up” the claims.
Sounding somewhat crest fallen, Palathingal pointed out that there were five other Keralites in the group but they had not attracted attention because they did not carry the Indian flag. He added that this was the first time he had carried an Indian flag to a pro-Trump rally.
Palathingal has deleted from his Facebook page pictures he had uploaded of himself holding the Indian flag at the Capitol Hill siege. Instead, he has tweeted pictures of the pro-Trump protesters carrying the national flags of various countries, including Vietnam, Iran and South Korea.
Palathingal, a pro-business conservative, was once a Democrat who voted for Bush, Clinton and Obama, not once but twice, switched sides, as he bought into the Trump pro-business rhetoric. “Just like any other immigrant, I believed in the media portrayal of the Republican Party as not being friendly to minorities. I was also guided in this thinking by members of my community, who were all Democrats. So, I followed them. I hated Bush’s Iraq policies and his lies that took this country into an unnecessary war. With this attitude for Bush it was hard for me to have an open mind for Republicans and so I voted Democrat blindly. I didn’t know better.”
In 2008, when Obama came to the political arena with his message of hope and change, “I had always thought America had a race problem and being a country of immigrants, I thought it was imperative for America to be open to everybody. With a Black American President, I thought the past could be erased and we could grow as a country and individually and the world could see us as a non-racist country.”
A huge fan of Obama’s oratory and communication skills, Palathingal says, “I was a die-hard supporter of President Obama in 2008,” adding that he even opened up his basement to fellow Democrats for their election campaign activities.
But by 2012, the bloom was off the rose and Palathingal was growing more critical of the Democratic policies. “Distribution of wealth is not something I am friendly with,’ says Palathingal, who grow up poor in a rural part of Kerala, a Communist bastion. “Communists came to power there in 1957. I didn’t like what they did. They started dividing people based on wealth. They created a class war. As a student in India, I was instrumental in organizing against communist-believers who dominated college campuses through violent and terror tactics. He also witnessed how the minority and religious appeasement and pandering policies of socialist parties in India were a disaster, for majorities and minorities alike.”
He adds, “I started seeing that Obama represented these values and so I began to distance myself from the Democratic Party.”
However, he still voted for Obama in 2012 as he was the better candidate when compared to “slimy” Mitt Romney.
Finally, by 2014, Palathingal had pledged allegiance to the Republican Party. In 2016, seeing Trump as a “straight-shooter” he voted for him. “He had the thinking of the common man and tremendous common sense. I like that he can’t be controlled by anyone as a politician. And that’s why I became a big Trump fan.”
Palathingal does however admit that some of the crazy things that Trump has said he doesn’t approve of but “overall his message was appealing”.
Around 28 percent of Indians in America voted for Trump. And the support for Trump’s majoritarian racist nationalism is even larger amongst the Indian diaspora. The largely affluent Indians are the ‘good minority’ who can participate in ‘Make America Great Again’. And this was reflected in the open endorsement of Donald Trump by Narendra Modi in his ‘Ab ki baar Trump sarkar’ call.
Palathingal who cares about India, his “mother nation” is not necessarily a Narendra Modi fan, “but supports whoever does good for India,” adding that he liked former Prime Ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, who did good things for India, “kept socialism under control and moved the people of India towards freedom, liberty and less regulation.”
Palathingal, who still believes that despite Trump’s many deficiencies (one of which he pointed out is Trump’s lack of a strategy to keep people together), he believes he is “one of the greatest presidents America has had” and “brought attention to the need to be patriotic”.
An entrepreneur, Palathingal has worked with the Maryland State Highway Administration, Metro Washington Council of Governments and Fannie Mae, before starting (1998) Amaram Technology, providing IT support to businesses and government bodies.
In 2011, Palathingal launched Amsco Global (American Merchandise Supply Company), an exporting business, supplying major American brands all over the world. Amsco was the recipient of the ‘Small Business Exporter of the Year Award’ in 2013 from U.S. Small Business Administration.
In 2015, Palathingal also started a political think tank, the Indo-American Center. With a clear agenda to strengthen the emerging India-United States relations, the Indo-American Center aims to maximize growth, development, and prosperity between the two world powers.
In 2016, Palathingal founded Accubits Technologies Inc., that deals with technological-solution innovation.
Palathingal served as Vice President of FOMAA, the largest Malayali-member organization in the United States from 2014-2016.
In 2019, Xavier stood for elections for the Fairfax County School Board with Republican support and polled 10.8 percent of the votes in a losing battle.
Not in favor of a possible Trump impeachment as it is a “sign of disrespect,” Palathingal believes that the incoming Biden-Harris administration is too young, inexperienced, and radically liberal to do the job. However, he optimistically hopes “they will fix the various issues plaguing America today and make America successful again!”
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.