President Donald Trump on Friday accused "angry mobs" of trying to erase history with efforts to remove or rethink monuments to US historical figures and used a speech at Mount Rushmore to paint himself as a bulwark against left-wing extremism.
On a day when seven US states posted a record number of new COVID-19 cases, the pandemic moved further into 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 tested negative, Gor said.
The pre-July 4 holiday event drew 7,500 people, packed into an outdoor amphitheater. Many did not wear masks, defying the advice of health officials who have urged Americans to avoid large gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Trump has not worn a mask in public and made only limited reference to the pandemic in his remarks.
Speaking underneath the famed landmark depicting four US presidents, Trump warned that the demonstrations over racial inequality 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."
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 leaders, including Confederate generals who led a rebellion against the US government during the 1861-65 US civil war.
"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," Trump said.
Trump trails presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in opinion polls in key states and is eager to boost his campaign through a tough response to social unrest.
"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," Trump said.
Trump's speech at Mount Rushmore, which depicts US presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, comes amid Native American protests. Some were arrested after blocking a road to the South Dakota landmark, according to video 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.
The president will hold another celebration for the July 4 holiday on Saturday in Washington.