In open defiance of state regulations and his own administration’s pandemic health guidelines, President Donald Trump on Sunday (local time) hosted his first indoor rally since June, in a move that drew swift condemnation from health and state officials.
Eager to project a sense of normality, Mr Trump soaked up the raucous cheers inside a warehouse in Nevada – where the state has banned indoor gatherings of more than 50 people. While masks were encouraged, many in the crowd went without.
Not since a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was blamed for a surge of coronavirus infections has the Trump campaign gathered supporters indoors, where the virus spreads more easily.
There was no early mention from the president that the pandemic had killed nearly 200,000 Americans and is still claiming about 1000 lives a day. Officially the worst hit country in the world, the president boasted how the US “will very easily defeat the China virus”.
“We are not shutting the country again. A shutdown would destroy the lives and dreams of millions of Americans,” he said.
‘Negligent homicide’: Doctor slams Trump event
In a statement released just before the rally began, Nevada governor Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, said Mr Trump was “taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada.”
“To put it bluntly: he didn’t have the guts to make tough choices,” Mr Sisolak said of the president’s handling of the pandemic.
“He left that to governors and the states. Now he’s decided he doesn’t have to respect our State’s laws. As usual, he doesn’t believe the rules apply to him.”
Others were also quick to condemn the event in Nevada, state which has a 6.2 per cent daily positivity rate in COVID-19 testing, according to state data.
Dr Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University called the indoor rally “negligent homicide” on the part of the Trump campaign.
“People will die as a consequence of this,” he said on Sunday (local time) in a TV interview with CNN.
“If you took this virus seriously, you would never hold an indoor rally or almost any rally now and particularly one that doesn’t enforce very strict rules on masks.”
The Trump campaign pushed back against the restrictions with the president saying he would support those in attendance “if the governor came after you”.
The rally in Tulsa, which was his first in three months after the coronavirus reached American shores, was a disaster for the campaign – a debacle that featured a sea of empty seats and a rise in COVID-19 cases, including on his own staff.
One prominent Trump supporter at the rally, businessman and former presidential candidate Herman Cain, died of COVID-19 weeks later, though it was not clear if he contracted the virus in Tulsa.
Trump unleashes barrage of attacks
In a rambling, hour-long speech, Mr Trump mused on mandatory prison sentences for flag burning, praised various UFC fighters in attendance and appeared to endorse extrajudicial killings for those who target police officers.
The president also unleashed a series of attacks on his opponent Joe Biden, labelling him a tired career politician and declaring him “unfit to be president.”
But, Mr Trump ruminated, while complaining about the media’s coverage: “Maybe he’ll win because they don’t like me, they don’t like my personality.”
The crowd answered with a deafening “We love you” chant.
The latest uproar comes after attendees at a Trump rally over the weekend were ridiculed online for not social distancing, although Mr Trump is often more careful than those in the crowd.
Notice the big empty space on the right? That's where @realDonaldTrump "works" the ropeline. The white line tells him how close he can get to the crowd and still be socially distant. The crowd, on the other hand ... no such protections. The irony is thick in Trumpilvania pic.twitter.com/Nje8n9fwWb— Greg Jenkins (@jenkinsgreg) September 13, 2020
In Nevada, Mr Trump tailored his pitch to Latinos, a group of the electorate where Joe Biden is widely considered vulnerable.
Mr Trump noted their low unemployment rate before COVID-19 reached US shores and affirmed his anti-abortion stance. He again hammered home his recent push on law and order, saying that recent violence in American cities endangered Latinos.
He is set to hold a similar event in Arizona on Monday (local time).
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