(AP) — Rick Frazier drove more than 750 miles from Ohio to Tulsa to be one of the first campers in line for President Donald Trump’s first rally in months, undeterred by a days-long wait in searing heat, the growing risk of the coronavirus or a lukewarm reception from local officials.
The 64-year-old is among scores of supporters who have brought their vans, tents, campers and Trump flags to the parking lots and sidewalks outside the 19,000-seat BOK Center, and who say what matters most is being there to see the president take the stage on Saturday — and to be sure he knows they have his back.
“The big thing is to go in and support the president,” said Frazier, who arrived Tuesday for what will be his 21st Trump rally. Frazier said he feels safe, noting he and other campers are using hand sanitizer to prevent spread of COVID-19.
Trump rallies are known for being big events with a sometimes festival-like atmosphere, and have always drawn die-hard fans who sleep outside for days to secure a spot and pass time at a kind of political tailgate party. The groups gathering in Tulsa are taking that loyalty to a new level, though some called the coronavirus threat “an exaggeration.”
Temperatures in Tulsa have reached the 90s, and the Trump faithful are camped in an area with hardly a spot of shade. While Trump said Thursday he picked Oklahoma partly because “you’ve done so well with the COVID,” the city has seen record numbers of new coronavirus cases this week, and Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart has pushed for postponing the event.
Trump said there had been “tremendous requests for tickets” and that there will be “a crowd like I guess nobody has seen before,” creating the kind of packed, indoor space that scientists say heighten the virus’ spread more than outdoors.
His rallies typically include a lot of shouting and chanting, and attendees often travel from long distances, prompting fears they could be infected and then spread it to people back home. In an attempt to protect itself from lawsuits, Trump’s campaign added language to the event registration stating guests assumed risk for expose to COVID-19.
But meeting with Trump at the White House Thursday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt pledged the state is ready, noting its rate of positive COVID-19 tests is lower than many other states. As of this week, Tulsa County has displaced Oklahoma County as the state’s leading COVID-19 hotspot with 1,825 cases.