President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Trump knocks Black Lives Matter protests, 'kids' about Covid-19 testing

By Jeff Mason And Makini Brice Time of article published Jun 21, 2020

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Tulsa, Oklahoma - United States President Donald Trump,

addressing a less-than-full arena for his first political rally

in months, criticized anti-racism protests and defended his

handling of the coronavirus on Saturday in an effort to

reinvigorate his re-election campaign.

Trump, who revels in large crowds and had predicted

his first rally in months would be epic, complained that the

media had discouraged attendees from coming and cited bad

behaviour from protesters outside but did not specifically

acknowledge the fact that many seats in the 19,000-seat BOK

Center arena were empty.

Trump sought to use the event to bring momentum back to his

campaign after coming under fire for his responses to the

coronavirus and to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who

died in the custody of Minneapolis police.

The smaller-than-expected crowd robbed him, at least for

now, of the ability to highlight enthusiasm for his candidacy as

an advantage over his expected Democratic challenger, former

Vice President Joe Biden, who has eschewed large campaign

events.

Trump has brushed aside criticism for his decision to hold

his first rally since March 2 in Tulsa, the site of the

country's bloodiest outbreaks of racist violence against Black

Americans some 100 years ago.

The president, who has encouraged a militaristic response to

the demonstrations nationwide while taking criticism for not

showing more empathy for the plight of Black Americans,

criticized some of the protests.

"The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize 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. We're not conforming," Trump said.

The Republican president is trailing Biden, the presumptive

Democratic presidential nominee, in polls ahead of the November

election. Biden has hammered Trump for his response to the

pandemic.

Trump defended his response, saying that more testing had

led to identifying more cases, seemingly to his chagrin.

"When you do testing to that extent, you're going to ...

find more cases," he said. "So, I said to my people, 'Slow the

testing down, please.'" A White House official said he was

"obviously kidding" with that remark.

Hours before the rally, Trump's campaign announced six

members of its advance team had tested positive for Covid-19.

Only a handful of attendees wore masks inside the arena.

Oklahoma has reported a surge in new Covid-19 infections in

recent days, and the state's department of health warned that

attendees face an increased risk of catching the virus.

"I'm not concerned about it. I think it's mostly a hoax,"

said attendee Will Williams, 46, about the coronavirus,

questioning why Democrats were not more concerned about people

who die from drug overdoses. Williams did not wear a mask.

The president, unusually, suggested that his own speech to

the partially empty arena was not his best.

"So far tonight, I'm average," Trump said.

Trump often feeds off the energy of big groups, something he

has not been able to do since the pandemic paused his rallies.

"I've never seen anything like it. You are warriors. Thank

you," Trump told the crowd, filled with people wearing red T-shirts, the campaign's signature colour.

Trump campaign officials had said prior to the event that

demand far outstripped the capacity of the venue.

Trump and Pence canceled addresses to an expected "overflow"

crowd outside the arena after "protesters interfered with

supporters," Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.

Television images showed a dozen or so Trump supporters in

the "spillover" area watching the event on a large screen.

There were some scuffles outside the event between Black

Lives Matter protesters and Trump supporters.

"Racists go home," shouted a woman wearing a Black Lives

Matter shirt.

Tulsa Police reported the arrest of a white woman wearing a

T-shirt reading "I can't breathe" from a private event area

after she refused to leave.

A small group of armed men could be seen outside the event.

One of them told reporters they were there in case "antifa"

protesters turned violent, using the acronym for "anti-fascist."

The country's racial divide remains a political

vulnerability for Trump. His "law and order" reaction to the

protests triggered by Floyd's death has put him at odds with the

views of most Americans.

After intense criticism, Trump postponed the rally by a day

so that it did not coincide with the anniversary of the June 19

commemoration of the end of Black slavery in the United States.

On Friday, he threatened unspecified action against any

"protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes" who

traveled to Oklahoma, a warning that his campaign said was not

aimed at peaceful demonstrators. Critics accused Trump of trying

to provoke conflict.

White House and Trump campaign officials had largely

dismissed concerns about the rally's health safety, saying masks

and hand sanitizer would be available. However, participants

were required to waive their right sue if they contract the

coronavirus at the event.

Reuters

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