Trump brings reelection rally to Tulsa amid pandemic concerns and nationwide protests

Tribune Content Agency

TULSA, Okla. — Downtown Tulsa filled with Trump supporters and civil rights activists Saturday as this Oklahoma city prepared to host President Donald Trump’s first reelection rally in months against the backdrop of the deadly coronavirus outbreak and a reenergized push to confront the nation’s legacy of racism and police violence.

Trump has been so eager to return to the campaign trail that he’s brushed off warnings from public health experts that gathering thousands of people in an indoor arena could help spread the virus, which has already claimed some 120,000 American lives.

And the president’s campaign worked to create a carnivallike atmosphere for the rally, with multiple stages offering entertainment for supporters, many of whom camped out for days in advance. Trump is scheduled to speak to an overflow crowd outside at 2 p.m. CDT before heading inside the BOK Center for the main event at 5 p.m.

In an interview with the news website Axios, Trump promised a “wild night.” But many fear he risks inflaming racial tensions at a time when protests have swept across the country over the killing last month by a white Minneapolis police officer George Floyd, a Black man.

Tulsa was the site of a race massacre in 1921, and Black community leaders have called Trump’s visit an insensitive provocation, especially because it falls on the weekend of Juneteenth, an annual commemoration of the end of slavery.

Tykebrean “Ty” Cheshire organized a Rally Against Hate on Saturday evening and said she is expecting more than 1,000 people, based on Facebook RSVPs. The rally is being staged at a park on the other side of the city to avoid conflict with Trump supporters.

“We’ve just got to keep it peaceful and not stress out,” Cheshire said, noting that she had heard from police that white supremacist groups were in town, including the Ku Klux Klan, Proud Boys and followers of the so-called boogaloo movement.

Many Black residents feared there could be violence between Trump backers and protesters outside the rally. “Hopefully they just want to listen to their man speak today and they won’t target us,” Cheshire said, noting that organizers had nevertheless planned a quick exit route from the park in case of trouble.

Trump has appeared untroubled and even energized by the prospect of chaos in the streets, a scene that could bolster his calls for “law and order.”

“Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis,” Trump tweeted on Friday. “It will be a much different scene!”

City officials said an estimated 100,000 people are expected to be in downtown Tulsa around the BOK Center, which holds nearly 20,000. Tulsa’s mayor had originally ordered a curfew for the area, but he reversed his decision after speaking to the president.

Crowds gathered Saturday morning at the arena’s entrance gate, including Don Engle, the treasurer of neighboring Creek County.

“We’re real excited,” Engle said as he queued with his wife near the gate, where they had waited on and off for days. “I don’t think there’s any controversy at all. He’s picked us because we were the best at opening back up. That’s why we got this honor — that’s what it is, it’s not a problem, it’s an honor.”

Oklahoma was among the first states to reopen in April and has remained open even as COVID-19 cases have increased dramatically in recent weeks.

It’s been more than three months since Trump’s last rally, and the president has been restless while cooped up in the White House as the coronavirus limited travel and public gatherings.

He is returning to the campaign trail after a cascade of setbacks in recent weeks, including Supreme Court decisions overturning his administration’s policies and the pending release of a searing book by John Bolton, his former national security advisor.

Trump became involved in a new controversy Friday night when Atty. Gen. William Barr announced that Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who has led investigations of Trump’s allies, was resigning. But Berman said he would not step down until the Senate approved a permanent replacement, creating a standoff over one of the most powerful posts in the Justice Department.

Coronavirus cases are also rising again in many parts of the country, raising the prospect of another surge in deaths and a return to the kinds of lockdowns that have forced tens of millions out of work.

Trump trails Joe Biden, the former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee, by nearly 9 percentage points in an average of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics.

“My campaign hasn’t started yet. It starts on Saturday night in Oklahoma!” Trump tweeted on Friday.

Local public health officials urged Trump to cancel the rally, which creates a confluence of risk factors for contracting the disease — extended periods of time indoors and people chanting or cheering in close proximity to one another.

“I know so many people are over COVID , but COVID is not over,” said Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department.

Trump’s campaign has promised to distribute hand sanitizer and masks to people attending the rally, as well as check their temperatures before entering the arena.

But social distancing is likely to prove impossible, and Trump’s supporters have often echoed the president by brushing off concerns about the virus and refusing to wear masks.

The president’s campaign had attendees sign a waiver pledging not to sue if they get sick from the event.


©2020 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.