US President Donald Trump has held his first campaign rally since the US coronavirus lockdown began, in front of a smaller than expected crowd.
Mr Trump had boasted earlier this week that almost a million people had requested tickets for the event at Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center.
But the 19,000-seat arena was far from full and plans for him to address an outside “overflow” area were abandoned.
There had been concerns about holding the rally during the pandemic.
Those attending the rally had to sign a waiver protecting the Trump campaign from responsibility for any illness. Hours before the event began, officials said six staff members involved in organising the rally had tested positive.
However, it is unclear why attendance was lower than initially anticipated. Mr Trump, who spoke for almost two hours on a range of topics, referred to those in the stadium as “warriors”, while blaming the media and protesters for keeping supporters away. There were some volatile scenes outside the venue but no serious trouble was reported.
Mr Trump’s re-election campaign event was one of the biggest indoor gatherings held in the US since the country’s Covid-19 outbreak began, and came at a time when Oklahoma is seeing a rise in confirmed cases.
More than 2.2 million cases of Covid-19 and 119,000 associated deaths have been reported in the US, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
What did Trump say?
In his opening remarks, Mr Trump said there had been “very bad people outside, they were doing bad things”, but did not elaborate.
On the coronavirus response, Mr Trump said he had encouraged officials to slow down testing because it led to more cases being discovered. He described testing as a “double-edged sword”.
“Here is the bad part: When you do testing to that extent, you are going to find more people, you will find more cases,” he told the cheering crowd. “So I said ‘slow the testing down’. They test and they test.”
A White House official later said the president was “obviously kidding”.
Taking aim at his Democratic presidential rival, Mr Trump described Joe Biden as “a helpless puppet of the radical left”.
The president also struck a combative tone when he touched on anti-racism protests – and the toppling of statues – which began after the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by police in Minneapolis.
“The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalise our history, desecrate our monuments – our beautiful monuments – tear down our statues and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control. We’re not conforming,” he told the crowd.
The Trump campaign event in Tulsa had all the colour and character of one of his typical rallies.
The “Make America Great Again” hats, the Hillary Clinton “lock her up” chants, the ear-piercing soundtrack – squint, and it felt like the kind of raucous celebration that powered Trump to the White House in 2016 and buoyed the president through the ups and downs of his presidency.
The only thing missing was the capacity crowd, as vast swathes of blue upper-deck seats remained empty even as Trump entered the stage.
Blame the coronavirus for discouraging people from attending. Blame phantom protesters – as the Trump campaign did in a statement – for blocking access to the rally site. Blame mischievous liberals for flooding the campaign with fake ticket requests, encouraging the campaign to prepare for massive overflow crowds.
Whatever the reason, those massive crowds simply didn’t materialise. It wasn’t a bad turnout, but when your campaign boasts of more than a million RSVPs, it’s an embarrassing look to hit way below that mark.
For a campaign struggling to steady itself amid sagging polls and a public increasingly uneasy about the direction of the nation, the president may have needed more than a comfort-blanket rally that harkens back to better days.
What’s the background?
The rally was held amid fears it could become a coronavirus “super spreader” event.
In a Facebook post, Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum acknowledged that Tulsa’s residents were divided over it being the first city to host such an event.
“We do this as our positive Covid-19 cases are rising, but while our hospital capacity remains strong. Some think it is great, some think it is reckless. Regardless of where each of us falls on that spectrum, we will go through it as a community,” he wrote.
Emotions have also been running high following the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by police in Minneapolis last month, which sparked widespread anti-racism protests.
Mayor GT Bynum declared on Thursday a curfew covering the area around the BOK Center, citing the risk of “civil unrest”. But on Friday, Mr Trump announced that the curfew had been lifted for “our many supporters”.
Mr Trump had initially planned to hold the rally on Friday. But he changed the date last week after learning it fell on 19 June, known as Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the US.
The choice of location is also controversial. In 1921, Tulsa was the scene of a massacre in which white mobs attacked black people and businesses, killing an estimated 300 people.
At a peaceful Juneteenth rally in Tulsa on Friday, the civil rights activist Al Sharpton said campaigners could “Make America Great” for everybody for the first time.
- I feared for my life so I lied about being an Ewe – Caleb Kudah
- Citi FM journalist gained access to National Security premises under false pretences – Chief Director
- Affail Monney apologises for alleging Caleb Kudah breached Code of Ethics
- Information Minister visits Citi FM over alleged assault on 2 of its journalists
- Dzata Cement denies claims of selling product at ¢30 per bag
- Ordering loophole allows students to eat for free at KFC for six months
- Assin North MP’s case: Cape Coast High Court dismisses allegation of bias against presiding judge
- Zoe Abu-Baidoo declined our invitation – National Security defends ‘Rambo-style’ invasion of Citi FM premises
- Caleb Kudah didn’t breach Code of Ethics – GJA General Secretary
- Remittances to Ghana shoots up to $3.6bn in 2020
Tafohene furious over MP’s failure to attend commissioning of astroturf
UMB CEO celebrates Eid with customers in Tamale; donates items to Yaa-Naa’s celebrations at the Gbewaa Palace
Ghana – IMF staff mission concludes 2021 Article IV discussions
Parliament will carry out its own investigation on Citi FM journalists’ alleged assault – James Agalga
Education Ministry to distribute licenses to qualified teachers May 17
I’m surprised DSP Azugu is still at post after Ayawaso West Wuogon violence – James Agalga
Akufo-Addo opens talks with transport operators over plans to increase fares
Brian Dzansi: Why Ghana needs an Innovation and Startup Act
GIBA joins calls for independent inquiry on Citi FM journalists’ alleged assault
Accounts of how some people are treated by National Security shocking – Samson Lardi
Stop showing local feature films on TV – Filmmakers told
NCCE sensitizes security services on constitutional obligations
Kwabre East MP commends Muslim for peaceful co-existence
Evangelist slapped with ¢100K fine, 25 white fowls, eggs over comments against Nungua Traditional Council
Mere apology cannot save GJA President this time around – ASEPA