Mount Rushmore: Trump hosts 4 July celebration event amid criticism

President Trump will deliver a speech at the event, held to mark Independence Day in the US

US President Donald Trump is presiding over an event to mark 4 July celebrations at Mount Rushmore, despite concerns over coronavirus.

Mr Trump will give a speech at the South Dakota landmark, which features the carved faces of four US presidents.

He is expected to denounce "cancel culture", and the toppling of monuments during recent anti-racism protests.

A fireworks display will be held at the pre-Independence Day event, attended by 7,500 people.

Masks will be available but not required, and social distancing will not be strictly enforced.

Mr Trump, who has promised "a tremendous 3 July", has faced criticism for holding the event at a time when coronavirus cases are surging to record levels in the US.

The president's visit has raised fears over the potential spread of Covid-19, wildfire worries linked to the fireworks, and protests from Native American groups.

Welcoming people to the event, South Dakota's Republican Governor Kristi Noem echoed the president's tone on protesters, accused them of "trying to wipe away the lessons of history".

"This is being done deliberately to discredit America's founding principles," she told cheering crowds.

Speaking to Fox News this week, Ms Noem said free face masks would be available at the outdoor event for people who chose to wear them, but "we won't be social distancing".

"We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home," she said.

Why is the location controversial?

Activists have long taken issue with the Mount Rushmore monument, which was built on land sacred to the Sioux tribe. Two of the former presidents depicted - George Washington and Thomas Jefferson - were slave-owners.

The decision to hold an event there is controversial at a time when statues of Confederate generals and slave-owners are being re-evaluated, and in many cases pulled down, amid anti-racism protests.

Ahead of the event, a group of mostly Native American protesters blocked a main road to the monument with white vans, leading to a tense stand-off with police.

A man faces a row of police as activists and members of different tribes from the region block the road to Mount Rushmore National Monument in Keystone, South Dakota
Protesters blocked a main road to the monument ahead of the event

They were eventually cleared from the road by police officers and National Guard soldiers, who used smoke bombs and pepper spray, local reports say.

The vans were towed away and several protesters were arrested after the police declared the road block an "unlawful assembly", local newspaper the Argus Leader reported.

What is Trump expected to say?

Mr Trump will deliver a speech in the shadow of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, whose heads are carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore.

A Trump campaign official said the president, who has condemned the removal of statues by protesters, will rail against people trying to "tear down" the United States.

"The left wing mob and those practicing cancel culture are engaging in totalitarian behaviour that is completely alien to American life - and we must not accept it," the official said, summarising Mr Trump's expected comments.

Donald Trump waves as he boars Air Force One prior to departing from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, July 3, 2020
Mr Trump is expected to make a speech in the shadow of Mount Rushmore

These will be the first fireworks at Mount Rushmore in over a decade, after a ban was imposed over environmental concerns.

Mr Trump has predicted a "fireworks display like few people have seen" in South Dakota, a state he won in the 2016 US election.

The monument is surrounded by a national forest and some fear the display could set off wildfires in the dry brush, though local officials have said the risk is low.

Friday's event is the latest to be held by President Trump during the coronavirus pandemic, as he attempts to fire up his supporters ahead of November's presidential election.

The president recently organised large events in Oklahoma and Arizona, drawing criticism for risking further outbreaks as Covid-19 cases continue to rise nationwide.

On Friday, the US recorded its largest single-day total of new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.

What have Native Americans said about the event?

Native American groups have criticised Mr Trump's visit for posing a possible health risk, and for celebrating US independence in an area that is sacred to them.

Many Native Americans do not celebrate Independence Day because they associate it with the colonisation of their tribal homelands and the loss of their cultural freedoms.

The Mount Rushmore landmark was carved between 1927 and 1941, but the land it lies on - in the Black Hills of South Dakota - was taken from the indigenous Lakota Sioux by the US government in the 1800s.

"The president is putting our tribal members at risk to stage a photo op at one of our most sacred sites," said Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

Activists and members of different tribes from the region protest in Keystone, South Dakota on 3 July
Native American groups are protesting against the event, which they have branded disrespectful

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