US President Donald Trump will visit Mount Rushmore on Friday night to mark the July 4 celebration in the United States, 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.
About 7,500 people are expected to attend the event before Independence Day.
Trump, who has promised “a huge July 3”
Masks will be available but not required, and social distancing will not be strictly enforced.
Trump’s visit has aroused fears about the potential spread of Covid-19, burning concerns linked to the fireworks and protests from Indian groups.
Speaking to Fox News this week, South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem said free face masks would be available at the outdoor event for people who chose to wear them, but “we won’t be social distance.”
“We told the people who are worried they might stay home,” she said.
Why is the site controversial?
Activists have long taken issue with the Mount Rushmore Monument, which 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 controversial at a time when statues of Confederate generals and slaveholders are being re-evaluated, and in many cases pulled down, among anti-racism protests.
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Prior to the incident, a group of mostly Native American protesters blocked a highway to the white van, which led to a tense stand-off with police.
They were eventually cleared of the road by police and soldiers from the National Guard, who used smoke bombs and pepper spray, local reports say.
The vans were removed and several protesters were arrested after police declared the road blocked as an “illegal assembly”, local newspaper Argus Leader reported.
What is Trump expected to say?
Mr Trump will give a speech in the shadow of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, whose heads are carved in granite on Mount Rushmore.
A Trump campaign official said the president, who has condemned the removal of statues by protesters, will be tracking down people trying to “tear down” the United States.
“The left-wing mob and those who interrupt culture are engaging in totalitarian behavior that is completely alien to American life – and we must not accept it,” the official said, summarizing Trump’s expected comments.
These will be the first fireworks at Mount Rushmore in over a decade, following a ban on environmental considerations.
Trump has predicted a “fireworks that few people have seen” in South Dakota, a state he won in the 2016 US election.
The monument is surrounded by a national forest and some are afraid that the screen could start fires in the dry brush, although local officials have said the risk is low.
Friday’s event is the latest held by President Trump during the coronavirus pandemic as he tries to postpone his supporters for the November presidential election.
The president recently organized major events in Oklahoma and Arizona and criticized the risk of further outbreaks as Covid-19 cases continue to increase nationwide.
On Friday, the United States registered its largest one-day total new cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
What have Indians said about the incident?
Native American groups have criticized Trump’s visit for posing a potential health threat and celebrating US independence in an area sacred to them.
Many Indians do not celebrate Independence Day because they associate it with the colonization of their tribal homes and the loss of their cultural freedoms.
The Mount Rushmore landmark was carved between 1927 and 1941, but the land on it – in the Black Hills of South Dakota – was taken from the original Lakota Sioux by the US government in the 19th century.
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“The president puts our tribal members at risk for arranging a photo at one of our holiest sites,” said Harold Frazier, president of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.