Updated at 7:43 am ET
On the eve of Independence Day, President Trump celebrated at the foot of Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota with a fireworks display and an impassioned speech against what he called a “new far-left fascism.”
About 7,500 attendees won an online ticket lottery sponsored by South Dakota’s state tourism department to come to the event. Despite the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the country, crowds in red, white and blue were seen packed close together and mostly maskless. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem told Fox News ahead of the event that while free masks would be provided, attendees would not be required to wear them or practice social distancing.
Trump opened his speech by denouncing the protesters who have called for the removal of Confederate monuments and statues nationwide that have honored Americans who have supported or benefited from slavery. The movement has stemmed from protests for racial equality that have taken place nationwide following the police killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. He called the movement a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”
The president signed an executive order in late June reinforcing an existing law that protects federal monuments. In a tweet, he promised “long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!”
At Mount Rushmore, Trump announced he was signing another executive order to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, an outdoor park that would hold statues of the “greatest Americans to ever live”
Trump also lamented “cancel culture,” which he described as a “political weapon” used to intimidate dissenters and political opponents, calling it “the very definition of totalitarianism.” He warned of a far-left agenda that was teaching children in schools to hate their country, but said Americans would not succumb to the “web of lies.”
“They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive,” he said. “But no, the American people are strong and proud, and they will not allow our country and all of its values, history and culture to be taken from them.”
In response, the crowd erupted in cheers of “USA! USA!” and “Four more years!”
Protesters had blocked one of the major highways into the site hours before the event was set to take place. The demonstration was organized by Native American protesters, according to Lee Strubinger of South Dakota Public Radio. Many were protesting the Mount Rushmore monument itself, which is carved into a mountain sacred to the Lakota. Demonstrators were also concerned that the fireworks display could damage the mountain. Fireworks had been banned at the site for more than a decade prior to the event. Others were worried the event would put tribal members at risk of a coronavirus outbreak. About 15 protesters were arrested, according to The Associated Press.
On the night of the event, it was announced that Kimberly Guilfoyle, a campaign fundraiser and the Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Sergio Gor, chief of staff for Trump’s finance committee, said in a statement that Guilfoyle was immediately isolated after her positive test result. Trump Jr. tested negative, but the two will cancel future events and self isolate as a precaution. Guilfoyle is asymptomatic, and Gor said she would be retested to confirm her diagnosis.
President Trump will follow his South Dakota trip with a “Salute To America” event where he will give remarks on the South Lawn of the White House. Like last year, a fireworks display will take place at the National Mall. The Department of Interior cautioned residents who aimed to view the fireworks on site to practice social distancing and wear face coverings.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.