Oklahoma state officials knew that Trump’s Tulsa campaign rally, held in June, would kill people. That’s the clear message in a series of emails obtained by The Hill, in which officials inside the Oklahoma public health department panicked about the upcoming event and weighed how far they could push to cancel it.
State epidemiologist Aaron Wendleboe was blunt. “I am concerned that the mass indoor gathering in Tulsa of 19,000 people will directly lead to deaths in Oklahoma. As the state epidemiologist, I feel I have a responsibility to speak out and warn of the estimated risk.” Wendleboe’s risk analysis estimated “at least 2 deaths and probably closer to 10” from Trump’s event.
And in a warning to the state health department director: “I’m not sure of any instance where we would hold a public event and say, ‘…and by the way, there is a chance that attending this could lead to a minimum of two deaths.'”
While health officials appeared to believe that the rally would at some point be called off due to the obvious dangers and already-increasing COVID-19 cases in Tulsa, according to The Hill’s reporting, Oklahoma’s Republican governor, the Trump-supporting Kevin Stitt, did not back down, and neither did the state’s other Republicans. So the event that public health officials were certain would lead to at least single-digit pandemic deaths indeed went forward, Trump bored the mostly-maskless crowd for an interminable hour-and-a-half, and Tulsa went on to see a spike in COVID-19 cases exactly one Average Incubation Time after the rally concluded. Determining the final death toll will largely be impossible—we do not have tracking efforts that could tease out which public outbreaks, months later, can be attributed to secondary or tertiary rally infections as each mini-outbreak washes through different populations.
Among the deaths suspected of being directly caused by Trump’s rally, however: that of former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who was photographed proudly maskless in his rally seat, entered the hospital with severe COVID-19 symptoms two weeks later, and died soon after that.
There are multiple lessons here, but the principal one is that public officials, the Republican Party, the Trump campaign, and all associated with it absolutely knew that Trump’s demand for an indoor “reopening” rally would kill Americans. There was no controversy about this. Members of Trump’s advance and security teams tested positive in the days before the rally. State and national health officials were warning of the clear and obvious dangers.
The rally went forward because the Trump campaign believed that multiple almost-certain deaths were an acceptable exchange for the footage they wanted to capture. That’s it. There’s no arguing otherwise; if Trump’s campaign team truly did not “know” holding a superspreader-capable event in a city with rising COVID-19 cases would lead to additional deaths, it is just as unforgivable—but it’s not possible. They knew. Gov. Kevin Stitt knew, and made the same estimation.
It’s a bloody death cult, from top to bottom. Why the Republican base continues to go along will be a question for historians. It’s likely they will come to the same conclusions we have, but will be able to couch it in more … academic terms.