Trump Mt. Rushmore Event Sparks COVID-19 Fear, Native American Outrage

Getty/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds Supporters of US President Donald Trump ride through Keystone, South Dakota, on July 3, 2020, before a fireworks celebration for the Fourth of July holiday at Mount Rushmore National Monument and the visit of US President Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump is set to attend a massive event on Friday at the foot of Mt. Rushmore to celebrate July 4. Public health experts warned that it could be be a disaster waiting to happen and Native American activists also expressed displeasure with the symbolism of the event.

More than 7.500 people are expected to show for the fireworks show, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem confirmed on Friday that there would be no social distancing — or masks — required, CNN reported. With coronavirus cases on the rise in many parts of the country and warnings of severe wildfire risks, the wisdom of the event is being widely questioned.

Here’s what you need to know:

The Event Will Feature the First Fireworks Display at Mt. Rushmore in 10 Years & Is Expected to Draw 7,500 People

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A Donald Trump supporter holding a QAnon flag at Mt. Rushmore on July 1, days before Trump was to visit for a fireworks display.

The event is set to kick off after dark Friday evening and feature a fireworks display — the first to be held at the monument in 10 years, according to CNN.

Trump is expected to speak at the event, before the fireworks display, Fox News reported.

Tickets were given out through a lottery system, with applicants who scored a ticket assigned to either amphitheater seating or spots along Highway 244.

“The President looks forward to taking part in the Independence Day festivities, hosted by Governor Noem, and celebrating the greatest country the world has ever known capped off with a magnificent fireworks display above the great faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told the Washington Post.

Gov. Kristi Noem Said There Would Be No Social Distancing At the Event, Even as Coronavirus Cases Are on the Rise

The hybrid Trump rally and 4th of July fireworks show will not feature social distancing or require protective masks, Governor Kristi Noem told Fox News Friday, even as coronavirus cases are on the rise in most states.

There will be signs throughout the park urging visitors to wear masks when they cannot stay six feet away from others, according to the Post. South Dakota had 6,978 positive coronavirus cases Friday, up from 6,893 Thursday, KELO TV reported.

Doctor and infectious disease expert Celine Gounder told the Hill that the event was “beyond irresponsible” and potentially a breeding ground for new cases.

“I mean, this is extremely dangerous behavior,” she said. “And unfortunately, this has become so politicized where you abide by public health and scientific recommendations on the basis of your political beliefs not based on the science. And people are really going to be harmed as a result of this.”

Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain tweeted on Wednesday that he was pleased masks would not be required at the event. Cain attended Trump’s largely mask-free Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally last month, and on Thursday was hospitalized after testing positive for coronavirus.

Criticism of the Event Also Centers Around the Danger of Wildfires & the Optics of Trump Speaking on Controversial Monuments on Land Stolen From the Lakota People

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Getty/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
An activist and member of a tribe from the region protests in Keystone, South Dakota on July 3, 2020, during a demonstration around the Mount Rushmore National Monument and the visit of US President Donald Trump

The reason fireworks haven’t been held at the monument in 10 years is that the area is extremely susceptible to wildfires, CNN reported.

Meteorologist Brandon Miller said the time of year makes the surrounding forest particularly volatile, adding that the region is in a moderate drought, further increasing the risk, the outlet reported.

A spokesman for Noem told the Associated Press that a 20-person fire crew and three extra fire engines will be standing by in case of any issues and that he was “feeling good about our ability to put on a safe and celebratory event.”

Reports Friday afternoon, however, also indicated that Trump was poised to deliver a highly political speech rather than a typical Independence Day address. And the optics of that on land that was stolen from the Lakota people, at the current moment, are apparently not pleasing local tribal leaders.

“The Black Hills do not belong to Trump, and visiting this monument to white supremacy is an unacceptable political stunt,” Nick Tilsen,president of NDN Collective and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, wrote in an op-ed Thursday.

Trump is expected to rail against “left-wing mobs” in the wake of widespread protests and efforts to remove statues honoring the Confederacy and problematic founding figures.

“Visitors look upon the faces of those presidents and extol the virtues that they believe make America the country it is today,” Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, told Politico. “Lakota see the faces of the men who lied, cheated and murdered innocent people whose only crime was living on the land they wanted to steal.”

The entire program will last from approximately 4 p.m. MST to 10 p.m. MST, with the fireworks happening at approximately 9:30-9:45 p.m. MST.

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