Donald Trump will hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, next Friday – his first since since states began shutting down in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 110,000 lives in the US.
The 19 June rally will likely rattle some public health experts, as coronavirus infections rise in about a dozen states. On Wednesday, the US approached nearly 2 million confirmed cases.
Trump’s signature rallies often draw tens of thousands of people but have been on hiatus since 2 March because of the coronavirus. The president’s campaign has been eager to resume them as it tries to move past the pandemic, even as cases continue to rise in some parts of the country.
A Trump campaign spokesperson tweeted a movie trailer-style video earlier Wednesday that advertised: “This month we’re back.”
“A beautiful new venue, brand new. We’re looking forward to it,” Trump said during a White House event. “They’ve done a great job with Covid, as you know, the state of Oklahoma.”
The announcement, which comes amid sweeping protests against racism and police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death, also raised eyebrows for its date – a day known as Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery – as well as its location in Tulsa, a city with a troubling history of racial violence.
Tulsa’s 1921 race massacre saw the destruction of black businesses and residences at the hands of angry, white mobs, and has been described as “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.”
Trump’s announcement comes as the president has criticized the Floyd protests and referred to those demonstrating against police brutality as “thugs”.
Oklahoma, a reliably Republican state which Trump won in 2016, was among the earliest states to begin loosening coronavirus restrictions, with salons, spas and barbershops reopening in late April. The Republican governor Kevin Stitt’s most recent reopening phase places no limits on group gathering sizes as of 1 June, and leaves the decision about how closely to adhere to social distancing guidelines up to business owners and local officials.
The president said he would first hold a rally in Oklahoma before moving on to other states like Florida, Arizona and North Carolina, where the Republican national convention was originally supposed to be held.
Coronavirus hospitalizations are currently on the rise in Arizona and North Carolina, which could intensify public health concerns about resuming the campaign rallies.
While the rallies will likely spark public health concerns, some of the president’s allies have argued the recent protests, which have attracted thousands of people, could shield the rallies from potential criticism.
Some on Twitter compared Trump’s decision to hold the rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth to Ronald Reagan’s choice to launch his 1980 campaign with a speech lauding “states rights” near the site of the notorious “Mississippi burning” murder of civil rights workers.
In 1964, three civil rights workers were abducted and killed by the Ku Klux Klan, just south-west of Philadelphia, Mississippi, and surreptitiously buried in a dam.
Reagan delivered a campaign speech within walking distance of the dam, proclaiming “I believe in state’s rights.” His language echoed that of white Southerners who used the phrase to justify segregation.
It remained unclear if the campaign’s choice to hold the rally on Juneteenth was intentional.
The Trump campaign appeared aware of the significance of the president holding the rally on Juneteenth.
Responding to a Bloomberg reporter, a Trump campaign advisor wrote that “Republicans are proud of the history of Juneteenth”.
The president has acknowledged the date before. In 2017, Trump released a statement, saying: “Melania and I send our warmest greetings to all those celebrating Juneteenth, a historic day recognizing the end of slavery.” That year, Trump also delivered a rambling speech during Black History month, calling the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice”.