President Donald Trump touched on everything from COVID-19 to the NFL and his much-dissected walk down a ramp at West Point in his first campaign rally in months on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As the country reels from the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide calls for racial injustice, the announcement of the president’s first rally since March had inflamed concerns over both issues.
Health experts around the country, including in Oklahoma, raised concerns about the president packing thousands of supporters, who have to agree not to sue the campaign or the president if they get sick, inside for a rally as COVID-19 cases rise in the state. In the end, the crowd turned out to be large, but plenty of empty seats were available.
Protests both before and after the event were mostly peaceful, though police fired tear gas and pepper balls at demonstrators after the event let out.
As Trump ended his rally after nearly two hours, he brought up his plans to rebuild America’s roads, complete his border wall and protect the country from foreign threats.
After saying he would defend the county’s freedoms of religion, free thought and speech, he made one final reference to the recent Black Lives Matter protests around the country and said he would protect the Second Amendment.
“When you see those lunatics all over the streets, it is damn nice to have arms,” he said to cheers. “Interesting how all of a sudden people understand it, right?”
Here’s how the rally unfolded. All times Eastern.
9:41 p.m. President boasts strong economy despite high unemployment numbers
Trump claimed the U.S. had the best employment numbers it ever had to an applauding crowd.
“We built the greatest single economy in the world, and then we say not only the world but actually in the history of the world — and they never challenged me, so I guess I’m right,” Trump said. “We have the best numbers anybody has ever had. We have the best employment numbers. African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, the best employment numbers in history, the best stock market numbers in history.”
As of last week, 20.5 million people were still receiving unemployment benefits, according to the latest economic data.
Trump claimed other world leaders, including kings, queens and dictators, have praised him for his work on the economy during the pandemic.
“Dictators would come and say congratulations on the economy,” he boasted.
Trump pushed for the economy to reopen throughout the country.
“We save millions of lives, and now it is time to open up, get back to work, OK?” he said.
9:22 p.m. Trump criticizes Biden’s past leadership
An hour into his rally, Trump turned his speech toward his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump called out Biden’s past foreign relations work and said he was not tough on China.
“He never did anything against China, Joe Biden. That is why they want him to win so badly,” the president said.
9:15 p.m. President bashes NFL for apologizing
The president took aim at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who apologized to players and fans for not doing enough to show their support for Black activism.
Trump vowed that players and fans won’t kneel during the National Anthem.
“We will stand proud and we will stand tall,” he said.
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled before games in 2016 to protest police brutality, became a frequent target of Trump early in his presidency.
8:58 p.m. Trump calls for flag burners to be jailed for a year
Trump’s speech turned to the takedowns of controversial statues throughout the country.
He brought up a report where protesters decapitated a George Washington statue, wrapped it in an American flag and lit it on fire. Trump called on legislation that would jail someone for a year if they desecrate the flag.
“We ought to do it. They talk about freedom of speech, I’m a big believer in freedom of speech, but that’s desecration; that’s a terrible thing they do,” he said.
8:49 p.m. Trump defends walk down ramp at West Point graduation
The president brought up last week’s graduation at West Point where he was filmed walking slowly down a ramp while holding the arm of a military member.
He was also filmed having trouble drinking a glass of water with one hand during the ceremony. For 20 minutes, he talked about his strength, the slippery ramp, his leather shoes and blamed the media for making him look worse.
“It turned out to be worse than anything. I would have been better off if I fell and slid down the damn ramp,” he said.
Trump said he called his wife, who he claimed told him that the media said he must have Parkinson’s disease.
8:31 p.m. Trump criticizes Black Lives Matter protests, crowds cheer as he calls COVID ‘China virus’
Trump took the stage to a cheering crowd and talked about a wide variety of recent issues.
He criticized governors and local leaders for their handling of the Black Lives Matter protests that took place after George Floyd was killed. He particularly singled out Seattle, where protesters took over a police precinct and a section of the city.
Trump boasted about his use of the National Guard troops to quell the protests in some cities.
“I have an offer out, any time you want, we will come in and straighten it out in one hour or less. I may be wrong, but it’s probably better for us to just watch this disaster,” he said to a cheering crowd.
He also criticized Democratic leaders for not talking about the coronavirus dangers during the protests.
“They never talk about COVID. They don’t talk about — when you see 25,000 people walking down Fifth Avenue, or walking down a street of a Democrat-run city — you never hear them saying they are not wearing their masks as they are breaking windows and running in.”
Trump brought up the virus’s origins in China, much to the amusement of the crowd.
“COVID-19. That name gets further and further away from China as opposed to calling it the Chinese virus,” he said to a loud applause.
He also later referred to it as the “kung flu.”
As of Saturday night, the U.S. has more than 2.2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and over 114,000 deaths, according to he Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Several states, including Oklahoma, have seen a recent rise in cases as economies re-open.
8:09 p.m. Pence promises more conservative Supreme Court justices if Trump is reelected
Vice President Mike Pence took the stage and talked to the crowd before introducing the president.
