President Donald Trump addressed an enthusiastic — though smaller than expected — crowd of supporters at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday night as some protesters gathered outside to call for an end to systemic racism and police brutality.
“You are warriors, thank you. We had some very bad people outside,” Trump told the crowd, later referring to protesters as “thugs.”
The Tulsa event was the first Trump rally to take place in months. It was held against the advice of Trump’s own coronavirus task force, which urged White House officials to nix the event amid fears it might spread coronavirus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, warned in an interview earlier this month that large events of any kind, including Trump’s rally, remain “risky,” and he urged people to avoid such gatherings.
The Trump campaign warned rally attendees that they participate in the event at their own risk. The registration page for the rally included a legal disclaimer that said Trump and his campaign can’t be sued if attendees find themselves infected with COVID-19.
On Saturday afternoon, the Trump campaign confirmed that at least six rally staffers tested positive for the coronavirus. The staffers were immediately quarantined, the campaign said.
Trump did not mention the sick staffers during his address, but he repeatedly downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, which he referred to as the “Chinese virus” and “kung flu.”
At one point, Trump suggested he wanted COVID-19 testing to be slowed down as more testing uncovers more cases.
“Testing is a double-edged sword,” he said. “Here’s the bad part: When you do testing to that extent, you’re gonna find more people, you’re gonna find more cases.”
Rally attendees were given face coverings when they entered the venue but many chose not to wear them, The Washington Post reported. Most police officers and National Guard soldiers on-site also chose not to cover their faces, according to the publication.
Trump’s aides earlier claimed that more than a million people wanted tickets to the main rally inside Tulsa’s BOK Center. But the actual turnout fell well short of expectations.
The president was scheduled first to address supporters outside the arena, which has a capacity of 19,000 people, before heading inside for a second speech. But at the last minute, Trump’s campaign canceled the outdoor remarks.
At the time the cancellation was announced, only a few dozen people were reportedly gathered in the overflow area outside the venue. Inside, the rafters were empty, and there was plenty of room in the standing-only area in front of the stage.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh blamed protesters for the low turnout, saying demonstrators blocked access to metal detectors, which prevented participants from entering the venue.
“Radical protesters, coupled with a relentless onslaught from the media, attempted to frighten off the President’s supporters,” Murtaugh said.
There were some minor clashes between Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters who gathered outside the BOK Center before and during the rally, but protests were limited across Tulsa on Saturday, The New York Times reported, noting that Black city leaders had urged people to stay away from the president’s event.
There were concerns before the rally that violence might erupt after Trump tweeted what appeared to be a veiled threat aimed at potential protesters.
“Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis,” the president tweeted Friday. “It will be a much different scene!”
Bracing for potential violence, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum issued an executive order on Thursday declaring a civil emergency ahead of the rally. Bynum said the city expected tens of thousands of people to flock to the vicinity of the event, including “individuals from organized groups who have been involved in destructive and violent behavior in other States” and who were planning on traveling to Tulsa “for purposes of causing unrest in and around the city.”
On Saturday afternoon, a peaceful protester wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt was arrested by Tulsa police outside the BOK Center at the behest of Trump’s campaign staff. “I Can’t Breathe” has become a rallying cry for protesters calling for the end of racism and police brutality following the death last month of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who uttered those words as a white police officer knelt on his neck, leading to his death.
The protester — identified by police as Tulsa resident Sheila Buck — was accused of trespassing in a secure area accessible only to ticket holders, though Buck said she had a ticket for the event.
A video of the arrest shows officers grabbing Buck by her armpits and dragging her away.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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