“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,” Mr. Trump said. He was referring in part to attempts to remove Confederate monuments, efforts that have support in both parties.
The president once again shrugged off the threat from the coronavirus, which he also called the “Chinese virus” at one point, and bragged that he has done “a phenomenal job” fighting the pandemic. He acknowledged that increased testing for the virus revealed more cases of infection, which he felt made the country look bad.
“So I said to my people, ‘slow the testing down,’” he said.
Many of the thousands of Trump supporters at the rally did not wear masks or stand six feet apart — health precautions that Mr. Trump himself has ignored. The campaign conducted temperature checks and handed out masks, yet health experts remained concerned that the event could be a dangerous incubator for the virus, spreading through the building’s recirculated air.
It was unclear whether fears about the virus kept Trump supporters away despite the president’s repeated efforts to dismiss the need for social distancing and other precautions.
A few hours before the event, the campaign disclosed that six Trump campaign staff members who had been working on the rally had tested positive for the coronavirus during a routine screening. Two members of the Secret Service in Tulsa also tested positive for the virus, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Trump, who was made aware of the sick campaign aides before departing for the rally, was incensed that the news was made public, according to two people familiar with his reaction.
Minor confrontations between protesters and Trump supporters broke out throughout the evening. A few minutes before Mr. Trump began speaking, several dozen protesters marched about a block away from the entrance to the arena, bearing signs with messages like “Black Lives Matter” and “Go home Donald.”
Trump supporters yelled “USA! USA!” as they walked by. “Go home, racists!” the protesters chanted as the crowd swelled to hundreds of people. Some heated conversations broke out along Boulder Avenue in downtown Tulsa, but when one man tried to start an “all lives matter” chant as a man in a Black Lives Matter shirt spoke, it did not catch on.