For the first time in nearly three months, President Donald Trump held a giant indoor rally, blatantly flouting restrictions on indoor gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic and endangering thousands of people in order to repeat the same attacks on Democratic nominee Joe Biden he’s been making for the past year and a half.
The facility that hosted the rally, Xtreme Manufacturing in Henderson, Nevada, was issued written and verbal warnings that it risked a fine up to $500 or even the suspension or revocation of its business license for hosting the rally. A Henderson city spokesperson said holding the rally “would be in direct violation of the governor’s COVID-19 emergency directives.”
Restrictions put in place by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak earlier this year ban indoor gatherings of more than 50 people. "If the governor comes after you, which he shouldn’t be doing, I’ll be with you all the way,” Trump said of the facility.
Henderson is Nevada’s second-largest city, with more than 279,000 residents. The city lies 16 miles outside Las Vegas, which is home to another 650,000 people. Very few people at the rally practiced social distancing or wore masks, two musts of COVID-19 mitigation touted by Trump’s own federal government.
A city spokesperson told VICE News that Henderson doesn’t have an official count of attendees and directed questions to Xtreme Manufacturing. The company didn’t answer a call from VICE News on Monday. Its website says it has “restricted meetings and gatherings to no more than 10 people in large areas, and when possible, to attend meetings by telephone or video conferencing.”
The Trump campaign defended the move. “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 1st Amendment to hear from the President of the United States,” communications director Tim Murtaugh told The Associated Press.
Nevada officials, however, were furious at the Trump campaign for holding the rally. “This is an insult to every Nevadan who has followed the directives, made sacrifices, and put their neighbors before themselves,” Sisolak said in a Twitter thread on Sunday. “It’s also a direct threat to all of the recent progress we’ve made, and could potentially set us back.”
Trump’s last indoor rally, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was held during the peak of the pandemic in June and had a fraction of the Trump campaign’s expected attendance. Still, roughly 6,200 people attended, including former presidential candidate and Trump surrogate Herman Cain; he died of COVID-19 less than two months later.
In the weeks following the rally, Tulsa County saw a spike in COVID-19 cases, and dozens of Secret Service agents were forced to quarantine after two members contracted coronavirus.
Attendees of the rally in Henderson, however, didn’t seem to be much bothered by the global pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. alone.
"This is our First Amendment, it's my right to choose," 60-year-old Filomena McGuigan told CNN. "This is not a dictatorship, this is a republic. And we have a right to be who we are and take whatever risks we so desire."
Those in attendance were treated to the standard Trump rally fare, with the president attacking Biden for his mental state and accusing him of being complicit in a “dangerous war on the police.” He once again falsely accused former President Barack Obama’s administration of spying on his 2016 campaign, and again implied that he wants to run for more than two terms in office, which would be a direct violation of the 22nd Amendment.
"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,” Trump said.
Trump also defended himself from charges that the administration hasn’t done enough on COVID-19. "We did the right thing. We closed [the border], we saved millions of lives," he said. "We're at 180,000 [deaths]. Other countries are doing terribly. We have done an incredible job, we get absolutely no credit for the job we've done."
More than 194,000 people have died so far in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University. And based on current projections by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations, the U.S. could surpass 415,000 deaths by January 1.
Cover: Supporters wait for President Donald Trump to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)