Trump tweets threat ahead of rally
President warns against disruptions during Tulsa event
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump began a holiday dedicated to the end of slavery by issuing a thinly veiled threat against protesters who have been marching against systemic racism and may show up at his campaign rally Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, bunching them with “looters” and warning that disruptions would not be tolerated.
His tweet Friday morning came on the Juneteenth holiday as many Americans grapple with the country’s racist history.
“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 wrote on Twitter. “It will be a much different scene!”
In his tweet, Trump drew no distinction between peaceful protesters, whose right to assemble and speak out is protected by the First Amendment, and violent looters, some of whom were responsible for vandalism and fires that broke out during largely peaceful demonstrations across the country expressing outrage over the killing of George Floyd last month in Minneapolis.
The Juneteenth holiday celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S. and has taken on added significance for many Americans this year.
Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, told reporters Friday that the president did not mean to threaten peaceful protesters. “What he was meaning are violent protesters,” McEnany said.
The Tulsa Police Department said it would not comment on the president’s tweet. “We are allowing citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights in a peaceful manner,” a spokeswoman said.
Trump has complained that governors and mayors have been too soft in dealing with protesters in places like New York and Seattle, but he did not follow through on a threat to send in the military if state officials did not quell the demonstrations on their own.
The rally will mark Trump’s return to the campaign trail after the coronavirus pandemic deprived him for three months of arenas packed with die-hard fans that serve as the cornerstone of his political brand.
His return to campaign mode comes as the country grapples with its history of racial violence — a legacy that is painfully significant in Tulsa, the site of a 1921 race massacre, in which up to 300 people were killed and hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed in a black neighborhood.
In the neighborhood, known as “Black Wall
Street” before the massacre, Tulsans gathered Friday to celebrate Juneteenth. The words “Black Lives Matter” had been painted across Greenwood Avenue in yellow block letters.
Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, told Fox News on Friday that those unable to get into the arena are expected to attend what he described as a “festival” outside where the president might also appear.
Meanwhile, Tulsa’s Republican mayor, G.T. Bynum, rescinded a day-old curfew he had imposed for the area around the BOK Center ahead of the rally. The curfew took effect Thursday night and was supposed to remain until Sunday morning.
Bynum said Friday that he got rid of the curfew at the request of the U.S. Secret Service. In his executive order establishing the curfew, Bynum said he was doing so at the request of law enforcement who had intelligence that that “individuals from organized groups who have been involved in destructive and violent behavior in other States are planning to travel to the City of Tulsa for purposes of causing unrest in and around the rally.”
Bynum didn’t elaborate as to which groups he meant and police Capt. Richard Meulenberg declined to identify any.
Bynum’s order said crowds of 100,000 or more were expected in the area around the rally.
The city’s health director, Dr. Bruce Dart, has said he would like to see the rally postponed, noting that large indoor gatherings are partially to blame for the recent spread of the coronavirus in Tulsa and Tulsa County.
The Trump campaign said it takes “safety seriously,” noting that organizers are providing masks, hand sanitizer and doing temperature checks for all attendees.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request to require everyone attending the rally to wear a face mask and maintain social distancing.
Trump originally planned to hold his rally in Tulsa on Friday. But after days of criticism over the idea of holding a political rally on Juneteenth during a national uproar over racial injustice, the president agreed to postpone the event by one day. This week he tried to turn the criticism on its head, saying he elevated the holiday’s status.
“I made Juneteenth very famous,” Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, discussing the controversy surrounding his rally. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”
In reality, it was his top campaign aides who were not aware of the significance of June 19, which has been celebrated as Juneteenth by African Americans since the late 1800s.
A supporter of President Trump takes a selfie Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a reelection rally is planned Saturday.