US President Donald Trump rebooted his campaign trail starting off with an indoor rally amid the coronavirus pandemic with an “embarrassing” turnout.
During his comeback rally on Saturday he declared that “the silent majority is stronger than ever before”, but what was meant to be a show of political force was instead met with thousands of empty seats and new coronavirus cases among his campaign staff.
Ignoring health warnings, Trump went through with his first rally in 110 days in Tulsa, Oklahoma, one of the largest indoor gatherings in the world during a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 120,000 Americans, put 40 million out of work and upended Trump’s re-election bid.
Prior to the rally, Trump tweeted that “almost one million” people had requested tickets, however images show the crowd was dismal, especially compared to what Trump envisioned.
Almost One Million people request tickets for the Saturday Night Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2020
Campaign officials scrapped plans for Trump to first address an overflow space outdoors and about a third of the seats at his indoor rally were empty.
“Looks very lonely there & embarrassing,” one person remarked on Twitter.
Trump’s excuse for mediocre turnout
Trump addressed the mediocre turnout, blaming the media for declaring “don’t go, don’t come, don’t do anything” and by insisting there were protesters outside who were “doing bad things”.
The small crowds of pre-rally demonstrators were largely peaceful, and Tulsa police reported just one arrest on Saturday afternoon (local time).
Health officials also objected to the rally, citing the danger of infection spreading among the crowd and sparking outbreaks when people return to their homes.
The Trump campaign itself acknowledges the risk in a waiver attendees must agree to, absolving them of any responsibility should people get sick.
Trump also leaned in hard on cultural issues on the podium, including the push to tear down statues and rename military bases named after Confederate generals in the wake of nationwide protests about racial injustice.
“The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalise our history, desecrate our monuments, 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,” Trump said.
“They want to demolish our heritage so they can impose their new repressive regime in its place.”
Trump’s rally was originally slated for June 19, or Juneteenth, a day which recognises the emancipation of the last slaves in America – now the day is commemorated and recognised in some parts of the country.
“From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond,” juneteenth.com says.
...of respect for this Holiday, and in observance of this important occasion and all that it represents. I have therefore decided to move our rally to Saturday, June 20th, in order to honor their requests...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2020
Trump said on Twitter in the lead up to the rally it would be pushed back a day, after African-American supporters and friends asked him to change the date of the rally.
Tulsa is also where a where a 1921 white-on-Black attack killed as many as 300 people.
TikTok videos may have impacted turnout
There are suggestions the poor turnout could also be thanks to TikTok users, after Mary Jo Laupp posted a video on the platform encouraging people to register to go to the event on Trump’s website and not show up.
In her video, Ms Laupp encouraged people to Google two phrases to help people understand why there was concern over Trump initially holding the rally on June 19 – “Juneteenth” and “Black Wall street”.
The Tulsa race riot of 1921, also known as ‘Black Wall Street Massacre’, is described by the Oklahoma Historical Society as what is believed to be the “single worst incident of racial violence in American history”.
“During the course of eighteen terrible hours on May 31 and June 1, 1921, more than 1000 homes and businesses were destroyed, while credible estimates of deaths range from 50 to 300,” the Oklahoma Historical Society says on their website.
“By the time the violence ended, the city had been placed under martial law, thousands of Tulsans were being held under armed guard, and the state's second-largest African American community had been burned to the ground.”
So Ms Laupp, prior to Trump changing the date of his rally, described the rally as a “slap in the face to the Black community”.
Her video calling for people to register for the rally and not show up garnered more than two million views.
Ms Laupp explained in another TikTok she took offence to the president holding the rally on Juneteenth in Tulsa
Following the news of the rally’s turnout, Ms Laupp posted another video to her TikTok, saying she thought there would be an overflow and Trump would have managed to get “everyone in their seats”.
Ms Laupp had put her phone down to celebrate her granddaughter’s birthday and was oblivious to the news of the turnout until a friend alerted her through social media.
“What did you guys do? Like seriously, are you kidding me right now?” she said smiling.
“To those of you who are in your 20s and teens, to those of you who aren’t even old enough to vote yet – remember this moment.
“Remember this feeling because it’s not always going to feel like this, there are going to be moments you’re frustrated, but remember this, remember you in doing one thing and sharing information had an impact.
“I know sometimes it feels like politics is way better than you, but speak up and keep speaking up, you can do it.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.