'Trump is a good man and I pray for him every day," Galagoda Atte Gnanasara told me in late April, later bragging that he himself is even better than U.S. President Donald Trump.
Gnanasara is Sri Lanka's notorious rabble-rousing monk and leader of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), or Buddhist Power Force, a radical nationalist religious organization. He draws crowds of tens of thousands and is known for inciting violence targeting Muslims. Gnanasara's praise for Trump came when I asked him about the Muslim travel ban.
Gnanasara whips crowds into a frenzy, passionately exhorting Buddhists to rise up and protect what he believes is being threatened — namely their Sinhalese identity. He insists he is not anti-Islam, only anti-extremism. In person, he is mild-mannered and thoughtful, a man living with minimal security despite making many enemies. In his monastery in central Colombo, there is a bank of security monitors, but aside from a few acolytes the compound is only watched over by a large statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.