Donald Trump has blamed the poor numbers at his much-hyped re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma today on protesters, who his team say prevented his supporters from showing up.
The US President and his team spent the last week raising expectations for a massive crowd at the event, which is the first political rally Mr Trump has been able to hold since the coronavirus pandemic forced him to cancel a number of planned rallies.
Mr Trump claimed almost a million people had requested tickets. His campaign even constructed a stage outside the arena, with plans for the President to give a second speech to people who were unable to make it inside.
“We’ve never had an empty seat, and we certainly won’t in Oklahoma,” Mr Trump promised midweek.
But the turnout in Tulsa fell well short of those expectations.
The 19,000-seat arena was nowhere near its full capacity, with large sections of empty seats. And Mr Trump’s campaign cancelled the spillover event outside, as there was hardly anyone there, and was spotted being dismantled shortly after the president began speaking.
Shortly before the President took the stage, campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh issued a statement blaming the poor attendance on protesters, and on the media for warning of the health risks associated with gathering in an enclosed space.
“President Trump is rallying in Tulsa with thousands of energetic supporters, a stark contrast to the sleeping campaign being run by Joe Biden from his basement in Delaware,” Mr Murtaugh said.
“Sadly, protesters interfered with supporters, even blocking access to the metal detectors, which prevented people from entering the rally.
“Radical protesters, coupled with a relentless onslaught form the media, attempted to frighten off the President’s supporters. We are proud of the thousands who stuck it out.”
Mr Trump himself alluded to the crowd numbers when he started speaking. He praised the people who did show up, labelling them “warriors”.
“You are warriors. Thank you. We had some very bad people outside. We had some very bad people outside, they were doing bad things. But I really do, I appreciate it,” he said.
“The silent majority is stronger than ever before,” Mr Trump said, vowing that “five months from now we’re going to defeat ‘Sleepy’ Joe Biden” in November’s presidential election.
The Trump campaign team has been forced to cancel or delay a number of re-election rallies over the last few months due to the health risk of large gatherings spreading the coronavirus, which the president derogatively referred to during his rally as the “Chinese virus” and “Kung flu”.
More than 120,000 Americans have been killed by the pandemic with a number of states continuing to record high daily infections.
During the rally, Mr Trump admitted he told health officials to reduce the rate of testing to help keep the number of recorded positive results down.
“When you do testing to that extent, you are going to find more people, you will find more cases. So I said slow the testing down,” he told supporters.
“All of the horrible, horrible death that was so needlessly caused by a virus that should have been stopped where it originated, which was China.”
More to come.