President Trump was reportedly furious by the low turnout at his Tulsa, Oklahoma rally. Despite registering nearly a million prospective attendees, far fewer people turned out. It turns out many of those registrations were made by TikTok users who protested the rally, which was originally scheduled for Juneteenth, June 19, by registering with no intention of actually attending.
The Trump campaign dismissed reports about the TikTok activists ahead of the event, with the campaign's digital media director Brad Parscale saying that, because the event was first-come, first-served, enough real Trump supporters would turn up to not only fill the 19,000-seat BOK Center, but also an outdoor overflow area. But supporters did not, in fact, turn up. Only 6,200 people passed through the venue gates, according to Tulsa officials, and the overflow area, where Trump planned on making another speech, was never used.
The New York Times reports that Trump was warned aboard Air Force One that the crowds at the arena were smaller than expected, but upon arrival, he was nonetheless reportedly stunned by the "endless rows of empty blue seats" in the upper area of the stadium.
Shooting themselves in the foot — There's been some debate about whether or not mass registrations by TikTok users really led Trump supporters to stay home thinking there'd be no room for them. Though another possible explanation is that, because Parscale himself tweeted out the one-million figure and also dismissed the idea that TikTok users were having any influence on attendee registration numbers, Trump might have really believed that a million people were going to attend. Or at least many more than 6,200.
The low turnout itself could have been caused by a variety of factors, like Trump's collapsing approval rating over his disastrous response BLM protests, or by fears of contracting coronavirus at an indoor rally where strangers are pushing up against one another. Ahead of the event reports emerged attendees would be required to sign a waiver releasing the Trump campaign from liability should they contract COVID-19. Which is enough to put off but all but the most foolish or disease-denying loyalists.
Trump may dismiss the seriousness of the disease, but many on both sides of aisle still worry about getting infected, particularly as the number of infections continues to climb in many states, some of which had previously been showing declines. Polling suggests a majority of Republicans believe there's a large risk in attending in-person gatherings despite some fringe factions protesting social distancing orders.
A win either way — The activism campaign began when Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year old from Iowa, posted a TikTok video encouraging viewers to reserve rally tickets. Within hours it had been shared widely, racking up more than two million views and 137,000 shares. It eventually spread through the K-pop community and on Twitter under the hashtags #EmptySeats and #TulsaFlop. Whether the TikTok initiative worked or not is hard to be sure of, but one thing we do know is the venue was undeniable sparsely populated, and that's a win for the initiative regardless.