Thousands of President Trump supporters converged on the Minden-Tahoe Airport in rural Northern Nevada Saturday night for a campaign rally that violated the state’s COVID-19 emergency order limiting public gatherings to 50 people.
There were temperature checks at entrances, but many attendees did not wear masks or keep six feet apart at the outdoor venue, which is 40 minutes from South Lake Tahoe.
Keri Barnes, a public school teacher from Reno, went to the rally and decided to wear a mask. “I don’t want to bring home COVID to my kids,” she said. “That’s the only reason why I would wear it while I’m here. But I still want to support Trump and everything that he does.”
During a 90-minute speech, Trump attacked Nevada’s new vote-by-mail law, which was adopted during the second special legislative session of the summer to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“The Democrats are trying to rig the election,” he said.
Nevada’s Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, whose office oversees voting, is the lone Republican in a statewide office. She also has publicly opposed the new law, which will send ballots to every active, registered voter in the state. The Trump campaign is currently suing Nevada over its mostly mail-in election.
During his speech, Trump urged his supporters to monitor polling places.
“We can’t let that happen,” Trump said of the vote-my-bail policies. “I hope you are all going to be poll-watchers. I hope you are. Because with you people watching the polls, it’s going to be pretty hard to cheat.”
The president also said he expected those at the rally would have done more to stop vandalism and arson during racial-justice demonstrations in Reno earlier this summer.
“Here in Nevada, rioters burned the City Hall in Reno. Does anybody know that, do you know that? That’s not a pleasant sight,” said Trump, referencing fires inside the building after a protest against police violence in May. “How did you allow that to happen? I would have thought you people would have gotten out there and said ‘You’re not going to burn our City Hall.’”
Trump blamed Antifa, although no individuals have taken responsibility or face charges for the fires. “They’re bad people. And you know what, they have to pay a price for the damage and the horror that they’ve caused. They have to pay a price.”
“I’m going to be going to California,” he said of his scheduled trip on Monday. “Spoke to the folks in Oregon, Washington. They’re really having, they’ve never had anything like this.”
But he suggested climate change was not a cause of the fires, despite a chorus of scientists, firefighters and public officials recognizing otherwise. “But it is about forest management. Please remember the words, very simple: forest management. Please remember.”
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office provided traffic control and security for the event. In July, Sheriff Dan Coverley told local library staff his deputies would not respond if they called 911. This was in response to a proposal by the Board of Library Trustees issuing a public statement in support of the movement for Black lives.
Coverley later walked his comments back, but a rally in support of his original statement turned violent after conservative protesters clashed with Black Lives Matter supporters.
Minden, where Trump’s rally was held on Saturday, has also been the focus of a debate over historic anti-Native American racism in Nevada.
A siren blares in town every night, which members of the local Washoe tribe say is a relic of the community’s history as a “sundown town.” According to a now-repealed Douglas County ordinance, Native Americans once had to leave Minden and the neighboring town of Gardnerville every day by 6:30 p.m.
Serrell Smokey, chairman of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, called on town officials to shut the siren off in a recent Facebook post.
"It's about more than just shutting a siren down," he said, "It's about acknowledging the history of this town. Acknowledging the fact that there was a huge amount of racism, a huge amount of discrimination toward non-white citizens, mainly the Washoe people that lived in this area."
Trump is scheduled to hold a rally in Las Vegas on Sunday, and will meet with firefighting officials in Sacramento on Monday as historic blazes ravage across the West Coast.
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