By The Washington Post · Colby Itkowitz · NATIONAL, HEALTH, POLITICS
About three hours ahead of Trump's scheduled speech, police were demanding that protesters clear the highway.
At the event, he plans to lament "the left wing mob" and so-called "cancel culture."
"If we tear down our history, we will not be able to understand ourselves or America's destiny. The left wing mob and those practicing cancel culture are engaging in totalitarian behavior that is completely alien to American life - and we must not accept it," Trump will say, according to a campaign official with knowledge of the speech.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, confirmed this week that social distancing won't be enforced and that the approximately 7,500 expected attendees will not be required to wear masks. The United States on Thursday recorded the largest single-day total of new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, and on Friday a number of states set new case records.
"We will have a large event on July 3. We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home, but those who want to come and join us, we'll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one. But we won't be social distancing," Noem said Monday in an interview on Fox News. "We're asking them to come - be ready to celebrate, to enjoy the freedoms and the liberties that we have in this country."
The Mount Rushmore event is just the beginning of Trump's planned Fourth of July weekend celebrations. On Saturday, the president is expected to watch military displays and the annual fireworks show from the White House, and he is also expected to give an address. Before heading to South Dakota, Trump spent several hours Friday golfing at his private club in Sterling, Va.
While the governor and the president are billing the event as a celebration, some see it as an insult. Trump is expected to be met by protests organized by Native American leaders, who have criticized the president's use of the memorial, which they say was built on sacred tribal land, as well as the risk the event poses to the environment and to public health.
"The whole Black Hills is sacred. For them to come and carve the presidents, slave owners who have no meaning to us, it was an insult," Ricky Gray Grass, a member of the Oglala Sioux's executive council, told The Washington Post earlier this week.
The tribes also warn that Trump's push for fireworks at the event, which have been banned at the site for more than a decade, could result in wildfires and contaminate the water in the surrounding Black Hills. And they have voiced serious concern that a massive gathering without any safety restrictions could cause a coronavirus outbreak in their communities.
Trump, who has faced criticism from lawmakers in both parties for his refusal to wear a mask in public and reluctance to encourage Americans to do so, maintains that the surge of new cases is a result of increased testing capacity and that the virus will soon "disappear."
"There is a rise in Coronavirus cases because our testing is so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country," Trump tweeted late Thursday. "This is great news, but even better news is that death, and the death rate, is DOWN. Also, younger people, who get better much easier and faster!"
Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious-disease doctor, and other public health officials have repeatedly warned that without social distancing and other precautions like masks, the coronavirus will spread out of control.
At Trump's first campaign rally since the nation effectively shut down, held June 20 in Tulsa, Okla., neither social distancing nor mask use was required. Ahead of the event, several advance staffers tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing dozens of Secret Service officers and agents to self-quarantine because of the risk of exposure. This week, Vice President Mike Pence postponed a trip to Arizona by a day after several Secret Service agents tested positive or showed symptoms of the coronavirus.
Democrats have criticized the president's decision to go forward with mass gatherings this weekend, which defy guidance from his own Centers for Disease Control that people avoid close contact by staying at least six-feet apart.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said Friday morning on MSNBC that many Americans would love to celebrate the Fourth of July as they always have, but understand it's not safe.
"And here's the president wandering off to Mount Rushmore, where we know he aspires to have his face placed, and continue to have this be all about himself," Doggett said.
A Trump campaign staffer tweeted an image of Trump's face carved next to George Washington with the caption, "Mount Rushmore, improved."
The tweet appears to be a response to a picture of the monument being blown up that was tweeted using that same caption.
The Fourth of July celebration at the national landmark arrives at a moment of national reckoning over America's racist past. Advocates for racial justice have called for a more nuanced recounting of the country's history, including the fact that revered figures like Washington and Thomas Jefferson, whose likeness is also carved into the mountain, were slave owners.
Conservatives have seized on this, accusing those who have advocated for the removal of statues and monuments - mostly those connected to the Confederacy - as an effort to erase America's history.
"To celebrate Independence Day, @realDonaldTrump is going to tell the TRUTH about American history-and the truth about the people tearing down our statues/history," tweeted Donald Trump Jr. "At the foot of Mount Rushmore tonight, our @POTUS will defend and celebrate America's founding."
Ahead of Trump's visit to the monument, the Mississippi flag was removed from an area of the site where all 50 states' and U.S. territories' flags fly. The state's legislature voted this week to remove the Confederate symbol from its flag and thus the Mississippi flagpole will be empty.