Trump Mount Rushmore speech on Independence Day labels racial protests 'violent mayhem'
US President Donald Trump branded protests demanding racial justice as "violent mayhem" Friday. But he avoided talking about a massive resurgence of COVID-19 cases when addressing a crowd which had gathered to celebrated Independnce Day.
Trump spoke on the eve of the July 4th celebrations before thousands of closely-packed people. Many chanted "Four more years" while few were wearing masks.
In the shadow of four notable predecessors, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, whose likenesses are carved into a granite cliff in South Dakota's Black Hills, the president called on supporters to defend America's "integrity".
He accused protesters calling for racial justice of "a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children."
"The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets and cities... is the predictable results of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism and other cultural institutions," he added.
Symbols of pro-slavery
The US is facing large scale protests against police brutality after George Floyd, an African American man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.
That evolved into a larger movement that attacked symbols of the pro-slavery Civil War South, from removing statues of Confederate generals to retiring the Mississippi state flag, which featured the Confederate emblem.
Trump, who has also been criticized for his response to the protests, promised Mount Rushmore would never be defaced, and that he would never abolish the police or the right to bear arms.
"They want to silence us -- but we will not be silenced," he said to cheers, adding later that it was time to "speak up loudly, strongly, powerfully and defend the integrity of our country."
"The best is yet to come," he said, promising to establish "a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans who ever lived".
Silence on the virus
Meanwhile, Trump had little to say about the shocking increase in US virus cases. On Friday a record 57,000 new infections were confirmed.
The pandemic has claimed nearly 130,000 American lives, and the recent resurgence "puts the entire country at risk," top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has said.
Trump tweeted that the figures were high because "our testing is so massive and so good," calling it "great news."
US testing did increase on a big scale, but health experts say it still lags on a per capita basis behind many other countries and does not fully explain the case rise. They also note that deaths tend to increase a few weeks after cases rise.
Vice President Mike Pence postponed a trip to Arizona this week after members of his Secret Service detail reportedly showed signs of COVID-19, and he and other Republican leaders have belatedly begun emphasizing the importance of wearing masks.
On Friday US media reported Donald Trump Jr's girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, had tested positive for COVID-19. She is the third person with close contact to the president to be diagnosed with the virus.
Former president Barack Obama weighed in Friday, tweeting: "This holiday weekend, let's be safe and smart. It's going to take all of us to beat this virus. So wear a mask. Wash your hands. And listen to the experts, not the folks trying to divide us."
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