Trump Campaign Denies Rally 'Ticket Hacking' by TikTok Users and K-Pop Fans After Disappointing Turnout

Although President Donald Trump had anticipated a packed audience at the Bank of Oklahoma Center, which seats a total of 19,000 guests, photos from the event show that many seats remained empty

Trump speaks in Tulsa
President Donald Trump speaks at a re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20, 2020.

President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa on Saturday may have had a smaller turnout than expected, but his campaign has denied that “ticket hacking” was responsible for the crowd size.

Although Trump, 74, had anticipated a packed audience at the Bank of Oklahoma Center, which seats a total of 19,000 guests, photos from the event show that the majority of seats in the upper decks of the arena remained empty. The Tulsa Fire Department said less than 6,200 people attended Trump's campaign rally, according to The Hill.

Still, the Trump campaign has pushed back on claims that the smaller crowd was due to “ticket hacking” by teenage TikTok users and K-Pop fans, who reportedly rallied behind calls to reserve tickets to the rally, and then not go, according to The New York Times. Ahead of the rally, the president tweeted that there had been close to one million requests for tickets.

Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale denied that those RSVPs “impacted rally attendance," in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.

“Registering for a rally means you’ve RSVPed with a cell phone number and we constantly weed out bogus numbers, as we did with tens of thousands at the Tulsa rally, in calculating our possible attendee pool. These phony ticket requests never factor into our thinking,” Parscale wrote, noting that as the rally was general admission, prior registration was not required to get a seat.

Parscale went on to claim that the lower turnout was due to “fake news media warning people away from the rally because of COVID and protestors, coupled with recent images of American cities on fire.” A Trump campaign official also told CNN that "we had legitimate 300k signups of Republicans who voted in the last four elections.”

Trump's Tulsa rally
Photo of the crowd at Donald Trump's election rally on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20, 2020.

Although Trump’s campaign spoke critically of coronavirus concerns, the indoor event could have potentially exposed attendees to the virus — a fact the Trump campaign recognized when it forced ticket-buyers to sign a waiver preventing them from suing if they test positive for COVID-19 afterward.

Coronavirus cases have also been on the rise in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has reported that there were 478 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday according to KOCO News.

Exacerbating public health concerns, the Trump campaign announced ahead of the rally that six staffers who helped set up had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Associated Press. Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s communications director, said "quarantine procedures" were followed, and the sick employees would not attend the event.

While seemingly watching the rally at home, singer Pink — who has spoken out against Trump on multiple occasions — criticized the president for holding a rally while the country is continuing to grapple with the health crisis.

Taking a dig at the president, the singer, 40, initially joked about the size of the crowd, quipping, “I think I sold that same place out in five minutes.”

In response to another Twitter user who pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic played a part in the size of the rally crowd, Pink stressed that someone with a massive platform should not be asking their supporters to come together in an indoor public space during the pandemic.

“Here’s my theory; don’t hurt the people that love you. I would never ask people to come to an arena right now. No good person would,” the mother of two wrote.

Before entering, rally attendees reportedly had the option to have their temperatures checked and be given masks and hand sanitizer for the large indoor event. Inside the event, many did not appear to be wearing face masks despite coronavirus concerns.

Trump himself did not wear a face mask.

Speaking about coronavirus testing during the rally, the president said he urged his team to "slow down the testing," and added, "When you do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people, you're going to find more cases. So I said to my people, 'slow the testing down, please.' They test and they test."

The following morning, while appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, White House trade advisor Peter Navarro claimed that Trump’s comment about slowing down testing was “tongue-in-cheek” and a “light moment.”

Tulsa rally
People wait to attend President Donald Trump's re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Trump and his administration have seemingly put less priority on the coronavirus in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence said worry about a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was "overblown," in an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal.

Trump has also claimed that the health crisis is “fading away.”

“We’re very close to a vaccine and we’re very close to therapeutics, really good therapeutics," the president, 74, told Fox News last week. "But even without that, I don’t even like to talk about that, because it’s fading away, it’s going to fade away."

His remarks came as several states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas, are seeing their highest number of new coronavirus cases yet. The national average of daily cases is also trending upward, according to a New York Times tracker.

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