For more than a week before Donald Trump’s first campaign rally in three months on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, these tech-savvy groups opposing the president mobilised to reserve tickets for an event they had no intention of attending.
“My 16 year old and her friends in Park City Utah have hundreds of tickets. You have been rolled by America’s teens,” veteran Republican campaign strategist Steve Schmidt tweeted on Saturday. The tweet garnered more than 100,000 likes and many responses from people who say they or their kids did the same. Schmidt called the rally an “unmitigated disaster” — days after Trump campaign chairman Brad Parscale tweeted that more than a million people requested tickets for the rally through Trump’s campaign website.
Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, said the turnout was a sign of weakening voter support. “Donald Trump has abdicated leadership and it is no surprise that his supporters have responded by abandoning him” he said. The Trump campaign blamed the “fake news media” for “warning people away from the rally” over COVID-19 and protests against racial injustice around the country. “Leftists and online trolls doing a victory lap, thinking they somehow impacted rally attendance, don’t know what they’re talking about or how our rallies work,” Parscale wrote. “Reporters who wrote gleefully about TikTok and K-Pop fans — without contacting the campaign for comment — behaved unprofessionally and were willing dupes to the charade.”
On midday Sunday, it was possible to sign up to stream a recap of the Tulsa event later in the day through Trump’s website. It requested a name, email address and phone number. There was no age verification in the sign-up process, though the site required a PIN to verify phone numbers. Inside the 19,000-seat BOK Center in Tulsa, where Trump thundered that “the silent majority is stronger than ever before,” numerous seats were empty. Tulsa Fire Department spokesperson Andy Little said the city fire marshal’s office reported a crowd of just less than 6,200 in the arena.
City officials had expected a crowd of 100,000 people or more in downtown Tulsa, but that never materialised. That said, the rally, which was broadcast on cable, also targeted voters in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. Social media users who have followed recent events might not be surprised by the way young people (and some older folks) mobilised to troll the president. They did it not just on TikTok but also on Twitter, Instagram and even Facebook. K-Pop fans — who have a massive, coordinated online community and a cutting sense of humour — have become an unexpected ally to American Black Lives Matter protesters.
In recent weeks, they’ve been re-purposing usual platforms and hashtags from boosting their favourite stars to backing the Black Lives Matter movement. They flooded right-wing hashtags such as “white lives matter” and police apps with short video clips and memes of their K-pop stars. Many of the early social media messages urging people to sign up for tickets brought up the fact that the rally had originally been scheduled for Friday, June 19, which is Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Tulsa, the location for the rally, was the scene in 1921 of one of the most severe white-on-Black attacks in American history.
Schmidt said he was not surprised. Today’s teens grew up with phones and have “absolutely” mastered them, he said. They are also the first generation to have remote Zoom classes and have a “subversive sense of humour,” having come of age in a world of online trolls and memes, Schmidt said. Most of all, he said, “they are aware of what is happening around them.”