Donald Trump was reportedly told by a Black Secret Service agent that it would be “very offensive” for him to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Juneteenth in the days before he made the decision to push back the date for the 2020 rally.
The revelation is made in Wall Street Journal writer Michael Bender’s upcoming book Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost, which will be published on 10 August.
In an excerpt from the book published by Politico, Bender describes how Trump officials had discussed possible locations and dates for the plans ahead of the rally.
Among the potential locations named were Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Ultimately, the campaign settled on Oklahoma, which had reportedly been put on campaign manager Brad Parscale’s list of possibilities after he asked then-Vice President Mike Pence about which state run by a Trump-friendly Republican had the most flexible Covid restrictions in the country.
According to Bender, it was Mr Parscale who first recommended holding the Tulsa rally on 19 June.
The journalist said no one on the team flagged concerns over the date – or the “combination of time and place – as potentially problematic”.
“Had Parscale bothered to ask Katrina Pierson, the highest-ranking Black staffer on the campaign and a close friend of Parscale’s, she would have told him that June 19 was Juneteenth, a significant holiday for Black Americans that commemorated the end of slavery,” Mr Bender wrote.
“She also would have said to him that Tulsa, as most Black Americans are well aware, had been home to one of the bloodiest outbreaks of racial violence in the nation’s history.”
When Republican National Committee (RNC) staffers heard about the plans, however, they “immediately” warned Mr Parscale against the plans, with RNC chairperson Ronna McDaniel warning him: “Don’t do this,” according to Bender.
“The media is not going to give us the benefit of the doubt, especially now,” Ms McDaniel reportedly said.
Despite the warnings, he pushed on with the plans, despite having time to modify them, Bender said.
Once the plans came to light, sparking outrage among Democrats, Mr Trump was reportedly taken aback by the backlash, questioning those around him on whether they knew what Juneteenth was.
Two days after announcing the rally, the former president reportedly turned to a Secret Service agent, who was Black, questioning him about the day.
“I know what it is. And it’s very offensive to me that you’re having this rally on Juneteenth,” the Secret Service agent told Mr Trump, according to Bender.
Later that night, Mr Trump posted on Twitter that he wanted to change the date of his rally, with the event taking place the day after Juneteenth on 20 June, 2020, instead.
In the days before the rally, Bender writes that he met with the president for an interview and that Mr Trump attempted to put a fresh spin on the controversy, asserting that he had put Juneteenth on the public’s radar.
“Nobody had heard of it,” Mr Trump reportedly claimed.
Bender said the then-president was surprised to learn his own administration had put out statements in his first three years of office to commemorate Juneteenth.
“Oh really?” Mr Trump responded, according to the journalist. “We put out a statement? The Trump White House put out a statement?”
He then later still insisted that he had done “something good” by sparking the controversy.
“I made Juneteenth very famous,” he said.
In the end the Tulsa rally was seen as a disaster, with just 6,200 people scattered around the 19,000-capacity BOK Center arena for what was Mr Trump’s first rally in three months. Concern over the pandemic and a campaign by TikTok users and K-Pop fans to falsely reserve seats were blamed.
During the rally he said he had told his coronavirus experts to “slow the testing down”, apparently to disguise the true number of infections, which played into critics’ assessment that he was not taking the pandemic seriously.
Mr Trump’s friend and one-time candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Herman Cain, attended the rally and was shortly afterward diagnosed as having Covid-19, which he died from on 30 July. It was not clear whether Mr Cain had become infected as a result of his attendance.
On his return to the White House, video and photographs showed an apparently dejected Mr Trump walking slowly from Marine One, looking tired and with his tie uncharacteristically unfastened.
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