President Trump, after boasting about enthusiasm and promising a full house, spoke in an arena in Tulsa on Saturday night with many seats unfilled amid the coronavirus pandemic. Most of his supporters in the 19,000-seat BOK Center were not wearing masks, hours after his campaign had announced that six members of the advance team staffing the event had tested positive for the virus.

In a speech lasting nearly two hours — filled with grievances, falsehoods and misleading claims — Trump said that because more testing means higher numbers of known coronavirus cases, his direction was to curtail it. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down,’” he said. A White House official said later the president was “obviously kidding,” but he has previously expressed skepticism about testing, which public health experts say is required to contain the outbreak.

  • Trump also downplayed the severity of the virus, fixating on the number of names used for it — and offering one, “Kung Flu,” a racially offensive term.
  • There was no massive overflow audience greeting Trump; the area outside the arena had emptied out by early evening, and plans for Trump to address the audience outside were quickly scrapped. The campaign blamed protesters, but there were only scattered efforts to block entrances, which were resolved by police.
  • The campaign said quarantine procedures had gone into effect for the infected staff members and those in “immediate contact” with them. Meanwhile, Tulsa County reported 136 new cases Saturday — marking another high for both single-day and average cases — while the state as a whole reported 331 new infections.
  • At least six people were arrested with charges of obstruction, loitering and other related offenses. Police fired pepper balls during one tense moment before demonstrators fell back to the historically black Greenwood neighborhood, where people danced in an atmosphere more party than protest.
June 20, 2020 at 11:59 PM EDT

Greenwood neighborhood is more block party than protest

By Bret Schulte and Robert Klemko

More than a thousand people gathered in streets of the historically black Greenwood neighborhood in a scene that was more block party than protest. People dance and mingled, with no visible police presence but well-armed private security guards patrolling the area.

The Black Lives Matter slogan and clenched, raised fist logo were projected onto the side of the Vernon AME Church.

Hundreds more protesters, many carrying anti-Trump signs and chanting, “Black lives matter” arrived at Greenwood Avenue, arriving in an ebullient mood, pumping their fists in the air.

Cousins Mo and Chris Ruff leaned on the hood of a cousin’s orange 2020 Chevy Camaro and sipped from water bottles. Chris Ruff, 28, said the Trump visit made no difference to him, and he didn’t expect to see a single Trump voter all night.

“This is Juneteenth … we’d be out here anyway,” he said. “They’re scared to come over here. I know that. They know better. We ain’t playin.'”

Mo, 29, said the occasion had a different, more defiant energy with Trump’s rally on the other side of town and a helicopter circling overhead: “Why the hell that orange man decided to come out here after we’re celebrated Juneteenth, I will never know.”

Greenwood is a historically black neighborhood in Tulsa and is the site of the Tulsa Race Massacre, when a white mob killed an estimated 300 black residents. On Friday, during Juneteenth celebrations, people painted “Black Lives Matter” on the street.

June 20, 2020 at 11:28 PM EDT

Protesters arrested for tying themselves to flag poles

By Kelsy Schlotthauer

Three protesters were booked in the Tulsa County jail after tying themselves to flag poles in Tulsa.

The activists had to be cut down after suspending themselves off the ground with some type of climbing equipment, according to arrest reports.

One of the women had a yellow flag with her that stated “Invest in Black Communities,” according to the report.

An Austin man was arrested a couple of minutes before in the same area after reportedly following police officers into a restricted area of the Trump rally.

The man refused to leave when police asked, and though he told them he was a member of the media, he could not provide proof, the arrest report states.

All four were arrested on complaints of obstruction and are held in lieu of $500 bond.

June 20, 2020 at 11:15 PM EDT

Trump supporters and protesters confront one another post-rally

By Arelis Hernández and Robert Klemko

Tension came to a head near the arena, at 4th and Boulder, as scores of protesters encircled police and state troopers trying to clear the way for rallygoers to exit safely and keep the groups separate. At one point, pepper spray was released and the groups dispersed.

Protesters headed away from downtown Tulsa northeast toward the Greenwood neighborhood. Hundreds of families, including those with young children, spilled out from the arena toward municipal parking lots and hotels.

Fourth and Boulder became a gathering place for dozens of people, mostly Trump supporters, who seem to be waiting for the return of counter protesters, gathering in large groups. Vendors sold beer out of coolers and discounted MAGA gear as people headed home, as the scene thinned considerably.

The police presence — from various state and local agencies — increased substantially as the night wore on and every so often, a bellicose voice punctured the humid night air.

Trump supporters walked away from heated conversations, seemingly puzzled by the opposition to the president. Black Lives Matters protester also were aghast at the gulf of understanding between them and the people leaving the rally.

