Donald Trump has hosted his first indoor rally in three months in front of a packed, mainly mask-less, crowd in Nevada – defying state regulations and his own administration’s guidelines.
Despite a ban on gatherings of more than 50 in Nevada, the president soaked up raucous cheers from the large crowd inside a warehouse in Henderson, outside of Las Vegas.
It is the first time he has gathered supporters indoors since his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June – which featured rows of empty seats and was blamed for a local spike in COVID-19 cases.
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Mr Trump made no early mention of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans and is still claiming around 1,000 lives a day.
While few in the crowd wore masks, those in the stands directly behind Mr Trump – whose images would be shown TV – were made to wear face coverings.
The rally in Tulsa, which was his first in three months after the coronavirus reached American shores, had been a disaster for the campaign.
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One prominent Trump supporter at the rally – businessman and former presidential candidate Herman Cain – died of coronavirus weeks later, though it was not clear if he contracted the illness in Tulsa.
Recognising that many supporters were uncomfortable gathering in a large group indoors, where the virus spreads more easily, the president’s campaign moved to holding smaller, outdoor rallies, usually at aircraft hangers.
But those rallies have increased in size in recent weeks, with little social distancing and few masks.
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And as they returned indoors for the rally on Sunday, temperature checks were given to all upon entrance at the industrial site in Henderson and while masks were encouraged, few wore them.
Nevada’s Democratic governor Steve Sisolak has limited gatherings indoors and outdoors to 50 people since May – a limit based reopening guidelines issued by the White House.
Mr Sisolak said Mr Trump was “taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada”.
“To put it bluntly: he didn’t have the guts to make tough choices,” Mr Sisolak said of Mr Trump’s handling of the virus.
“He left that to governors and the states. Now he’s decided he doesn’t have to respect our state’s laws. As usual, he doesn’t believe the rules apply to him.”
City officials told Xtreme Manufacturing on Sunday that the event as planned was in direct violation of the governor’s COVID-19 emergency directives and that penalties would follow.
The Trump campaign rejected the restrictions.
“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,” campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said.
The campaign so far has not been played out as a choice election between Mr Trump and his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, but rather a referendum on the president’s handling of the coronavirus.
By wide margins, Americans have disapproved of Mr Trump’s leadership, with the US having suffered more deaths than any other nation.
During the rally, he suggested the country’s death toll from coronavirus was 180,000, around 14,000 lower than the actual count.
He also appeared to repeat an endorsement of extra-judicial killings by law enforcement officers, after US marshals killed a man suspected of a fatal shooting in Oregon last month.
During a weekend interview, the president had said: “That’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution.”
And referring during his rally speech to the suspect being shot dead by US marshals, he said: “We sent in the US marshals, it was taken care of in 15 minutes.”