Large sections of the upper stands were clearly empty at President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday, following days of campaign boasts that the venue would be packed to overflowing because some 1 million people had requested tickets to the event.
Trump had planned to deliver comments ahead of the rally to an overflow group of supporters outside the BOK Center. But just a smattering of people were waiting, and Trump canceled the appearance. The campaign claimed that Trump’s outdoor speech was canceled because of protests, a position that appeared to already be setting up the media and protesters as fall guys for the rally’s mediocre turnout.
“Protesters interfered with supporters, even blocking access to the metal detectors, which prevented people from entering the rally,” campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “Radical protesters, coupled with a relentless onslaught from the media, attempted to frighten off the president’s supporters.”
Three Associated Press journalists who covered the rally said they did not see protesters blocking people from entering the event.
During an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Trump campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp also blamed protesters for the underwhelming attendance. But host Chris Wallace pushed back on her claim.
“You guys were so far off that you had planned an outdoor rally and there wasn’t an overflow crowd,” Wallace said. “Protesters did not stop people from coming to that rally. The fact is that people didn’t show up.”
Schlapp doubled down on her claim, stating that protesters “absolutely” prevented people from traveling to the rally. She added that over 5.3 million people watched the event online.
Trump on Saturday also blamed the media for the empty seats at his rally.
“The media was saying, ‘Don’t come,’” he told the far-less-than-capacity crowd.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale echoed Murtaugh’s statement, blaming “radical protesters” who he said had been “fueled by a week of apocalyptic media coverage.”
The campaign later emphasized in a statement that millions of viewers watched Trump “across all of the campaign’s digital media channels.”
“The media, which encouraged protesters and bombarded Americans for more than a week with dire warnings against attending a Trump rally, are still unable to prevent President Trump from reaching the people,” the statement added.
Trump said Monday that his campaign was expecting a “record-setting crowd” at the rally. “We’ve never had an empty seat, and we certainly won’t in Oklahoma,” he added.
He said the campaign planned to also use the convention hall next to the rally arena to handle the crowds — adding 40,000 extra spaces to the 19,000-capacity BOK Center.
The Tulsa fire marshal reported that fewer than 6,200 tickets were scanned for the rally.
Social media has been buzzing over the last week about a plot by TikTok users to convince hordes of voters to request tickets to the Tulsa rally — and then not show up.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) referred to the TikTok plot in a tweet mocking Parscale on Saturday. “Shout out to Zoomers,” she wrote. “Y’all make me so proud.”
Trump’s own coronavirus task force had advised against going forward with holding the indoor rally over fears that it could spread COVID-19. The registration page for the rally included a legal disclaimer saying attendees couldn’t sue Trump or the campaign if they later tested positive for the virus.
Hayley Miller contributed reporting.