In the hours before his rally in Tulsa, President Donald Trump's campaign directed the removal of thousands of "Do Not Sit Here, Please!" stickers from seats in the arena that were intended to establish social distancing between rallygoers, according to video and photos obtained by the Washington Post and a person familiar with the event.
The removal contradicted instructions from the management of the BOK Center, the 19,000-seat arena in downtown Tulsa where Trump held his rally on June 20. At the time, coronavirus cases were rising sharply in Tulsa County, and Trump faced intense criticism for convening a large crowd for an indoor political rally, his first such event since the start of the pandemic.
As part of its safety plan, arena management had purchased 12,000 do-not-sit stickers for Trump's rally, intended to keep people apart by leaving open seats between attendees. On the day of the rally, event staff had already affixed them on nearly every other seat in the arena when Trump's campaign told event management to stop and then began removing the stickers, just hours before the president's arrival, according to a person familiar with the event who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
In a video clip obtained by the Post, two men — one in a suit and one wearing a badge and a face mask — can be seen pulling stickers off seats in a section of the arena. It is unclear who those two men are. When Trump took the stage on Saturday evening, the crowd was clustered together and attendees were not leaving empty seats between themselves.
The actions by Trump's campaign were first reported Friday by Billboard Magazine. As rally preparations were underway, Trump's campaign staff intervened with the venue manager, ASM Global, and told them to stop putting the labels on seats, Doug Thornton, executive vice president of ASM Global, told the magazine.
"They also told us that they didn't want any signs posted saying we should social distance in the venue," Thornton said. "The campaign went through and removed the stickers."
A spokesman for ASM Global declined to comment.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh did not directly respond to questions about the sticker removal.
"The rally was in full compliance with local requirements. In addition, every rally attendee received a temperature check prior to admission, was given a face mask, and provided ample access to hand sanitizer," Murtaugh said in an e-mailed statement.
In a separate statement, the campaign said: "There were signs posted and we are not aware of any campaign staff asking that they be removed."
Trump held his Tulsa rally despite opposition by Oklahoma health authorities and residents who feared that convening a large crowd indoors could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus. The number of coronavirus cases in Tulsa County was spiking in the days leading up to the rally and has continued to increase since.
The director of the Tulsa Health Department, Bruce Dart, had recommended that the event be postponed until it was safer. A number of city residents and business owners brought a lawsuit against the venue manager, seeking to require all attendees to wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines. The Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected that suit.