Donald Trump’s campaign has defended his decision to hold a political rally indoors today, brushing off concerns about the crowd’s safety amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The US President spoke at a facility run by Xtreme Manufacturing, a company that makes construction equipment, in Henderson, Nevada.
It was his first indoor rally since the one in Tulsa, Oklahoma back in June.
Attendees were required to undergo temperature checks, and were encouraged to use masks and hand sanitiser, both of which were provided by the campaign.
But the City of Henderson warned the event violated an order from Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, limiting public gatherings to 50 people. Before the rally started, it sent a compliance letter and verbal warning to Xtreme Manufacturing.
“If the Governor’s directives are not followed, the city may assess a fine of up to $US500 per violation as well as suspend or revoke the business licence,” said city spokeswoman Kathleen Richards.
“If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the First Amendment to hear from the President of the United States,” campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
That argument did not satisfy Mr Sisolak, who posted an extended criticism of the rally on Twitter.
“Tonight, President Donald Trump is taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada,” he said.
“The President is knowingly packing thousands into an indoor venue to hold a political rally. The President appears to have forgotten that this country is still in the middle of a global pandemic.
“As usual, he doesn’t believe the rules apply to him. Instead, he came into our state and blatantly disregarded the emergency directives and tough choices made to fight this pandemic and begin reopening our economy by hosting an indoor gathering that’s categorised as ‘high risk’ according to his own Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s a direct threat to all of the recent progress we’ve made, and could potentially set us back.
“The President’s actions this weekend are shameful, dangerous and irresponsible.”
Mr Trump started the rally with one of his current favourite jokes, quipping that he might seek a third term in four years if he wins the upcoming election.
There is no actual chance of that happening, as the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution limits presidents to two terms in office.
“Fifty-one days from now, we’re going to win Nevada, and we’re going to win four more years in the White House. And after we win four more years, we’ll ask for maybe another four or so,” Mr Trump said, sparking huge cheers from the crowd.
That line has been a frequent feature of the President’s recent appearances. He seems to think it annoys the media.
“Thank you very much. You know, whenever I say that, I watch – look at all that news back there, look at all that fake news,” he continued, pointing to the media section at the back of the room.
“When I say that, their heads explode.”
He then mentioned the horrific shooting of two Los Angeles police officers, who were ambushed while sitting in their patrol car on Saturday night.
“The radical left in America is waging open war on law enforcement. Hundreds of officers nationwide have been injured in left-wing riots and mobs. You see it. You see it all the time,” said Mr Trump.
“Sleepy Joe Biden and his supporters continue their dangerous war on the police. They’re putting the lives of our brave officers directly in harm’s way. At his convention, he never even mentioned the words law and order.
“Now he’s all of a sudden – his polls are dropping like a rock, and he’s starting to say, ‘We need law and order.’ And then he goes back into the basement for four days. What happens to this guy? I know what happened to him. He’s shot, that’s what happened to him.”
There are a few things to fact check there.
It is true that Mr Biden did not mention law enforcement in his speech to the Democratic convention last month. Nor did he explicitly mention the protests against police brutality across much of the US, some of which have deteriorated into violence.
In the aftermath of the convention, under sustained political pressure to address the rioting, Mr Biden did give a speech on the subject urging Americans to “stand against violence in every form it takes”.
“I want to make it absolutely clear, so I’m going to be very clear about all of this. Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting,” he said in that speech.
“None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. Those who do it should be prosecuted.
“Violence will not bring change, it will only bring destruction. It’s wrong in every way.”
The line about Mr Biden hiding in his basement is another of the President’s recurring favourites. The Democrat has, in fact, been doing campaign events across the country, though he has not held a large scale rally since his party’s primaries, citing the pandemic.
Finally, Mr Biden’s lead in the polls has been stable at more than 7 per cent since the beginning of August, though the race is much closer in the key battleground states, where he’s only ahead by about 3 per cent.
Whether those polls can even be trusted is a whole other matter.
OK, back to Mr Trump’s speech.
The President complained that the Biden campaign had created an attack ad based on a recent story in The Atlantic, which cited unnamed sources to claim he had called fallen US soldiers “losers” and “suckers”.
“Biden is too weak to be president, and he’s not a smart person,” he said.
“He wasn’t smart 25 years ago. Everybody knew it. Now we don’t even have to discuss the matter.
“But I was going to say, when he put that ad up – we told him to take it down – when he put that ad up that dishonoured our fallen heroes. They are great, great heroes of mine, of yours, of everybody’s.”
This is the ad in question. It features some military veterans slamming Mr Trump.
The President then transitioned into a riff about his predecessor, Barack Obama,
“No bad person, the worst person I know – I saw some beauties, I know some beauties from New York. I know some developers in New York, actually. Nobody would say what they said. They made it up. It was a made up statement, and they put it up in the form of an ad, from a third-rate magazine whose best friend is Obama,” he said.
“Who, by the way, got caught spying on my campaign. He got caught. We caught him cold. We have him cold. Now let’s see what happens.”
