Trump supporters crowd Tulsa ahead of Saturday rally
Supporters of President Donald Trump amassed outside the arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Thursday, two days before he is scheduled to hold a campaign rally expected to draw at least 100,000 people.
“We want to show our support,” Robin Stites, who’s been camped out since Monday, told The Oklahoman newspaper. “We feel like President Trump and his family have dedicated their lives to helping our country. Sacrificing a week of our lives is nothing for what Trump has done for us.”
Despite an uptick of coronavirus cases in the area and fears the event could be a COVID-19 “super-spreader,” many attendees chose to forgo masks and social distancing while in line, where people waited on lawn chairs and with tents. One group even entertained their fellow Trump supporters with an upbeat song about his re-election, singing: “Vote Trump! 2020!”
Trump said this week that over a million people had requested tickets for the event in the 19,000-seat Bank of Oklahoma Center, and his campaign has been lining up overflow areas. The campaign is treating the event as a “pro-Trump festival,” complete with musical acts and high-profile surrogates who will take to stages inside and outside the arena, a source with knowledge of the plans told Axios. A Trump campaign spokesperson confirmed the report to NBC News.
But the virus that’s killed over 118,000 people in the U.S. since late February still looms large over the event. In order to get tickets, prospective attendees had to agree to waive their rights to hold the Trump campaign, the BOK Center or any of the rally’s organizers liable if they contract the virus.
The event is being greeted with open arms by the state’s Republican governor and the city’s Republican mayor, who said Wednesday he could not give assurances that it would not lead to rapid transmission of the coronavirus.
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“I’m not positive that everything is safe,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said, adding that he “completely” understands “the concern people have” if rallygoers are not cautious.
Tulsa’s top health official, Dr. Bruce Dart, told the Tulsa World he “wishes” the rally was being held at a later date.
“I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today,” Dart told the paper. “I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event, and I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well.”
The Trump campaign has said every attendee will be subjected to a temperature check and offered hand sanitizer and a mask, although masks are not necessarily required.
A suit brought by Tulsa businesses and residents aimed at mandating coronavirus precautions at the rally was denied by an Oklahoma judge on Wednesday. Lawyers for the plaintiffs turned to the Oklahoma Supreme Court for help on Thursday, arguing during a phone conference that, “It’s madness to let this event go forward.”
The lawyers noted that the courts aren’t allowing full trials because of coronavirus safety restrictions. “If it’s not safe to have 12 citizens in a jury box, how is it safe to have 19,000 people together?” one of the lawyers argued.
Lawyers for the company that owns the BOK Center countered that while there’s no dispute that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would consider the event ill-advised, the CDC also says event planners can adjust safety requirements for events. In this case, they said, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has given the event a green light and the BOK Center has asked the Trump campaign to follow the state’s rules. No ruling is expected until Friday.
Trump met with Stitt, at the White House on Thursday as part of a roundtable involving small businesses. “One of the reasons we chose your state, as you know, was that you have done so well with COVID. You have handled it incredibly well,” Trump told him of the rally location. Stitt told him that “Oklahomans are being safe” and “we can’t wait to have you in Oklahoma on Saturday.”
The rally — Trump’s first since the coronavirus pandemic led to mass gatherings across the country being canceled — was originally scheduled for Friday, the Juneteenth holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
In an interview this week with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said he decided to postpone the rally a day “out of respect because I had two African-American friends and supporters.”
He told the paper “nobody had heard of” Juneteenth before his planned rally.
“I did something good. I made it famous. I made Juneteenth very famous. It’s actually an important event, it’s an important time. But nobody had heard of it. Very few people have heard of it. Actually, a young African-American Secret Service agent knew what it was. I had political people who had no idea,” he said before turning to a press aide and asking her if she’d ever heard of the holiday.
She said she had, because the White House put out a statement on it last year. “Oh, okay. Good,” Trump responded.
In the same interview, Trump said he was looking forward to the rally. “It’s going to be a hell of a night,” he said.
Dareh Gregorian is a politics reporter for NBC News.