In a Fourth of July speech aimed at commemorating the military on Saturday, President Trump hit on familiar divisive themes, condemning what he called the "radical left" and the media he accused of "slander."
During the second annual "Salute To America" event held on the South Lawn, the president drew a comparison between historic American wartime victories and stopping the "radical left."
"American heroes defeated the Nazis, dethroned the fascists, toppled the communists, saved American values, upheld American principles, and chased down the terrorists to the very ends of the Earth," the president told attendees. "We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters and people who in many instances have absolutely no clue what they are doing."
Trump also went after protesters who've rallied to take down statues and monuments that honor Confederate leaders and others known to have supported or profited off of slavery and racism.
"We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children, or trample on our freedoms," he said. Trump also said “we will defend, protect and preserve (the) American way of life, which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America.”
Trump said media outlets "slander" him and "falsely and consistently label their opponents as racists."
The president also returned to his call for the creation of the National Garden of American Heroes, for which he signed an executive order on Friday.
His address did not mention the dead from the pandemic. Nearly 130,000 are known to have died from COVID-19 in the U.S.
Even as officials across the country pleaded with Americans to curb their enthusiasm for large Fourth of July crowds, Trump enticed the masses with a “special evening” of tribute and fireworks staged with new U.S. coronavirus infections on the rise.
But the crowds wandering the National Mall for the night's air show and fireworks were strikingly thinner those the gathering for last year's jammed celebration on the Mall.
Many who showed up wore masks, unlike those seated close together for Trump's South Lawn event, and distancing was easy to do for those scattered across the sprawling space.
Outside the event but as close to it as they could get, Pat Lee of Upper Dublin, Pa., gathered with two friends, one of them a nurse from Fredericksburg, Va., whose only head gear was a MAGA hat.
“POTUS said it would go away,” Lee said of the pandemic, using an acronym for president of the United States. “Masks, I think, are like a hoax.” But she said she wore one inside the Trump International Hotel, where she stayed.
By the World War II Memorial, the National Park Service handed out packets of five white cloth masks to all who wanted them. People were not required to wear them.
Another nurse, Zippy Watt from Riverside, Calif., came to see the air show and fireworks with her husband and their two daughters, one of whom lives in Washington. They wore matching American flag face masks even when seated together on a park bench.
“We chose to wear a mask to protect ourselves and others," Watt said. She said her family was divided on Trump but she is “more of a Trump supporter. Being from southern California I see socialist tendencies. I’m tired of paying taxes so others can stay home.”
Trump's guests on the South Lawn were doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers and military members as well as officials from the administration, said Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary. He said the event was a tribute to the “tremendous courage and spirit” of front-line workers and the public in the pandemic.
In many parts of the country, authorities discouraged mass gatherings for the holiday after days that have seen COVID-19 cases grow at a rate not experienced even during the deadliest phase of the pandemic in the spring.
In New York, once the epicenter, people were urged to avoid crowds. The Nathan’s Famous July Fourth hot dog eating contest happened at an undisclosed location without spectators on hand, in advance of the evening's televised fireworks spectacular over the Empire State Building.
In Philadelphia, mask- and glove-wearing descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence participated in a virtual tapping of the famed Liberty Bell on Independence Mall and people were asked to join from afar by clinking glasses, tapping pots or ringing bells.
Even as Trump pushed ahead with celebrations, the shadow of the coronavirus loomed closer to him. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top fundraiser for the president and girlfriend of his eldest child, Donald Trump Jr., tested positive for the virus, Trump's campaign said late Friday. Guilfoyle tweeted Saturday that she was looking forward to “a speedy recovery."
In a presidential message Saturday morning on the 244th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Trump acknowledged that “over the past months, the American spirit has undoubtedly been tested by many challenges.”
His Democratic rival, Joe Biden, said in a statement that the U.S. “never lived up” to its founding principle that “all men are created equal," but today "we have a chance to rip the roots of systemic racism out of this country.''
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.