Other moments of anticipated mayhem fizzled as the evening wore on.

For much of the evening a group of men wearing black polos with yellow trim associated with the Proud Boys, a group of white male Trump supporters with a history of assaulting leftist protesters, stood across the street from an entrance to the rally.

After walking the streets for an hour after the protesters dissipated, the men split up and went their different ways.

Bart Whorton, 45, of Kansas City, was with the group before it split up at 11 p.m. and said he had been a Proud Boy in the past but was reevaluating his membership. He said he agreed with the group’s core values, which have been criticized as part and parcel to white nationalism.

While there was some tension, Whorton said, nothing appeared close to the scale of clashes over the past few weeks.

“I was really surprised,” he said.

June 20, 2020 at 10:19 PM EDT

Tulsa mayoral aide resigns over rally handling

By Kelsy Schlotthauer

A Tulsa mayoral aide resigned Saturday in response to the city’s handling of the president’s campaign rally.

Jack Graham said the decision has been building since the pandemic began, but the lack of enforcement of CDC guidelines at the presidential rally was the last straw.

In the letter, addressed to Bynum and later posted to social media, Graham wrote: “I appreciate the opportunities you have given me over the years, but my heart is telling me that I can no longer effectively support you and the decisions you make for Tulsa.”

Graham told The Post he has been “extremely supportive” of Bynum’s work since starting in his office as an intern just out of college in 2017.

“But I started becoming unsupportive when people kind of just passed the baton along and didn’t want to make a firm decision to adhere to the CDC guidelines or social distancing that any other event like this should deal with,” he said. “Someone told me the basic test for anything is: Are people going to die?"

“In this case, people are going to die.”

Graham said on top of the likely spread of a potentially deadly disease, the city has lost relationships within the community, be it partners, schools, foundations or activists.

Although some questioned why Graham posted his resignation publicly after submitting it to the mayor, he said he stands by his decision to share.

“In these roles, I don’t get to be heard or get to state my opinion, and at a certain point, I had to stand for myself and where my heart is,” he said.

June 20, 2020 at 9:32 PM EDT

Trump says flag burners should be sentenced to a year in prison

By Christopher Rowland

President Trump told his supporters at the rally in Tulsa on Saturday that demonstrators who burn American flags should be sentenced to a year in prison.

Setting aside the First Amendment right to free speech, Trump called flag burning a desecration that needed to be stopped. He urged the two Republican U.S. senators from Oklahoma in attendance at the rally, Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, to introduce legislation to make it a criminal offense.

"We should have legislation that if somebody wants to burn the American flag and stomp on it, just burn it, they go to jail for one year,’’ Trump said.

The remarks came during a speech in which he sought to rally his base by stoking the culture wars that have engulfed the nation. He jabbed at the left, demonstrators, and illegal aliens.

Trump criticized NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for apologizing this month for opposing kneeling during the national anthem. "I like Roger Goodell, but I didn’t like what he said a week ago,’’ Trump said. We will never kneel to our national anthem or our great American flag. We will stand proud and we will stand tall.’’

June 20, 2020 at 9:19 PM EDT

Trump says he told advisers to slow coronavirus testing in U.S.

By Christopher Rowland

President Trump complained that coronavirus testing in the United States — which began later in the pandemic than it did in other countries — is driving up the numbers of confirmed infections, and he said he told his advisers to test people more slowly, even though experts agree that robust testing is the best way to control the pandemic.

“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,'' he said. “So I said to my people, slow the testing down, please. They test and they test.''

Trump has said before that he’s skeptical about the importance of testing. But a White House official told The Washington Post Trump was joking.

Trump called the novel coronavirus “kung flu” during his speech in Tulsa, using a racist term to allude to the origin of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, as he took aim at some of his favorite targets on the left and the media. "It’s a disease that without question has more names than any disease,'' he said. “I can name kung flu. I can name 19 different versions of them.''

Also calling the disease “Chinese virus,'' he boasted about stopping travel from China earlier in the pandemic and said the United States has tested 25 million people, which he said was more than other countries.

In March, senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said it was “highly offensive” to refer to coronavirus as “kung flu.”

Drawing hearty cheers from his supporters, Trump also denounced protesters and political leaders who are pursuing the removal of Confederate statues across the South, calling it a “desecration.'”

“The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize 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.”

June 20, 2020 at 9:17 PM EDT

Downtown Tulsa businesses close early

By Bret Schulte

Downtown Tulsa is closed for business as the sun sets and the rally ges underway. Block after block of restaurants, bars and storefronts closed early, many with windows boarded up. Signs in doors explained to patrons that they closed early for the day, often at 3 or 4 p.m., as a safety precaution, urging customers to return again soon.

