MOUNT RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL, S.D. - US President Donald Trump opened his Fourth of July address on Saturday by saying to the crowd gathered in South Dakota’s famous Mount Rushmore that “as your president” he vows that this monument, Mount Rushmore, “will never be desecrated.”
The crowd erupted in cheer and began to chant “USA, USA”. Trump railed against "angry mobs" that tried to tear down statues of Confederate leaders and other historical figures, warning thousands of supporters at Mount Rushmore that protesters were trying to erase US history.
Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who created Mount Rushmore between 1927 to 1941, was a member of the KKK.Trump repeated his promise that those who harm monuments will serve a "minimum of ten years in prison." In his speech, Trump expanded on the personal histories of each of the presidents honored on Mount Rushmore, ending each passage with a promise that Americans will always remember these great men. He ended that portion of the speech by saying that anyone who objects to teaching this history "can not have love of America in their hearts." He went on to say he will sign a Presidential Order today creating the National Guard of American Heroes, a park in which monuments for great Americans will be placed. In his speech he included such noted persons as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Ella Fitzgerald.
On a day when seven US states posted a record number of new COVID-19 cases, the pandemic reached Trump's inner circle. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior campaign official and the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., tested positive in South Dakota before the event, according to Sergio Gor, a Trump campaign official. Trump Jr. has tested negative, Gor said.
The event drew 7,500 people, packed tightly into an amphitheater. Many did not wear masks, defying the advice of public-health officials who have urged Americans to avoid large gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Speaking underneath a famed landmark that depicts four US presidents, Trump warned that the demonstrations over racial inequality in American society threatened the foundations of the US political system.
"Make no mistake, this left wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American revolution," Trump said.
"Our children are taught in school to hate their own country," he added.
Trump announced that he would create a "National Garden of American Heros," which he described as a large outdoor park featuring statues of "the greatest Americans who ever lived." He did not provide further details.
In the nationwide unrest following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, protesters in several cities have vandalized the statues of Confederate generals that led a rebellion against the US government during an 1861-65 civil war.
Protesters in one instance unsuccessfully tried to pull down a statue of US President Andrew Jackson outside the White House. Jackson, known for his populist policies, owned slaves and forced thousands of Native Americans from their homes.
"Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities," he said.
Trump has opposed proposals to rename US military bases that are named after Confederate generals and vowed harsh punishment for people who damage statues.
The evening program was not an official campaign event, but Trump's remarks touched on key campaign themes meant to energize his political base ahead of the November 3 election.
"There is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. Not gonna happen to us," he said.
Mount Rushmore, which depicts US presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, has not hosted a fireworks spectacle since 2009 because of environmental concerns.
Trump advocated for a resumption of the display, and the state says the surrounding Black Hills National Forest has "gained strength" since then and that fireworks technology has advanced.
Native American protesters were arrested after blocking a road to the South Dakota landmark, according to video livestreamed on social media. They have criticized Trump's visit for increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19 and for celebrating US independence in an area that is sacred to them.
South Dakota, a solidly Republican state, has not been hit as hard as other states by COVID-19, but cases in Pennington County, where Mount Rushmore is located, have more than doubled over the past month.
Trump will hold another celebration for the July 4 holiday on Saturday in Washington.