While talking about Trump’s plans for his second term and taking shots at his predecessor, former Vice President Joe Biden, Pence talked about Trump’s appointment of federal judges. Pence touched on this week’s Supreme Court rulings that upheld protections for transgender Americans and DACA recipients and pledged that Trump would appoint more conservatives to the bench.
“We learned this past week, we need more conservative justices on the Supreme Court of the United States,” Pence said.
Trump also mentioned the Supreme Court at the top of his speech and said he hoped to name more judges.
The crowds were sparse in the arena, with many of the seats in the upper levels empty.
7:55 p.m. Terence Crutcher’s sister declined meeting with Pence: Source
A source close to activist Tiffany Crutcher, the brother of Terence Crutcher, a Black man who was killed by Oklahoma police in 2016, told ABC News she declined an invitation to speak with Vice President Mike Pence before the rally.
“Tiffany did not want to be used as a photo-op when so little progress has been made on police reform and civil rights,” the source said.
Betty Jo Shelby, the officer who shot Crutcher, was charged with manslaughter, but found not guilty.
7:29 p.m. Trump cancels outdoor remarks as small crowd gathers near stage
In a last-second change, the president’s campaign staff announced he was canceling a speech to the overflow crowd outside the arena due to lower-than-expected turnout.
A stage was already set up outside the BOK Center, but there were few people near it around 7 p.m. It was later taken down.
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the campaign, told ABC News the smaller-than-expected turnout was caused by protesters and the media, however, there have been few reports of massive protests outside the arena.
7:14 p.m.: Precautions in place as rallygoers show up at BOK Center
Rallygoers were given written warnings about COVID-19 and staff members were in place to ensure that they were as safe as possible before entering the BOK Center.
Around the perimeter, health care workers in personal protective equipment were on hand to check the temperatures of the attendees with hand scanners and kiosk temperature scanners.
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Posters were also put up warning the attendees of their risks of catching the virus and by entering, they wouldn’t hold the president or his campaign staff liable if they got sick.
There were stations filled with face masks and hand sanitizer for the attendees.
Experts concerned over coronavirus spread
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert and leading member on the president’s coronavirus task force, said he would not attend Saturday’s event and told ABC News’ that attending a political rally or a protest right now is still “a danger” and “risky.”
Tulsa officials in the lead up to Saturday’s massive campaign event, which is expected to draw around 100,000 people to the area, even recommended to the president that he postpone the event out of fear the gathered wouldn’t be safe as data shows a spike in cases.
“I recommend it be postponed until it’s safer, until the data tells that is not as great of a concern to have people indoors, in enclosed spaces with a threat of a COVID-19 transmission,” Tulsa Health Department director Dr. Bruce Dart said Thursday. “That is what I personally would like to see happen. The virus is here. So let’s focus on staying safe while it’s here.”
But in response, the Trump campaign said it’s still full-steam ahead, with plans in place to check temperatures at the doors, hand out hand sanitizer and masks, however wearing one won’t be mandatory.
And rather than return to campaign events amid a pandemic that’s killed over 117,000 Americans with a more scaled-down approach, the president’s campaign is instead relaunching rallies on a scale even bigger than before the coronavirus hit—with Trump planning on delivering two speeches on Saturday, one to an overflow crowd packed together outside and another to thousands inside the BOK Center.
“Look, I think Americans know best what’s best for them and for their families and of course taking those safe and responsible measures. If they will be attending the rally,” Trump campaign Senior Advisor Mercedes Shlapp told ABC NewsLive Primetime anchor Linsey Davis.
And while White House press secretary Kayleigh McCenny said at a White House press briefing on Friday that she won’t be wearing a mask when she attends Saturday’s rally, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said he has other plans when asked.
“Yes. Yes, I will probably be wearing a mask,” Parscale said in an interview with Fox News.
Saturday’s rally also comes as the nation continues to see massive protests and calls for racial justice continue into the Juneteenth holiday weekend, a day that celebrates the end of slavery. The president sparked controversy after initially announcing his return rally would take place on Juneteenth, but following widespread condemnation even from some within his own party, Trump took the rare step and changed the date.
However, the president said he wasn’t aware of the holiday when the campaign initially landed on the date, and also tried to take credit for populating the holiday that millions of black Americans celebrate each year, falsely telling the Wall Street Journal that “nobody” knew of Juneteenth until him and took credit for making the holiday “very famous.”
Amid threats of protests, the city of Tulsa put into place a curfew late Thursday night that would have lasted Friday and Saturday, but Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum rescinded the curfew less than 24 hours later.
Before the curfew was removed, a Trump adviser scoffed at the potential rally roadblock saying, “He’s the president and he’s going to do what he wants.”
Moments later the president tweeted: “I just spoke to the highly respected Mayor of Tulsa, G.T. Bynum, who informed me there will be no curfew tonight or tomorrow for our many supporters attending the #MAGA Rally.”
“Enjoy yourselves – thank you to Mayor Bynum!”
ABC News’ Briana Stewart, Elizabeth Thomas and Rachel Scott contributed to this report.
This report was featured in the Monday, June 22, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.
“Start Here” offers a straightforward look at the day’s top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.
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