Faced with a public health crisis spiraling further out of control as a result of his own governing failures, a maskless President Donald Trump ranted against the “left-wing mob,” “far-left fascism” and “cancel culture” in a disjointed speech delivered at an Independence Day celebration held at South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore National Memorial on Friday night.
“Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to defame our history,” Trump told a cheering crowd, most of whom also appeared to not be wearing masks.
“Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders … and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities,” he added.
Trump was referring to protesters who, as part of a national uprising for racial justice, have defaced and removed Confederate monuments and symbols.
He vowed to crack down on “this attack on our liberty” by enforcing a federal law to “arrest the rioters,” reiterating his earlier promise to imprison anyone who vandalizes such monuments for up to 10 years. (Trump himself has been accused of destroying multiple national monuments including Utah’s Bears Ears, which is considered sacred by several Native American tribes.)
In his speech, Trump also railed against so-called “cancel culture,” calling it the “very definition of totalitarianism.”
“There is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance,” he said. “This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American revolution.”
A majority of U.S. states are currently grappling with a rise in COVID-19 cases and, on Thursday, the country recorded a record-breaking single-day tally of new infections.
Yet, facial coverings ― which can help mitigate the spread of the disease ― were a rare sight at the event. None of Trump’s entourage, including First Lady Melania Trump and his son Eric Trump, were seen wearing a mask.
Earlier on Friday, Kimberly Guilfoyle, one of Trump’s top campaign officials and the girlfriend of his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. She had traveled to South Dakota with Trump Jr. to attend the Mount Rushmore celebration.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) had said earlier this week that social distancing wouldn’t be enforced at the event and that masks would not be required. Approximately 7,500 attendees were expected at the extravaganza.
Earlier on Friday, dozens of protesters, most of them Native Americans, blocked a main road leading to Mount Rushmore. About 15 of them were arrested after refusing to heed police warnings to disperse, the Associated Press reported.
Demonstrators, holding signs that read “This Is Stolen Land” and “Protect SoDak’s First People,” said they were insulted by Trump’s decision to hold the celebratory event at the massive sculpture, which was erected in the Black Hills on land taken by the U.S. government from the Lakota people.
“The whole Black Hills is sacred. For them to come and carve the presidents, slave owners who have no meaning to us, it was an insult,” Ricky Gray Grass, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe’s executive council, told The Washington Post.
Protesters had also taken issue with the massive fireworks display, which Trump had championed for, that concluded the Independence Day event.
Fireworks have been banned at Mount Rushmore since 2009 over concerns about wildfires and other environmental impacts. In an earlier tweet, Trump credited Noem and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for making the pyrotechnics show possible.
The faces of four presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln — are carved into Mount Rushmore.
Trump has joked that his visage should be added to the massive sculpture.
On Friday, one of his campaign staffers tweeted a doctored image of the monument which included Trump’s face with the caption, “Mt Rushmore, improved.”
The tweet was in reaction to an earlier image that depicted Mount Rushmore being blown up.