Donald Trump vowed to defeat “the radical left”, “Marxists” and “anarchists” in an electioneering Independence Day speech at the White House, a day after striking a similarly combative tone at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.
“We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and people who in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing,” the US president said at the “Salute to America” event on the White House south lawn on Saturday evening.
The Washington gathering was ostensibly to mark the July 4 holiday, which commemorates the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence. But the president used his speech to emphasise his campaign theme ahead of November’s election: that an intolerant form of “leftwing fascism” was attempting to silence free speech, indoctrinate Americans and rewrite history.
The event was held despite the objections of public health officials and Muriel Bowser, the Democratic mayor of Washington, DC, who raised concerns about the possible spread of coronavirus. Most attendees at the White House celebration did not appear to be wearing face masks.
Many local authorities had cancelled July 4 events as the coronavirus outbreak has worsened across America’s “Sun Belt” — notably in Florida, California, Texas, Arizona and Georgia — forcing many states to reverse efforts to reopen their economies.
Mr Trump again on Saturday blamed China for the spread of the coronavirus, saying the US had “made a lot of progress” and its “strategy was moving along well”. The president said the high number of cases was the result of widespread testing. He claimed 99 per cent of coronavirus cases were “totally harmless”.
But mainly Mr Trump used Saturday’s event to revive his calls for “law and order” following widespread protests in response to the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man, by a white Minneapolis police officer in May. The president has focused on property damage and the destruction of Civil War monuments during some of the protests.
“We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children, or trample on our freedoms,” the president said on Saturday.
It was a message Mr Trump delivered in even more strident terms on Friday night at an event at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.
Standing in front of the massive sculpture of American presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, Mr Trump denounced a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history” by what he described as “far-left fascism”.
Friday’s event, which included large crowds in close quarters with few people wearing masks, also raised concerns among public health officials.
With four months to go until election day, the Independence Day events underscore how the president is framing a “culture war” message around law and order in a re-election campaign stymied by the outbreak of Covid-19.
Mr Trump has only recently begun holding in-person rallies and fundraising events, though after a significantly smaller-than-expected crowd in Tulsa his campaign has no other rallies planned for the near future.
The president’s poll numbers have dropped sharply in recent weeks, with many Americans disapproving of his handling of both the coronavirus pandemic and widespread civil unrest following Floyd’s killing. Most national polls show the president trailing Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, by double digits.
Mr Biden, who did not make any public appearances on Saturday but released a July 4 video message, leads in all of the “battleground” states that are key in the Electoral College system to winning the White House.
Mr Trump, a frequent critic of the news media, also used Saturday’s event at the White House to launch an attack on the press and accuse journalists of “slander”.
“Let me also say a word to those in the media who falsely and consistently label their opponents as racists, who condemn patriotic citizens who offer a clear and truthful defence of American unity: when you level these false charges, you not only slander me, you not only slander the American people, but you slander generations of heroes who gave their lives for America. You slander people much braver and more principled than you.”