Gathering a smaller than expected crowd, President Donald Trump sought to breathe new life into his re-election campaign with a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, amid anti-racism protests in cities across the country and a still-strong coronavirus pandemic.
Even as the coronavirus death toll in the United States neared 120,000, Trump declared on Saturday night that his response to the pandemic saved “hundreds of thousands” of lives.
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He also suggested that he wants the pace of COVID-19 testing in the US to slow down, blaming it for the rapid rise in the number of confirmed cases. His campaign, however, said the president was “speaking in jest”.
The US president also tried to explain away the crowd size, blaming it on the media who he said warned people: “Don’t go, don’t come, don’t do anything,” while insisting that the protesters outside were “doing bad things”, though the small crowds of pre-rally demonstrators were largely peaceful.
“We begin our campaign,” Trump thundered. “The silent majority is stronger than ever before.”
Just moments before Trump’s speech, his son, Eric, also addressed the crowd, describing the anti-racism protesters across the US as “animals”.
Trump has come under fire for his responses to the coronavirus pandemic and to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police.
The US president has brushed aside criticism for his decision to hold his first rally since March 2 in Tulsa, the site of one of the country’s bloodiest outbreaks of racist violence against Black Americans about 100 years ago.
He claimed that Democrats were seeking to erase American heritage, a reference to the tearing down of several statues of Confederate slave owners and other figures.
“The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrate 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,” he said.
Trump arrives on stage to speak at a campaign rally at BOK Center in Tulsa on Saturday [Evan Vucci/AP]
“Oklahoma and America need four more years of President Donald Trump in the White House!” Vice President Mike Pence told cheering supporters ahead of Trump’s address at the 19,000-seat BOK Center arena, where many empty seats were visible.
Trump campaign officials had said prior to the event that demand far outstripped the capacity of the venue.
But on Saturday night, the arena was almost half-empty, and the campaign was forced to cancel an outdoor rally after the expected overflow crowd did not show up.
Dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters did gather at rally checkpoints and confronted attendees, but no violence was reported.
Many rally-goers wore red “Make America Great Again” hats or T-shirts, but very few wore masks, and there was little social distancing, even though coronavirus cases have recently been skyrocketing in Oklahoma.
Hours before the rally, the Trump campaign announced six members of its advance team had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Republican president is trailing presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, in polls ahead of the November election.
Supporters are delighted to see Trump back on the campaign trail, and those wanting to attend far outstripped the number of seats available, Trump campaign officials said.
A supporter wearing a face mask has her temperature checked outside Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]
Masks not obligatory
This was the first of Trump’s signature rallies since March 2, when the country went into pandemic lockdown.
The Trump campaign issued an unusual disclaimer telling attendees they “assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19”.
Oklahoma’s case tally reached a new daily high on Wednesday, at 450 infections.
A man lies on the ground outside the venue of Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma [Goran Tomasevic/Reuters]
‘Back to business’
Trump has emphasised quickly reopening the country, saying there may be “embers” of the pandemic that can be handled locally.
In an interview with news site Axios on Friday, Trump predicted a “wild evening” in Oklahoma.
He said the rally is about pushing a message of reopening the country.
“We have to get back to business,” Trump said. “We have to get back to living our lives. Can’t do this any longer.”
The president has also previously warned protesters that they will face a harsh response in Tulsa.
Rally organisers provided everyone with hand sanitiser, temperature checks and optional masks.
Attendees were required to sign a waiver protecting organisers from any liability in the event COVID-19 spreads at the venue.
“It’s a personal choice, I won’t be wearing a mask,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Friday, adding that she is frequently tested for the virus.
Al Jazeera’s Jay Gray, reporting from Tulsa ahead of the rally, said Trump’s supporters were “very excited” to see the president.
“When you talk to those supporters, most will tell you that they don’t plan to wear face masks, that they are not concerned about the virus.”
Kanye West addresses abortion at campaign event in North Charleston, South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Rapper Kanye West, in his first event since declaring himself a presidential candidate, delivered a lengthy monologue Sunday touching on topics from abortion and religion to international trade and licensing deals. Whether he’s actually seeking the nation’s highest office remains a question. West said that while he believes abortion should be legal,…
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Rapper Kanye West, in his first event since declaring himself a presidential candidate, delivered a lengthy monologue Sunday touching on topics from abortion and religion to international trade and licensing deals. Whether he’s actually seeking the nation’s highest office remains a question.
West said that while he believes abortion should be legal, financial incentives to help struggling mothers could be a way to discourage the practice.
“Everybody that has a baby gets a million dollars,” he said as an example.
Wearing a protective vest and with “2020” shaved into his head, the entertainer spoke before a crowd in North Charleston, South Carolina. According to a livestream of the event, it appeared that several hundred people had gathered in a venue, where gospel music played before West’s appearance.
The event was reportedly for registered guests only, although a campaign website had no registration or RSVP information.
Speaking without a microphone, West became tearful at one point while talking about his mother, who died following plastic surgery complications in 2007.
West has missed the deadline to qualify for the ballot in several states, and it’s unclear if he is willing or able to collect enough signatures required to qualify in others. Last week, he qualified to appear on Oklahoma’s presidential ballot, the first state where he met the requirements before the filing deadline.
West needs to collect 10,000 signatures by noon Monday to appear on the South Carolina ballot, according to state law. The entertainer tweeted out a list of locations around the Charleston area where petitions could be signed. Email to an address purportedly associated with the campaign was not returned Sunday afternoon.
West, who is married to reality television star Kim Kardashian West, initially announced his candidacy on July 4.
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