Dave Sopark, 37, the owner of a Jinya Ramen franchise, supervised his employee boarding up his restaurant around 7 p.m., later than most.

“I wasn’t going to do it up till last night,” Sopack said. “I heard of other places — even my neighbors here —closing and that made me think harder about the safety of my staff.”

A Jinya employee said he was concerned about people bringing guns inside, and Sopack said he heard that bad actors would be coming to town. “But the reports say the [BOK Center] is only like half-full,” Sopark said, “so maybe it won’t be as bad as people are saying.”

June 20, 2020 at 8:54 PM EDT

Protesters gather 30 minutes from arena

By Robert Klemko

At Veterans Park, about a 30-minute walk from the BOK Center, a multicultural group of hundreds gathered to hear civil rights protest veterans, new activists, musicians and spoken word artists as the sun set on Saturday afternoon. The Rally Against Hate was organized by Tykebrean Cheshire, who said she started a nonprofit called Peaceful Rally Tulsa 10 days ago.

“That 8 minutes and 46 seconds changed the whole world. It made people think, why have I not been listening,” said Cheshire, 21, who is black and Hispanic, referring to the police killing of George Floyd. “Some people thought, that could’ve been my son. And others thought, that couldn’t have been my son. And they were both right.”

She says she quit her job at Target and dedicated her adult life to peaceful organizing. The distance from the BOK Center was intentional.

“Our biggest thing was to make sure people felt safe tonight,” Cheshire said. “Going to the BOK Center didn’t feel like a safe option. I wanted to do the old-school [Martin Luther King] thing. We’re able to connect with each other, and that’s the most important thing today.

June 20, 2020 at 8:42 PM EDT

Trump blames media, protesters for empty seats at his Tulsa event

By Christopher Rowland

Before an arena with a large number of empty seats in Tulsa, President Trump launched his rally Saturday night by taking aim at the media and demonstrators outside and launched into a list of accomplishments of his first three years in office, starting with Supreme Court appointments and increased military spending.

“You are warriors. … We had some very bad people outside. They were doing bad things,” Trump said, seeming to blame the media for the light showing at his widely anticipated campaign event.

Of the media, he said, “I’ve been watching the fake news for weeks now, and everything is negative: Don’t go, don’t come, don’t do anything.”

Trump boasted about getting Supreme Court Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh onto the bench, but the crowd gave a few boos at the mention of Gorsuch, who provided a key vote this week to prevent discrimination against gay and transgender people in the workplace.

“I stand before you today to declare the silent majority is stronger than ever before. Five months from now, we’re going to defeat sleepy Joe Biden,” 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, color, religion and creed.”

June 20, 2020 at 8:35 PM EDT

Photos: Tensions rise at Trump rally in Tulsa

By Washington Post Staff
June 20, 2020 at 8:35 PM EDT

Woman in ‘I cant breathe’ shirt details arrest

By Ziva Branstetter and Alex Horton

Clad in a mask and hood, wearing a shirt that said “I can’t breathe," Sheila Buck sat defiant in the street.

Moment before, Buck, a 62-year-old Tulsa resident and Catholic school art teacher, had wielded a ticket to enter the rally Saturday afternoon, she told The Washington Post.

She said she made it past the barricades but was then stopped by who she said were federal authorities in plainclothes. They told her she could not enter and did not provide a reason, she said, but she thinks the message on her shirt was the reason.

“‘You’re not invited,‘” she said they told her. ‘“We don’t want you here.’”

She said she left the area but was confronted by police in the blocked-off street. The officers appeared excited at the prospect of arresting someone, she said, and she began to pray.

The moment was captured live on television as Buck — wearing a hood inspired by the fictional, Tulsa-set HBO program “The Watchmen” — refused to stand up.

“Somebody has to do this,” she said

Two officers dragged her away on charges of trespassing and resisting arrest, she said. She was taken to a hospital after her blood pressure spiked in the jail, and she was administered fluids before returning, she said. She was released hours later.

The plainclothes law enforcement took her phone, she said, which she still has hasn’t received.

“I wasn’t loud, I didn’t have a sign, I just showed up with a mask and my T-shirt,” Buck said.

“I’m just done. I wanted to say this is not okay,” she said. “Our country is now divided and we have got to stand for what’s right.”

Another demonstrator, Phillip Rufkahr of Missouri, was arrested after he was ordered to stop loitering near the entrance. He was booked and held in lieu of a $500 bond, according to an arrest report.

