President Donald Trump told Axios on Friday that he anticipated a “wild evening” at his Saturday campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, while recommending “people do what they want” when it comes to wearing a mask at the event — and even suggested it could be harmful to wear one.
Trump’s comments come as the city has seen a surge in Covid-19 cases in the past few weeks. They also stand at odds with recommendations from public health officials in his own administration who recommend mask-wearing whenever social distancing isn’t possible, and with warnings from experts that indoor concerts and shows are natural superspreading events.
Trump’s rally Saturday — which will take place at an indoor arena that seats 19,000 people — will be the first one he’s held in months after taking a break from them due to the global pandemic. But despite the coronavirus still raging across the US — and surging in the very city he’s going to campaign in — he repeatedly dismissed the threat of the virus and expert-recommended mitigation strategies during his interview with Axios.
“We have to get back to business. We have to get back to living our lives. Can’t do this any longer,” Trump said to Axios. “And I do believe it’s safe. I do believe it’s very safe.”
The president also referred to the false claim that masks can harm wearers, while saying that people should wear them only if they wanted to. ”You know, there was a time when people thought it was worse wearing a mask,” he said. “I let people make up their own decision.”
When told that Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recommended wearing masks in crowds, Trump was unconvinced that it applied to him. “Fauci? I’m OK with that. If people want to wear masks I think that’s great. I won’t be. Not as a protest but I don’t feel that I’m in danger,” he told Axios.
Tickets for the Tulsa rally included a form that released the president’s campaign and the arena from liability if attendees fall ill from coronavirus after attending the rally. Trump’s campaign will be distributing masks and hand sanitizer to attendees, and giving them temperature checks at the arena.
Meanwhile, the president promised in a tweet on Friday that protesters would “not be treated” as they have been in liberal cities, and implying that they would be aggressively suppressed.
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. It will be a much different scene!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2020
“Oklahoma’s much tougher on law and order,” he said to Axios, and dubbed the tweet threatening protesters “the least controversial of my tweets.”
Trump’s anticipation of a “wild evening” may also be a thinly veiled anticipation of clashes between his supporters and anti-Trump protesters.
The Hill reports that Tulsa reversed course on imposing a curfew in the city “apparently at the president’s urging.” Tulsa initially announced a curfew from 10 pm to 6 am for Friday and Saturday in the area surrounding the arena. The Republican mayor, G.T. Bynum, cited concerns about unrest caused by “individuals from organized groups who have been involved in destructive and violent behavior in other states” when imposing the curfew. But less than 24 hours later, he rescinded that curfew after Trump reached out to him, and after he consulted with the US Secret Service.
Trump celebrated the announcement that the city dropped its curfew. “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,” Trump tweeted on Friday.
“Enjoy yourselves,” he added.