Shree Chauhan, an American citizen of Indian descent, has accused White House press secretary Sean Spicer of racism after an exchange in an Apple store in Washington.
The 33-year-old woman challenged Sean Spicer as he was shopping, asking: “How does it feel to work for a fascist?” – referring to President Donald Trump.
Sean Spicer replied: “It’s such a great country that allows you to be here.”
Shree Chauhan recorded the encounter and posted it online, drawing 300,000 views since March 11.
She has been attacked online since posting the video, with critics branding her “vile” and accusing her of harassment.
When asked by reporters about the encounter, Sean Spicer said: “I interact with individuals all day long. Ninety-nine percent of them are pleasant, even with people who may not agree with our philosophy or programs, whatever.”
“It’s a free country and people can act how they want, no matter how that’s interpreted.
“And as long as they stay on the right side of the First Amendment, we’re good.”
The footage shows Sean Spicer responding to the initial barb, about working for a fascist, by smiling and saying: “We have a great country.”
Shree Chauhan, the founder of an education start-up, then asks him: “Have you helped with the Russia stuff – are you a criminal as well? Have you committed treason, too, just like the president?”
Sean Spicer can then be heard saying: “It’s such a great country that allows you to be here.”
“What can you tell me about Russia, Mr. Secretary?” the questioner persists.
Sean Spicer then walks away saying: “Thank you very much,” while Shree Chauhan repeats: “You know you work for a fascist, right?”
In a blog post, Shree Chauhan wrote that she is an American citizen who was born and raised in the United States.
She said she was “stunned” by the press secretary’s comment, writing: “That is racism and it is an implied threat.”
Shree Chauhan, who is the daughter of immigrants, acknowledged that she was “impolite” in her comments to the Trump aide.
She said she wanted to seize the “enormous opportunity… to get answers without the protections normally given to Mr. Spicer”.
Shree Chauhan hit back at her online critics, writing on Twitter: “I have clear feelings for the man who is a fascist’s spokesperson. Nazis weren’t stopped with niceties.”
It has been claimed that Sean Spicer’s remark – “it’s such a great country that allows you to be here” – may have meant it’s great that Americans can approach presidential aides even while they are out shopping.
Shree Chauhan has rejected that interpretation, saying that Sean Spicer should have said “it’s such a great country that allows dissent” if that was what he meant.