Judge denies emergency request to stop Trump's Tulsa campaign rally due to coronavirus fears
(CNN) -- A judge on Tuesday denied an emergency motion to stop President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday.
The decision came after local lawyers asked the court to block the event unless organizers agreed to take steps to adhere to the administration's own social distancing recommendations to limit the spread of coronavirus. Paul DeMuro, one of the attorneys on the lawsuit trying to block the rally, said that -- despite the emergency motion to block the rally being denied -- the case will head to the state Supreme Court.
"The lawsuit is still intact and moving forward," DeMuro told CNN. "We will continue to fight in the Oklahoma Supreme Court."
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Citing Tulsa health department statistics showing that the highest new coronavirus case count occurred this Monday, the lawyers are suing the parent company of the Bank of Oklahoma Center, the venue slated to host the rally, alleging "despite this alarming uptick in COVID-19 infections in Tulsa County, ASM Global plans to bring tens of thousands of people into an enclosed arena in downtown Tulsa for a political rally on June 20, 2020 ... without putting precautions in place to prevent the spread of the virus."
"As currently planned, the Rally will endanger not only the health of the guests in attendance, but the entire Tulsa community and any community to which the guests may afterward travel. If ASM Global moves forward with the Rally without adequate review, planning, training, protective equipment, and safeguards, cases of COVID-19—and the unavoidable attendant deaths—will rise," the petition states.
The rally would be Trump's first major campaign event since the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of American life, and officials are expecting hundreds of thousands of supporters to attempt to attend. The Bank of Oklahoma Center holds about 20,000 people but the Trump campaign has claimed that more than 1 million individuals have made an online RSVP to attend, though it's dubious how many actually plan on doing so.
The Trump campaign declined to comment on the lawsuit.
DeMuro told CNN that the decision to sue to stop the rally was not political.
"We're not asking to stop the rally. So you need to understand that, first, if Joe Biden, if the Thunder (the NBA team in nearby Oklahoma City), if Garth Brooks was wanting to have a 19,000-person event and this center on Sunday, without abiding by the government mandated CDC guidelines, with respect to mass events, we'd be making the same allegations and filing the same lawsuit," DeMuro said.
"All we're asking, it's very simple: If the President wants to hold a rally here, he needs to abide by the social distancing guidelines of his own (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)."
Trump campaign officials have said that there will be temperature checks upon entry to the arena, and masks and hand sanitizer will be distributed. However, there are no plans to implement social distancing guidelines.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a series of community groups and two specific individuals, who the attorneys describe as particularly vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19. In their complaint, they describe the indoor event as a "super spreader" that could end up impacting even people who choose not to attend. They point to the CDC-recommended guidelines in their complaint as evidence that the proposed event could cause a great danger to the public.
Lara Trump, a senior Trump campaign adviser and daughter-in-law to the President, said in an interview with Fox News on Monday that the campaign will not "enforce that everybody wear a mask" at the rally.
"We are offering people masks," Lara Trump said. "If they choose to wear them, we are happy with that. If they choose not to wear them, we are not going to go around and enforce that everybody wear a mask."
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While DeMuro says the lawsuit isn't political, the groups also appear to be sending another message as well.
The lawsuit notes Tulsa's past, including the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, one of the most violent racist events in American history in which a white mob killed hundreds of African Americans and destroyed the Greenwood neighborhood, also known as Black Wall Street.
After the campaign announced the rally would be held in Tulsa on Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves after the end of the Civil War, Trump faced intense political pressure and made a rare reversal by moving the rally to Saturday.
The plaintiffs in the case include the Greenwood Centre, a group entrusted with the ownership and management of buildings in the historic neighborhood, and the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, which is described as a group that "organizes and hosts events in downtown Tulsa dedicated to bringing awareness to issues of racial discrimination and keeping alive the memory of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre."
Local and campaign officials have described the planning of this rally as chaotic.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, a Republican, wrote on Tuesday in a Facebook post that he did not know the "invitation had been extended" for Saturday's campaign rally.
"Was the nation's first large campaign rally after the arrival of COVID-19 my idea? No. I didn't even know the invitation had been extended until BOK Center management contacted the City regarding Police support for the event," Bynum wrote. "Do I share anxiety about having a full house at the BOK Center? Of course. As someone who is cautious by nature, I don't like to be the first to try anything. I would have loved some other city to have proven the safety of such an event already."
State and city officials told CNN they are expecting roughly 200,000 people to be in Tulsa for the rally. Since the BOK Center only holds 20,000, the huge amount of interest has lead to the exploration of additional venues for overflow or some sort of second event.
A Trump campaign official told Tuesday CNN that they are exploring options for a second, overflow venue to accommodate the expected response to the rally. The campaign has yet to firm up those plans, but said that the main rally won't change.
The second location would serve as an additional opportunity for supporters of the President to take part in the event and it is "likely" that the President will appear at that venue in person.
A number of options are being considered for the second venue, including outdoor locations, but the goal is to find a second venue that is "adjacent" to the BOK Center.
This story and its headline have been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
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