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Smaller-than-anticipated crowd attends event, the country’s first large-scale indoor gathering since the coronavirus lockdown
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
TULSA (CFP) — After being sidelined from the campaign trail for three months by the coronavirus lockdown, President Donald Trump was back in his element Saturday night, addressing thousands of adoring supporters as he returned to the campaign trail in Tulsa.
“I stand before you today to declare that the silent majority is stronger than ever before,” Trump told the crowd at the BOK Center. “We”re going to stop the radical left. We’re going to build a future of safety and opportunity for Americans of every race, color, religion and creed.”
Trump touted the achievements of his first term, saying that “together, we are taking back our country. We are returning it to you, the American people.”
While the campaign claimed that more than 1 million people had registered for the event and had set expectations of a capacity crowd, parts of the arena were visibly empty. According to the Tulsa Fire Department, only 6,200 people attended, based on a count conducted by the fire marshal.
Trump and Pence had been scheduled to address the crowd in an overflow area set up outside the arena, but that event was canceled, and crews began dismantling the stage as Trump was speaking inside.
Trump campaign officials issued a statement saying “radical protesters, coupled with a relentless onslaught from the media, attempted to frighten off the President’s supporters.” Trump told the audience that “a bunch of maniacs” had interfered with the rally, although news media coverage showed no significant violence or obstructions outside of the arena.
State and local police and National Guard units had been brought in to provide security for the event and separate rally-goers from groups who were protesting the event in downtown Tulsa near the arena.
In his return to active campaigning, Trump, who had promised his supporters a “wild evening,” didn’t disappoint, offering up plenty of political red meat in a speech that lasted for nearly an hour and 50 minutes.
He attacked the “fake news” as “sick,” called coronavirus “kung flu,” complained that an “unhinged left-wing mob is trying to desecrate our history,” and called activists trying to defund the police “stone cold crazy.”
And he heaped particular scorn on the Democrat he will face in November, Joe Biden, repeatedly calling him “Sleepy Joe,” implying that Biden is unwell, and charging that he has “surrendered to the left-wing mob.”
“If Biden is elected, he will surrender the country to these mobsters,” Trump said. “If Democrats gain power, the rioters will gain control.”
Trump also called for a new law mandating jail time for people who burn the American flag and decried protests against police violence from NFL players, saying “we will never kneel to our national anthem or our great American flag.”
The rally was the country’s first large-scale indoor gathering since the coronavirus lockdown began in March. While attendees were screened with temperature checks before entering, there was little social distancing among the crowd, and most people — including Trump — did not wear face masks, which were optional.
The doors of the arena opened four hours before the event began, with people sitting in close proximity the entire time.
Local health officials in Tulsa expressed concerns about holding the rally amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The Oklahoma Supreme Court Friday rejected a request to force attendees to abide by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which would have required social distancing and masks.
Attendees had to sign a waiver agreeing not to sue the campaign if they were exposed to coronavirus. On the morning of the event, Trump campaign officials acknowledged that six workers who had helped set up the rally tested positive for coronavirus.
In his remarks, Trump did not address the coronavirus concerns surrounding the rally, but he did tout his administration’s response to the pandemic, which he said saved “hundreds of thousands of lives.”
Biden took to Twitter to chide the president for going ahead with the rally despite concerns about exposing attendees to the virus.
“Donald Trump is so eager to get back to his campaign rallies that he’s willing to put people at risk and violate CDC guidelines — as long as they sign a waiver promising not to hold his campaign liable,” Biden said. “Unbelievable.”