K-pop fans and teenage TikTok users are claiming responsibility for the low turnout at United States President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday, in what some are calling the “best senior prank ever.”
The BOK Center in Oklahoma, where the event was held, can hold over 19,000 people in its arena, but video of the rally that surfaced online showed empty chairs lining the upper stadium seating areas, leaving most of the attendees sitting in the event centre’s lower bowl. Outdoor speaking events were also cancelled.
The rally was initially projected to be a raging success. Brad Parscale, chairman of the Trump re-election campaign, tweeted on Monday that the event drew more than one million ticket requests.
Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s communications director, blamed protesters for the low turnout.
“President Trump is rallying in Tulsa with thousands of energetic supporters, a stark contrast to the sleepy campaign being run by Joe Biden from his basement in Delaware. Sadly, protesters interfered with supporters, even blocking access to the metal detectors, which prevented them from attending the rally,” he said in a statement to MSNBC.
“We are proud of the thousands who stuck it out.”
Teenagers begged to differ.
TikTok users and K-pop fans claimed to have deliberately sunk the rally, asking Americans register for the event and not show.
One user posted a video on TikTok captioned, “It would be a shame if people knew reserving seats at a trump rally were free,” with her face green-screened in front.
“Oh no I signed up for a Trump rally and I can’t go,” she said in the video. She then coughs twice — a reference to a scene in Mean Girls — and says, “I’m sick.”
Another uploaded a TikTok video dancing to the Macarena in front of her ticket reservation confirmations, to show proof that “those 2 seats will be empty.”
More followed, gaining hundreds of likes on the website and instructing their followers to do the same.
It is unclear when the alleged prank began, but there were calls for action as early as June 12, when Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old “TikTok grandma” from Fort Dodge, Iowa, posted a video asking users to participate.
“All of those of us that want to see this 19,000-seat auditorium barely filled or completely empty: go reserve tickets now and leave him standing there alone on the stage. What do you say?” she said in the video.
Laupp uploaded another video to TikTok on Saturday night thanking everyone who pranked the rally.
“To those of you that are in your 20s and teens, to those who you that aren’t even old enough to vote yet: remember this moment. Remember this feeling, because it’s not always going to feel like this. There are going to moments when you’re frustrated. But remember this. Remember that you in doing one thing and in sharing information had an impact,” she said.
“I know that sometimes it feels like politics is way bigger than you, but speak up and keep speaking up. You can do it.”
K-pop fans have thrown their support behind the Black Lives Matter movement in recent months, following the death of George Floyd. Several weeks ago, fans commandeered the “White Lives Matter” hashtag by flooding it with K-pop videos.
The Tulsa rally was fraught with controversy prior to Saturday. It sparked national outcry shortly after its announcement several weeks ago, when it was originally scheduled on Friday during Juneteenth, a holiday which celebrates Black emancipation from slaveowners.
The Trump campaign said they rescheduled it to Saturday after Black “friends and supporters” asked them to change it.
Tulsa health professionals advised against gathering in large groups, citing concerns it would drive a surge in COVID-19 cases and six Trump campaign staffers working on the Tulsa rally tested positive for the virus ahead of the event on Saturday.