US President Donald Trump has hosted his first indoor rally in three months in front of a packed, mask-less crowd in Nevada, in open defiance of state regulations and his own administration’s pandemic health guidelines.
He told those in attendance the nation is “making the last turn” in defeating coronavirus.
Eager to project a sense of normality, Mr Trump soaked up the raucous cheers inside a warehouse in Henderson, on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
Few in the crowd wore masks, with one clear exception – those in the stands directly behind Mr Trump, whose images would end up on TV, were mandated to wear face coverings.
Not since a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was blamed for a surge of coronavirus infections has he gathered supporters indoors.
“We are not shutting the country again,” Mr Trump told those in attendance.
“A shutdown would destroy the lives and dreams of millions Americans.”
Using his inflammatory moniker for coronavirus, he added: “We will very easy defeat the China virus.”
Mr Trump did not mention the pandemic’s death toll, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans and still claiming about 1,000 lives a day.
The rally in Tulsa, which was his first in three months after coronavirus reached American shores, was a disaster for the campaign.
It featured a sea of empty seats and a rise in Covid-19 cases, including on his own staff.
One prominent Trump supporter at the rally, businessman and former presidential candidate Herman Cain, died with coronavirus weeks later, though it was not clear if he contracted the virus in Tulsa.
Recognising many supporters are uncomfortable gathering in large groups indoors, where the virus spreads more easily, the Trump campaign shifted to holding smaller, outdoor rallies, usually at aircraft hangers.
But those rallies have grown in size in recent weeks, with little social distancing and few masks.
On Sunday, they returned indoors, in part as a nod to the Las Vegas heat.
Temperature checks were given to all upon entrance at the industrial site in Henderson and while masks were encouraged, few wore them.
Nevada’s Democratic governor Steve Sisolak has limited in-person gatherings indoors and outdoors to 50 people since May, a recommendation based on White House reopening guidelines.
In a statement released just before the rally began, Mr Sisolak said Mr Trump was “taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada”.
“To put it bluntly, he didn’t have the guts to make tough choices,” Mr Sisolak said of Mr Trump’s handling of the virus.
“He left that to governors and the states. Now he’s decided he doesn’t have to respect our state’s laws.
“As usual, he doesn’t believe the rules apply to him.”
The city of Henderson informed Xtreme Manufacturing on Sunday that the event as planned was in direct violation of the governor’s Covid-19 emergency directives and that penalties would follow.
The Trump campaign pushed back against the restrictions, with the president saying he would support those in attendance “if the governor came after you”.
“If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the first amendment to hear from the president of the United States,” campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said.
In a rambling, hour-long speech, Mr Trump mused on mandatory prison sentences for flag burning, praised various UFC fighters in attendance and appeared to endorse extrajudicial killings for those who target police officers.
He unleashed a series of attacks on presidential rival Joe Biden, labelling him a him a tired career politician and declaring him “unfit to be president”.
The rally came the night before Mr Trump was to travel to California to receive a briefing on the devastating wildfires racing through the region.
He has largely been silent on the blazes that have claimed dozens of lives in Oregon and California.