US President Donald Trump will visit Mount Rushmore on Friday night to mark 4 July celebrations in the usa, despite concerns over a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
A fireworks display will be held at the South Dakota landmark, which features the carved faces of four US presidents.
Some 7,500 folks are expected to attend the pre-Independence Day event.
Mr Trump, who has promised “a tremendous 3 July” is defined to offer a speech.
Masks will be available but not required, and social distancing won’t be strictly enforced.
Mr Trump’s visit has raised fears over the potential spread of Covid-19, wildfire worries linked to the fireworks, and protests from Native American groups.
Speaking to Fox News this week, South Dakota’s Republican Governor Kristi Noem said free face masks could be available at the outdoor event for people who chose to put them on, but “we won’t be social distancing”.
“We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home,” she said.
Why is the location controversial?
Activists have long taken issue with the Mount Rushmore monument, that was built on land sacred to the Sioux tribe. Two of the former presidents depicted – George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – were slave-owners.
The decision to hold an event there is certainly controversial at the same time when statues of Confederate generals and slave-owners are now being re-evaluated, and in some cases pulled down, amid anti-racism protests.
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Ahead of the event, a group of mostly Native American protesters blocked a main road to the monument with white vans, leading to a tense stand-off with police.
They were in the course of time cleared from the street by police officers and National Guard soldiers, who used smoke bombs and pepper spray, local reports say.
The vans were towed away and several protesters were arrested after the police declared the road block an “unlawful assembly”, local newspaper the Argus Leader reported.
What is Trump expected to say?
Mr Trump will deliver a speech in the shadow of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, whose heads are carved in to the granite of Mount Rushmore.
A Trump campaign official said the president, who has condemned the removal of statues by protesters, will rail against people trying to “tear down” the United States.
“The left wing mob and those practicing cancel culture are engaging in totalitarian behaviour that is completely alien to American life – and we must not accept it,” the state said, summarising Mr Trump’s expected comments.
These could be the first fireworks at Mount Rushmore in over 10 years, after a ban was imposed over environmental concerns.
Mr Trump has predicted a “fireworks display like few people have seen” in South Dakota, a state that he won in the 2016 US election.
The monument is surrounded by a national forest plus some fear the display could set off wildfires in the dry brush, though local officials have said the chance is low.
Friday’s event is the latest to be held by President Trump during the coronavirus pandemic, as he attempts to turn on his supporters ahead of November’s presidential election.
The president recently organised large events in Oklahoma and Arizona, drawing criticism for risking further outbreaks as Covid-19 cases keep on to rise nationwide.
On Friday, the united states recorded its largest single-day total of new coronavirus cases because the start of the pandemic.
What have Native Americans said in regards to the event?
Native American groups have criticised Mr Trump’s visit for posing a possible health risk, and for celebrating US independence in an area that is sacred to them.
Many Native Americans don’t celebrate Independence Day since they associate it with the colonisation of the tribal homelands and the increased loss of their cultural freedoms.
The Mount Rushmore landmark was carved between 1927 and 1941, nevertheless the land it lies on – in the Black Hills of South Dakota – was taken from the indigenous Lakota Sioux by the US government in the 1800s.
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“The president is putting our tribal members at risk to stage a photo op at one of our most sacred sites,” said Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.