Kelsy Schlotthauer contributed to this report.

June 20, 2020 at 8:16 PM EDT

Black Lives Matter activists criticize Trump, Pence for rally

By DeNeen L. Brown

Black Lives Matter protesters took President Trump to task for hosting a political rally in Tulsa, the site of the worst racial violence in U.S. history, on Juneteenth weekend. Black activists said the rally stoked racial tensions in the city.

In the district of Greenwood, black leaders rushed to cover up Black Wall Street memorials hours before a scheduled visit by Vice President Pence on Saturday. The memorials honor the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. They also pay tribute to the Tulsa community of Greenwood, one of the richest black communities in the country before the 1921 massacre.

Activists said they did not want Pence to use the historic district for a political event.

“I just think his visit is an opportunity for a photo op,” said community activist and educator Kristi Williams. “We say, ‘Don’t come for a photo op when you have not come to sit down and talk with black leaders in the community.’ We are beyond symbolism.”

Read more here.

June 20, 2020 at 8:11 PM EDT

Pence asks for four more years for Trump

By Colby Itkowitz and Josh Dawsey

Vice President Pence took the stage a little after 7:30 ET and lavished praise on the president and said that, because of Trump’s leadership, the coronavirus is close to being “in the past.”

“The transition to greatness has begun. And despite the fear mongering of some in the media, the truth is all across this country hospitalizations are down, our losses are declining and every day we’re one day closer to putting the coronavirus in the past,” Pence said.

He said Trump needs four more years to finish what they started.“He’s a man who says what he means and means what he says,” Pence said."We will make America great again," Pence said. “Again.”

The lower bowl of the arena was largely full, as was the floor, while the upper bowl of the arena was largely empty.

June 20, 2020 at 7:43 PM EDT

In Greenwood, residents gather to celebrate and protest

By Bret Schulte

In Greenwood, music is playing, families are gathering; volunteers are handing out free bottled water and fruit. Standing in the shade near the Black Wall Street massacre memorial, Adam Crawford, 24, stood with a shotgun over his shoulder, watching a growing and light-hearted crowd gather across the street from the Vernon AME Church.

Crawford is part of a private security team of about a half dozen here to protect the church. A self-described Army brat and a welder, he moved to Tulsa three years ago and said he fell in love with the community. He described the Juneteenth celebration yesterday on this same spot as joyous. Now, he’s watchful, alert. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I’m staying right here to protect this land.”

Sharon Erby, a 59-year-old native of the neighborhood, sat with friends under a Chinese maple across from the church, which was set ablaze during the 1921 massacre of black residents by a white mob. Spread in front of her was a field of makeshift signs written with marker on white poster board, with messages like “DIVEST IN POLICE INVEST IN PUBLIC HEALTH.”

Erby and her friends arrived at 10 a.m. with no plan in mind other to continue to celebrate Juneteenth, a celebration of freedom from slavery. Soon, they found themselves in the church social hall, writing up the signs.

“These are expressions of what people feeling,” Erby said. “This is what was in their hearts.”

Sitting in the shade next to her, Cassandra Cozart, 58, leaned in to clarify: “It’s cause we don’t want Donald Trump here.”

They stuck the signs in the yard across the street from the church, which bears a large memorial plaque, akin to those erected for those killed in foreign wars, with the names of the dead from the race massacre. This morning, Erby and other volunteers draped that large stone slab in a tarp and taped across it a sign reading: “This is not a photo-op. This is sacred ground.”

Erby says her group covered it up this morning “to prevent Trump supporters from coming up here and taking pictures of our monuments and take a part of our history when they don’t want to be a part of it.” Volunteers also blacked out swaths of the Black Wall Street mural that adorns part of the overpass retaining wall, a popular spot for selfies.

At the church, the pastor Robert Turner worked in his office behind locked doors guarded by a small cadre of private security with semiautomatic weapons. “This church is basically the last thing left on Greenwood Avenue,” Turner said. “With Trump coming to town, I don’t want to let any of that neo-Confederate crowd coming to finish the job.”

State Sen. Kevin Matthews, who represents the Greenwood area of Tulsa, said that Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt originally invited the president to visit Greenwood on his trip to Tulsa, when the rally was scheduled for Friday, the celebration of Juneteenth. Matthews was asked to host the president.

The president would have visited OneOK Field, home to the minor league Tulsa Drillers, and the future site of Living Greenwood, a proposed museum and educational center focused on the massacre and Black Wall Street. “I had a talk with the governor that would not be a good idea,” Matthews said in an interview.

“Greenwood would have to be shut down,” Matthews said. “It was disruptive for the Juneteenth event.”