Donald Trump’s controversial return to the campaign trail faced yet another hurdle on Thursday, as the operators of the venue in Tulsa asked for ‘a written plan’ on how they would deal with the threat of coronavirus.
The rally – his first since March – has been deeply problematic ever since it was announced on June 10.
The original date of Friday, June 19, was switched to Saturday after uproar about the clash with Juneteenth – the annual celebration marking the end of slavery.
Then concerns begun to mount about the spread of COVID-19.
On Thursday the BOK Center, a 19,000-seat arena where Saturday’s event will be held, sent the Trump campaign a letter asking for a written plan identifying ‘the steps the event will institute for health and safety.’
The BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has asked the Trump campaign for written plans for COVID
Tulsa County tracked 89 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 96 new cases on Tuesday — both the biggest single-day upticks since the outbreak began.
In response the campaign said it was reviewing the letter, adding ‘we take safety seriously, which is why we’re doing temperature checks for everyone attending, and providing masks and hand sanitizer.’
The campaign has already asked attendees to register and acknowledge the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at the rally.
They have to promise not to sue Trump’s campaign or the venue if they fall ill there.
Masks have been ordered to be distributed, but wearing them will not be compulsory.
On Monday Trump tweeted: ‘Almost One Million people request tickets for the Saturday Night Rally in Tulsa,’ despite the venue seating just over 19,000.
He tweeted 30 minutes later: ‘the Far Left Fake News Media, which had no Covid problem with the Rioters & Looters destroying Democrat run cities, is trying to Covid Shame us on our big Rallies. Won’t work!’
A group of Tulsa attorneys requested a hearing to impose a temporary, emergency injunction stopping the rally this week, but a Tulsa judge denied the effort on Tuesday.
On Wednesday the top health official, Bruce Dart, said he was worried the rally could become a ‘super spreader’ event and recommended it be postponed.
G.T. Bynum, the mayor of Tulsa, said on Wednesday he wished ‘some other city’ had the rally
The Oklahoma Department of Health has urged senior citizens and other vulnerable individuals to ‘stay home’ ahead of the president’s rally and watch a livestream of the event instead.
Commissioner Lance Frye said those looking to attend the president’s rally ‘will face an increased risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.’
The department has tripled its contact tracing team ahead of the rally, and Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, when asked if he would attend replied: ‘Of course not.’
Even the Republican mayor of Tulsa, G.T. Bynum, admitted he wished it was not happening.
‘I would love for some other city to have tried this first,’ he said at a press conference Wednesday.
‘But the president chose this city, and so it falls on us to set that standard moving forward.’
The anger at the date meant that the rally got off to a bad start.
Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, chose the site and the date, The New York Times reported.
Trump supporters camp out near the BOK Center on Thursday, ahead of Saturday’s rally
Fans of the president have been arriving at the site of his first campaign rally since March
Lines of people wait for the doors to open on Saturday for the Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Oklahoma was chosen for its deep red character – Trump carried the state by 36 percentage points four years ago.
Tulsa has a supportive Republican mayor, and in early June Oklahoma was the furthest along of any state in the country in terms of reopening, having seen fewer than 400 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Yet Trump and his aides failed to grasp the significance of holding a rally on Juneteenth.
Nor did they appear to realize that Tulsa was the site of one of the country’s bloodiest outbreaks of racist violence, after a white mob killed attacked the affluent black community in 1921.
As many as 300 people were killed, more than 10,000 remained homeless, and according to the Tulsa Race Riot Report of 2001, an estimated $1,470,711 was incurred in damage – equal to about $20 million today.
‘Think about it as a celebration,’ Trump said in an interview with Fox News, when asked if the date was intentional. ‘My rally is a celebration.’ Pictured is Tulsa during the 1921 onslaught
‘Think about it as a celebration,’ Trump said in an interview with Fox News, when asked if the date was intentional.
‘My rally is a celebration.’
About 30 hours later, he changed the date to Saturday.
Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, said he had discussed changing the date with Trump.
‘I spoke to the president on Friday and he asked me if I thought it would be more respectful to move the rally date off of Juneteenth,’ he said.
‘I told him yes.’
Trump announced that he was changing the date of his Tulsa rally, scheduled for Juneteenth
The rally in Oklahoma will now be held on Saturday, instead of the Friday night as planned
The error, however, is said to have refocused attention on how few African-American aides work on Trump’s campaign or in the White House.
‘They’re stinging from it, they’re reeling from it,’ said former Representative J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, who was the first black Republican elected to Congress from south of the Mason-Dixon Line since Reconstruction.
‘Juneteenth was on the schedule before any rally was. People are reeling from it.’
On Thursday Trump claimed that he had actually acted to raise awareness of the date.
He said he had made Juneteenth ‘very famous.’
He added: ‘nobody had ever heard of it’ until he scheduled his rally for that day.
On Friday night, the Rev. Al Sharpton is planning to discuss the state of race and policing in the country.
Other activists told CBS they were dreading the weekend.
‘We’ve had several events take place over the last two weeks starting with the protests over George Floyd,’ said Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, whose brother, Terence, was killed by the police in Tulsa in 2016, and who has worked on reforming policing procedures ever since.
‘Add Donald Trump to the mix, it’s a recipe for disaster.
‘I think that would be the fuel to the fire.’