US President Donald Trump told a half-empty stadium that “the silent majority is stronger than ever before” during a comeback rally on Saturday that saw an embarrassingly low turnout.
Speaking before a crowd of mostly white supporters in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for almost two hours, Mr Trump stoked division and criticised protesters who chanted “Black Lives Matter” in the streets outside.
A planned speech to an overflow event outside the 19,000-seat stadium was cancelled because of a lack of attendance, despite claims by the Trump campaign of over a million ticket requests. K-pop fans and TikTok users have said they flooded the event with fake ticket requests, leading to thousands of empty seats.
The event, initially scheduled for Friday, was moved to Saturday after criticism that it would coincide with Juneteenth celebrations in a city where a brutal massacre in 1921 saw white supremacists kill around 300 black people.
On Black Lives Matter
Mr Trump’s discussion of the protests that have gripped US cities since the killing of George Floyd on May 25 focused on criticising the removal of confederate statues across the southern states.
“The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalise our history, desecrating our monuments, our beautiful monuments,” he said.
“This cruel campaign of censorship and exclusion violates everything we hold dear as Americans. They want to demolish our heritage so they can impose their new oppressive regime in its place.”
Mr Trump offered no words of sympathy for Floyd’s family, or the tens of thousands demonstrating against police brutality and systemic racism in the US.
Instead, he offered his opinion that "racial justice begins with Joe Biden's retirement from public life", claiming he had done more for the black community in four years than his Democratic rival had during 47 years in public office.
Mr Trump also suggested a jail sentence be introduced for protesters who burn the American flag while describing the Republicans as the "party of liberty, equality and justice for all".
He blamed the protesters, whom he called a “bunch of maniacs”, for the low turnout at the rally, after insisting last week that there would be no empty seats at the event in Oklahoma.
His son Eric Trump weighed in with his own verbal attack on protesters, calling them “animals” and telling supporters the Trump family will preserve "the moral fabric of the country".
Discussing his response to the coronavirus crisis in the US, the world’s worst with more than 2.3 million confirmed cases, Mr Trump said testing was a “double-edged sword”.
“We’ve tested now 25 million people. It’s probably 20 million people more than anybody else. Germany’s done a lot. South Korea’s done a lot. Here’s the bad part, When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people. You’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’”
An administration official told CNN that the President was "obviously kidding".
The event went ahead despite warning from public health experts after a significant rise in Oklahoma coronavirus cases over the past week. Few Trump supporters were wearing face masks at the rally and six members of staff who helped set up the event tested positive for Covid-19.
The crowd applauded as Mr Trump used the racist term “kung flu” to describe the outbreak, also calling it a “Chinese virus” as he boasted about stopping travel to China early in the pandemic.
On Law and Order
Following calls over recent weeks to defund the police, Mr Trump shared an imaginary scenario by way of a warning against such a move.
“It’s one in the morning, and a very tough – I used the word on occasion – hombre is breaking into the window of a young woman whose husband is away as a travelling salesman or whatever he may do. And you call 911 and they say, ‘I’m sorry this number is no longer working.’”
The President claimed that his administration’s "incredible success in rebuilding America" stands in contrast to the “violence of the radical left.”
Speaking about Mr Biden he said, "does anybody honestly think he controls these radical maniacs?”
"He will surrender your country to these mobsters."
On Joe Biden
Mr Trump dismissed his presidential rival as “a helpless puppet of the radical left”, telling the audience “I stand before you today to declare the silent majority is stronger than ever before,” in an echo of former president Richard Nixon.
“Five months from now we’re going to defeat Sleepy Joe Biden. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln and we are the party of law and order,” Mr Trump said.
“We’re going to stop the radical left. We’re going to build a future of safety and opportunity for Americans of every race, colour, religion and creed.”
On the media
Taking his usual swipes at the media, Mr Trump portrayed the press as "leftist radicals" and railed against critical coverage of his response to the coronavirus crisis.
His speech opened with a lengthy rant over the unfair treatment he feels he received following an awkward walk down the ramp at a military academy graduation ceremony last week.
"I looked very handsome," he said on Saturday. "I took these little steps, then I ran down."