The crowd responded by chanting, “Lock him up!” – a reprise of the “Lock her up!” chant Mr Trump’s supporters used against Hillary Clinton four years ago.
Mr Trump’s allegation that Mr Obama illegally directed US intelligence agencies to “spy” on his campaign – a theory he calls Obamagate – is not supported by the facts.
Multiple investigations, conducted by both major parties in Congress and Mr Trump’s own Justice Department, have found no evidence the former president was involved in initiating the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, which targeted four people with ties to the 2016 Trump campaign.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane,” the Justice Department Inspector-General said in his report, using the FBI operation’s code name.
The investigations also found no evidence that Mr Obama interfered in the operation after it started.
Mr Trump did briefly address his campaign’s decision to hold the rally indoors, reassuring the owner of Xtreme Manufacturing that he would stand with him “all the way” if Mr Sisolak tried to punish him for hosting it.
“We had many sites, by the way. All exterior sites, all outside,” he said.
“And if the governor comes after you, which he shouldn’t be doing, I’ll be with you all the way. Don’t worry about a thing.”
The President has resumed regular campaigning in recent weeks, having suspended his trademark rallies at the height of America’s epidemic. But his other events have all been outdoors.
Over the weekend, he spoke to supporters at Minden-Tahoe Airport – which is also in Nevada – and compared his throng of supporters Mr Biden’s socially distanced campaign events.
“The governor of your state tried very hard to stop us from having this event tonight,” the President said.
“They can have riots and they can have all sorts of things, and that’s OK. You can burn up the house, that’s OK.
“We call this a protest, because if you call it a protest, you’re allowed to have it. It’s OK. So if anybody asks outside, this is called a friendly protest, OK? It’s true.
“You can’t have political rallies. That’s because of me. Because if Biden were here, he’d have about three people. Do you ever see him with his little circles? The circle? You know why he puts the circles. Because he wants to be correct with COVID.
“But it’s not really, because they can’t get anybody to fill up a room. So they put up these big circles. So he can’t get anybody to fill. Nobody wants to go.”
As we mentioned earlier, Mr Biden has not held any rallies since the Democratic primaries. His events typically feature just a handful of people – the exact number varies, depending on the coronavirus guidelines of whichever state he’s in – and face masks are mandatory.
“I really miss being able to, you know, grab hands and shake hands. You can’t do that now,” he told his supporters recently.
Mr Trump spent a few minutes at his Minden rally criticising Mr Sisolak, along with the news media, and celebrating the size of his crowds.
“Your governor tried to stop us. He tried to stop us. The governor of Nevada, he tried to stop us, and we went to different venues,” he said.
“Kelly O’Donnell, she’s a fading reporter for NBC. Do you know that? She was on, she said, ‘Well, they have a crowd tonight.’ Behind her it looked like 25,000 people. That’s what we have, by the way, a lot more coming in. But she said, ‘He’s got maybe a thousand people. A thousand.’ You know what I got? I have a thousand people here.
“No, this is the fake news. You know what? It’s not a question of how many. They are just a bunch of dishonest people. I’ve never seen anything like it. Being in real estate and being in New York and being in all over, I’ve seen a lot of dishonest people. I think the media, the fake news, is the most dishonest group of people I’ve ever seen anywhere in my entire life.
“And that includes, by the way, leaders of foreign countries that aren’t our friends, OK? That’s a big statement. They really are bad news. But here we are, and this is really amazing. The governor tried to stop us. He couldn’t.
“But think of this, he’s in control of millions of votes. Here’s a guy calling venues, telling them not to have the rally, calling different venues. ‘Don’t have the really. We’re not going to let you have the rally.’ And he’s calling, this governor who was a political hack. He was a political hack, and then he became governor.
“This is the guy that we’re entrusting with millions of ballots, unsolicited ballots, millions and millions. And then we’re supposed to win these states, and we have a guy that would do that, where he won’t let us have – and we call it a protest, and therefore we can do it.
“But you want to know something? It’s a disgrace. So who the hell is going to trust? They say, ‘Trust government.’ Well, how would you trust a guy that fought that we aren’t here, that we can’t have all these thousands of people?
“Boy, you really are back far. That’s – look at that. No, but seriously. And now he’s in charge of the election and the millions of ballots. So if I’m up, like, millions of votes, he can rig the election. He can rig the election.”
That whole “rig the election” thing was an allusion to mail voting, which Mr Trump argues will lead to widespread fraud. You can read more about that issue here.
The US continues to record about 40,000 new cases of the coronavirus and a thousand new deaths each day. In total, 6.7 million Americans have been infected and 198,000 have died.
The Biden campaign has attacked Mr Trump for holding large rallies while the virus is still spreading.
“If Donald Trump cared at all about curbing this virus and protecting the safety of his supporters, he wouldn’t hold events like this. But Trump doesn’t and he won’t,” campaign spokesman Mike Gwin said today.
“Every rally turned superspreader event Donald Trump decides to hold serves as another reminder to Americans that Trump still refuses to take the pandemic seriously and still doesn’t have a plan to stop it.”