(Reuters) – TikTok users took partial credit for inflating attendance expectations at a less-than-full arena at President Donald Trump’s first political rally in months, held in Tulsa on Saturday.
Social media users on platforms including the popular video-sharing app have said they completed the free online registration for the rally with no intention of going. The New York Times reported that fans of Korean pop music were encouraging people to do the same.
Prior to the event, Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale said there had been more than one million requests to attend. However, the 19,000-seat BOK Center arena had many empty seats on Saturday evening and Trump and Vice President Mike Pence canceled speeches to an expected “overflow” area outside.
A Tulsa Fire Department spokesman told Reuters the crowd was tallied at about 6,200 people.
Trump’s campaign advisers had seen the rally as a way to rejuvenate his base and demonstrate support, at a time when a string of opinion polls have shown him trailing his Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden.
Oklahoma has reported a surge in new coronavirus cases in recent days, and the state’s department of health had warned those planning on attending the event that they faced an increased risk of catching the virus.
The Trump campaign said entry was on a ‘first-come-first-served’ basis and no one was issued an actual ticket.
“Leftists always fool themselves into thinking they’re being clever. Registering for a rally only means you’ve RSVPed with a cellphone number,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “But we thank them for their contact information.”
Parscale said in a statement the campaign weeds out bogus phone numbers and that they did this with “tens of thousands” at the Tulsa event in calculating possible attendance.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, responded with derision to a Twitter post by Parscale that blamed the media for discouraging attendees and cited bad behavior by demonstrators outside.
“Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations & tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during COVID,” she tweeted on Saturday. “KPop allies, we see and appreciate your contributions in the fight for justice too,” she added.
CNN reported on Tuesday that a TikTok video posted by Mary Jo Laupp, who uses the hashtag #TikTokGrandma, was helping lead the charge. The video now has more than 700,000 likes.
Fans of K-pop have been actively rallying around the Black Lives Matter movement on social media in recent weeks, taking over hashtags that opposed the movement and spamming a Dallas police department app that asked for evidence of illegal activity during the protests.
On Saturday evening there were some shouting matches and scuffles outside the event between around 30 Black Lives Matter demonstrators and some Trump supporters waiting to enter.
A Reuters reporter said that while police did temporarily close the access gates after protesters arrived at the rally perimeter, state troopers helped clear the area and the gates were reopened some three hours before the rally began.
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