On Saturday night, Donald Trump made his big return to the 2020 campaign trail with a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Political rallies usually aren’t that interesting, but this one was different. In the lead-up to the big event, it stirred up controversy for a couple important reasons. The rally was originally scheduled to be held on Juneteenth in a city that saw one of the most brutal anti-Black incidents in our country’s history: the Greenwood Massacre (also called the Tulsa race massacre). A century ago, Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood was the wealthiest majority-Black community in the country, becoming known as Black Wall Street. One night in 1921, a Black man was accused of assaulting a white woman, and as news of the incident spread through the city, racial tensions erupted. White mobs ransacked the Greenwood neighborhood, killing Black people and burning entire city blocks. The attackers killed dozens, and caused millions of dollars in property damage. At a time when racial tensions are once again at a near boiling point, the timing and location of Trump’s rally sent a clear message from an administration with ties to white supremacy.
Trump ultimately changed the date of the rally, tweeting that “Many of my African American friends and supporters” suggested that he not hold the event on Juneteenth. But the original date of the rally, while very alarming because of what it signaled, was not the only problem with the event. Maybe you have forgotten, but coronavirus hasn’t gone away. Having a large gathering of people indoors and not wearing masks basically goes against everything the CDC recommends in regards to limiting the spread of the virus. Trump’s mask-free rally plans were harshly criticized by public health experts. Before the event, it was revealed that six staffers setting up at the arena tested positive for COVID-19, but the campaign remained defiant.
In advance of the big event, the Trump campaign boasted about the incredible demand for tickets. The BOK Center has a capacity of just under 20,000, but Trump’s campaign manager claimed that over one million people had requested tickets online. Some people lined up outside days in advance to make sure they could get in, and it was expected to be a packed house. In addition to the main event in the arena, both Trump and Mike Pence even planned to make speeches to the overflow crowd outside before the rally started.
Well, that didn’t happen. According to the Tulsa Fire Department, the official attendance at Saturday’s rally was just 6,200—only around one-third of the venue’s capacity. The warmup events for the overflow crowd outside were canceled, because the overflow crowd didn’t exist. Photos from the event show that the upper tier of the BOK Center was almost completely empty—a sea of blue chairs dotted with only a handful of MAGA hats.
Crush: I bet you have so many guys in your DMs
My DMs: pic.twitter.com/c4ePou1Exb
— Betches (@betchesluvthis) June 21, 2020
So… what happened? It’s doubtful that anyone actually expected a million people to show up (especially considering the entire Tulsa Metropolitan Area has a population of just under a million), but it certainly seemed like Trump would fill the 19,000-seat arena without a problem. Well, as we do all too often, we underestimated Gen-Z. Specifically, TikTok users and K-pop fans, who claim to have brilliantly trolled the Trump campaign.
After the Trump campaign tweeted earlier this month inviting supporters to register for free tickets to the rally, the youths of the internet did their thing. Hundreds of users spread the information to their followers, encouraging them to register for tickets to the rally, even though they had no intention of going. It’s unclear how many people ultimately participated in the prank, but clearly it was enough to inflate Trump’s estimates of how many people were interested in attending. After this prank and their recent trolling of racist Twitter hashtags, the K-pop community is quickly earning my respect.
President @realDonaldTrump will be in Tulsa, OK on June 19 for a Make America Great Again Rally!
Register for your FREE TICKETS on the “Trump 2020” App or visit the link below.
— Team Trump (Text TRUMP to 88022) (@TeamTrump) June 11, 2020
It’s important to note that while the TikTok trolls did some amazing work here, they didn’t actually prevent any Trump supporters from showing up to the rally. While the campaign encouraged people to register in advance (and got their phone numbers in the process), there wasn’t a cap on free tickets that could be reserved, and admittance to the event was available on a first-come, first-served basis for whoever showed up. So while the Gen-Z masterminds f*cked with the expectations of Team Trump, they are not the cause for the arena being nearly empty.
So why didn’t enough people show up? Maybe some were dissuaded by the reports of a million registrations, thinking that they wouldn’t actually be able to get inside the rally. Maybe some were actually worried about the threat of COVID-19, even if the Trump administration claims it’s no longer a threat. The Trump campaign, however, has been quick to point fingers at protestors outside the arena. Campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh claimed that “radical protestors” were “blocking access to the metal detectors,” hindering Trump supporters from making it inside. But reporters at the event have refuted these claims, saying that while there were some protestors outside the arena, no one had issues getting into the event.
We may never know the root cause of all those empty blue seats on Saturday night, but they were very satisfying. Thank you, teens, for perhaps the only piece of news this weekend that didn’t make me want to rocket launch myself into the moon.
Images: Albert Halim / Shutterstock.com; betchesluvthis, teamtrump / Twitter