Trump’s Tulsa rally fails to draw expected crowds amid virus fears

Tulsa rally fails to draw expected crowds amid virus fears
Tulsa rally fails to attract expected number of people. Source: BBC
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Daily US Times: US President Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally crowd was smaller than expected. It was his first campaign rally since the US coronavirus lockdown began.

Earlier this week, Mr Trump claimed 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 Tulsa rally during this coronavirus pandemic as number of cases are increasing in Oklahoma.

Those attending the rally had to sign a waiver protecting the Trump campaign from responsibility for any illness. Officials said just hours before the event began that six staff members involved in organising the rally had tested positive.

However, it is unclear why the crowd was smaller than initially anticipated. Mr Trump for almost two hours on a range of topics at the event. He referred to those in the stadium as “warriors”, while blaming the protestors and media for keeping supporters away. There were some volatile scenes outside the venue but no serious trouble was reported.

Mr Trump’s supporters gathered half-an-hour before the president was due on stage. Source: Reuters

Mr Trump’s re-election campaign event was one of the biggest indoor gatherings held in the US since the country’s coronavirus outbreak began, and came at a time when Oklahoma is seeing a rise in confirmed cases.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 2.2 million cases of Covid-19 and 119,000 associated deaths have been reported in the US.

What did Trump say?

Mr Trump said in his opening remarks that there had been “very bad people outside, they were doing bad things”, but did not elaborate. He said he had encouraged officials to slow down the Covid-19 testing because it led to more cases being discovered.

President Trump described testing as a “double-edged sword”.

He told the cheering crowd: “Here is the bad part: When you do testing to that extent, you are going to find more people, you will find more cases. So I said ‘slow the testing down’. They test and they test.”

Attendees signed a waiver protecting the Trump campaign from responsibility for any illness. Source: AFP

A White House official later said the president was “obviously kidding”.

Mr Trump described his Democratic presidential rival, Joe Biden, as “a helpless puppet of the radical left”.

What’s the background?

The rally was held amid fears it could become a coronavirus “super spreader” event.

Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum acknowledged in a Facebook post that Tulsa’s residents were divided over it being the first city to host such an event.

He wrote: “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.”

Emotions have also been running high following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police in Minneapolis last month, which sparked a massive wave of anti-racism protests.

Tulsa Mayor declared on Thursday a curfew covering the area around the BOK Center, citing the risk of “civil unrest”.

Mr Trump announced on Friday that the curfew had been lifted for “our many supporters”.

The president 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.

Why are the date and venue controversial?

While not a federal holiday, it is celebrated widely by African Americans and Juneteenth is an annual commemoration of the end of slavery.

It celebrates the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved African Americans in Texas.

People had to pass temperature checks before they could enter the venue. Source: Reuters

Texas was the last state of the Confederacy to receive the proclamation, on 19 June 1865, months after the end of the war.

Trump re-election campaign aide Katrina Pearson defended the timing of the rally, saying “that the party of [Civil War victor Abraham] Lincoln, Republicans are proud of the history of Juneteenth”. said in a statement, quoted by Bloomberg, “that the party of [Civil War victor Abraham] Lincoln, Republicans are proud of the history of Juneteenth”.

Initially, President Trump had defended the timing of his Tulsa rally. He told Fox News: “Think about it as a celebration. My rally is a celebration. In the history of politics, I think I can say there’s never been any group or any person that’s had rallies like I do.”