Donald Trump has attacked US federal government measures to control Covid-19, including mandatory vaccination for government workers in key sectors and employees in large businesses, saying they represent overbearing influence from Washington.
He also accused health services of discriminating against white people by withholding Covid-19 vaccines and treatment.
Mr Trump made the claims in a speech to thousands of supporters in Arizona on Saturday, insisting yet again that he won the 2020 US presidential election.
The former president said hospitals were “denigrating” white people, claiming that “If you’re white, you don’t get the vaccine or if you’re white you don’t get therapeutics … In NY state, if you’re white, you go to the back of the line if you want help.”
It is not clear on what Mr Trump based his allegations.
On Thursday Fox News host Tucker Carlson said that race-based discrimination against white Covid patients was happening in Texas.
The claim appears to have first surfaced in November in a Facebook post by conservative commentator Charlie Kirk, USA Today reported. It has been repeatedly denied by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Supporters arrived in the area days in advance from as far away as Florida or Texas, waiting to hear the former president trot out a familiar list of grievances.
“We are done having our lives controlled by politicians in Washington. We are done with the mandates,” Mr Trump said, in a reference to rules brought in to control the coronavirus pandemic.
“The radical Democrats want to turn the United States into a communist country,” he continued.
“We won those elections. We won them big. We can't let them get away with it.”
Silence on Capitol Hill riot
Earlier speakers had kept to similar themes, slamming 2020 election victor President Joe Biden as “weak” and “deranged,” and taking aim at the “lamestream” media, who were duly booed by the crowd.
Flags proclaiming “Trump 2020" and “Trump 2024" fluttered in the desert wind, as chants of “Let's Go Brandon” erupted from the crowd. The slogan has become code in right-wing circles after a news reporter mistook coarse anti-Biden chants.
“It's just a party atmosphere,” said Jonathan Riches, who was attending his 40th Trump rally.
“It's almost like a MAGA Woodstock. It's patriots from around the country getting together for the common good of this country. We love our president.”
MAGA is an acronym for Trump's 2016 campaign call to “make America great again.”
Trump abandoned a pledged press conference on January 6 — the anniversary of the invasion of the Capitol by his supporters — and the rally was his first major public outing since October.
As is customary, he proclaimed it to be “the biggest” crowd, going “further than the eye can see,” though accurate figures on attendance were not immediately available.
In the lead-up to his election win in 2016, and throughout his presidency, tens of thousands of supporters would throng venues to hear him speak.
But crowds have since dwindled, and Saturday's turnout appeared to be far smaller than those of earlier rallies.
The gathering, on farmland in Florence, 100 kilometres from Phoenix, featured a selection of Republicans who have echoed Mr Trump's unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was fixed.
They included Kari Lake, whom Trump has endorsed for governor of Arizona in this year's race. She previously said she would not have certified Mr Biden's victory if she had been in office at the time.
Mr Trump, who lost his Twitter megaphone for his claims about the poll, has been a much lower-key presence in US politics since leaving office.
But he still looms large in the Republican party, where adherence to his theories — or at least not publicly denying them — is often vital to survival for members of Congress and state legislatures.
Covid risk runs high
Mr Trump has largely shunned major media outlets since leaving office.
However, he ventured on to National Public Radio (NPR) last week to say he recommends that people get vaccinated against Covid-19 — a controversial issue in the US, where there is widespread vaccine hesitancy on the right.
There were almost no masks or other anti-Covid precautions in evidence among the crowd in Florence, despite the Omicron variant wave that is washing over the US.
Nationwide, more than 750,000 people a day are testing positive for the disease.
The rally comes 24 hours after pro-Trump TV channel OAN was dumped by its main distributor.
Mr Trump had repeatedly directed his fans towards the conspiracy theory-peddling outlet, which is hoping to take a bite out of the market for right-wing viewers dominated by Fox News.