Rally-goers and demonstrators filled downtown Tulsa’s streets on Saturday as President Donald Trump held his first campaign rally since the novel coronavirus has gripped the country.
Trump’s campaign had more than 1 million requested tickets to the president’s rally in the BOK Center, which has a capacity of about 19,000 people. But when Trump took the stage, the arena’s lower bowl was filled but the majority of seats in the upper level were empty.
However, thousands of people still showed up early Saturday morning from all over the country to see the president speak.
Randal Thom said he drove all the way from Minnesota to Tulsa to see the rally.
“Us Trump people, his base, have been itching to get back out to show him we support his decision and especially support the fact we want the entire country opened up,” Thom said.
Thom said he is a member of “Trump’s Front Row Joes,” a group of supporters who travel around the country to attend Trump rallies, and Saturday’s rally is the 64th rally he has attended. And though Thom said he knows COVID-19 can be deadly — a 24-year-old member of his group died earlier this year from the disease, he said it was worth the risk to see the president.
On Twitter, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale accused “radical protestors, fueled by a week of apocalyptic media coverage,” of interfering with supporters at the rally.
Radical protestors, fueled by a week of apocalyptic media coverage, interfered with @realDonaldTrump supporters at the rally.
They even blocked access to the metal detectors, preventing people from entering.
Thanks to the 1,000s who made it anyway!https://t.co/eM2nohMEy6
— Brad Parscale (@parscale) June 20, 2020
Protestors and Trump supporters engaged in verbal, and sometimes heated confrontations, but demonstrations were largely nonviolent.
“There are multiple groups of demonstrators with varying viewpoints in the area adjacent to the rally,” the Tulsa Police Department wrote in a Facebook post. “Overwhelmingly these encounters have been peaceful with everyone attempting to share their views.”
Trump, at the beginning of his rally, blamed a smaller-than-anticipated crowd in Tulsa’s BOK Center on “bad people” outside the arena who scared away rally-goers as well as media who told potential attendees “don’t go.”
As the rally gets started (Trump still at least 90 min away) the upper bowl of the arena is mostly empty. If that changes I will post a new pic. One million people may have requested a ticket but there are plenty of seats available. pic.twitter.com/HyPKNg79Tx
— Ben Felder (@benfelder_okc) June 20, 2020
Reporters on the scene said protestors didn’t block rally goers from entering the arena. At one point, police temporarily closed down the east entrance to the rally area when Black Lives Matter protesters arrived, but within a few minutes they began letting groups of rally-goers back into the secure area after pushing the crowd back a few yards.
Sporadic clashes between individuals occurred in some areas around the rally site, but in most cases, police intervention was not required to separate combatants.
One man was arrested after charging at Black Lives Matter protesters on the other side of a line of National Guard members. Police arrested another man after he pepper sprayed a group of protesters.
A few armed local amateur militia members were patrolling the area around the protesters, but for the most part did not clash with protesters.
On Saturday morning the Tulsa Police Department, at the request of the Trump campaign, arrested a woman for obstruction for protesting inside the “secure area” of the rally, according to a statement from the department.
TPD said officers asked Sheila Buck to leave the event, but she was arrested after she refused. The agency said the area was considered a “private event” and the Trump campaign, as the organizer, could have people removed at their discretion.
It’s unclear exactly how many people were arrested at the event. Alexandria Scott, a city council member from Norman, appeared in the Tulsa Jail log as being arrested for obstructing police officers at 5:45 p.m., about 90 minutes before Trump took the stage. No information has been released on Scott’s arrest. Her bond was set at $500.As the Trump rally ended around 8:30 p.m. and night fell, the National Guard and some emergency responders began to pull out onto Boulder Avenue to leave. The convoy came to a halt and protesters began to walk into the street, chanting slogans.
Protestors and Trump supporters. pic.twitter.com/obVXDKLvIo
— Kassie McClung (@KassieMcClung) June 21, 2020
Soon, a line of protesters formed on Boulder Avenue and was met with a line of police, who ordered them off the streets. When the protesters didn’t comply, some officers fired off pepper ball rounds, causing the crowd to temporarily scatter before it composed itself and reformed the line. After a few minutes, the line of police began to back away from the line of protesters, who began to advance. One of the protesters with a bullhorn began to plead with the other protesters to head toward the Greenwood district.
Then, with the two sides facing each other, the main body of protesters stopped, turned and went north, as police continued to back away south on Boulder. The two sides peacefully walked away from each other, with the protesters heading to the Greenwood district, where a celebration-like atmosphere took hold.