And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Tulsa to be born?
- Not Exactly Yeats
The entire country waited to exhale yesterday as Black Lives Matter demonstrators and Trump supporters threatened to collide outside the Tulsa convention center where President Donald Trump was scheduled to speak at a campaign rally. A few blocks away, at the scene of a 1921 massacre that destroyed a thriving black business community, activists had hastily covered signs so Vice President Mike Pence could not use the scene of their Juneteenth commemoration as a photo op.
It was reasonable to expect violence. Oklahoma's governor had called in 250 National Guard the night before. Trump supporters had been camping out for days as if the rally was a Springsteen show or a Dead concert. Black Lives Matter demonstrators had been thronging the streets since the previous day's Juneteenth ceremonies.
Would Tulsa be one of those words that take on a new meaning, the way Charlottesville is shorthand for a watershed in U.S. history: the resurgence of white supremacist groups encouraged by a president who lauded their members as "very fine people"?
As the afternoon wore on, there were tense moments. According to the Associated Press, a group of armed men began following the protesters. When the protesters blocked an intersection, a man wearing a Trump shirt got out of a truck and spattered them with pepper spray.
In a separate incident, Tulsa police fired pepper balls at demonstrators who were approaching a National Guard bus that got separated from its caravan. But the demonstrators dispersed and the street quieted.
As Trump began his nearly two-hour speech, tension built outside the arena. At one point, a fight broke out, and a man was taken away in handcuffs. Additional National Guardsmen arrived on the scene as Trump supporters chanted, “Four more years,” and protesters responded, “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
Earlier in the day, Tulsa police had arrested a white woman demonstrator wearing a t-shirt with large block letters spelling out "I Can't Breathe." They told her she was trespassing, ignoring her protestations that she had a ticket to the rally.
"My name is Sheila Buck. I am a citizen of the United States," she said as they hauled her away in handcuffs.
When it was all over, the name Tulsa had a different ring. Instead of the 100,000 Trumpheads predicted by campaign manager Brad Parscale, only 6,200 people entered the OK Convention Center, which holds 19,000. The outdoor arena constructed to accommodate overflow crowds was hastily dismantled.
Had the Trumpheads found religion on the dangers of COVID-19? Maybe. But it turns out that a new kind of political activism had punk'd Trump: GenZ kids on TikTok and Twitter K-pop, made up of fans of Korean pop music groups, had snapped up thousands of the free tickets offered by the Trump campaign.
The New York Times reported that the idea came from a 11 June tweet from the Trump campaign promoting free registration online and via cellphones. As Trump and his campaign gloated that more than a million tickets had been requested, on TikTok Gen Z shared screenshots of themselves using Tulsa-area zip codes to reserve seats with no intention of showing up.
“It spread mostly through Alt TikTok [private accounts], we kept it on the quiet side where people do pranks and a lot of activism,” You Tuber Elijah Daniel, 26, told The New York Times.
“K-pop Twitter and Alt TikTok have a good alliance where they spread information amongst each other very quickly. They all know the algorithms and how they can boost videos to get where they want.”
Users of these youth-oriented social media platforms are regularly pranking conservative campaigning by far-right accounts. In recent weeks, hashtags supporting “Blue Lives Matter” were co-opted by fans tweeting memes of famous blue characters like the Smurfs and Captain Planet. Following the lead of Snapchat, they often delete posts with 24-48 hours to avoid detection.
Their unexpected success didn't escape the notice of veteran politicos. Steve Schmidt, the longtime Republican strategist inspired by Trump to quit what he called a party that had become "corrupt" and "immoral," tweeted:
This is what happened tonight. I’m dead serious when I say this. The teens of America have struck a savage blow against @realDonaldTrump. All across America teens ordered tickets to this event. The fools on the campaign bragged about a million tickets. lol. @ProjectLincoln.
New York Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez took a shot at Parscale while thanking Korean fans for what the British newspaper The Guardian described as their "diligent trolling."
“You just got rocked,” she wrote on Twitter, “by teens on TikTok who … tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during Covid. KPop allies, we see and appreciate your contributions in the fight for justice.”
It wasn't just kids. An Iowa woman named Mary Jo Laupp who had worked on Pete Buttigieg's campaign went on TikTok, where her handle is TikTokGrandma, to give clear instructions about snapping up tickets
Her video now has 2 million views.
The recipe is clear: combine GenZ tech savvy with good old-fashioned political organizing. Who knew that Trump could build a bridge between the generations?
“Trump has been actively trying to disenfranchise millions of Americans in so many ways, and to me, this was the protest I was able to perform,” Erin Hoffman, an 18-year-old New Yorker, told the Times, adding that she reserved two tickets and persuaded a parent to book two more.
The Tulsa rally may have ended without drama, but a tectonic shift took place. At around 10.15 p.m. an earthquake shook northern Oklahoma. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the quake near Perry, roughly 80 miles west of Tulsa. Protesters still milling around the convention center felt it, but it only faintly.
Had America just exhaled? There were a few arrests on the Tulsa streets, but nobody was killed or seriously injured. Perhaps the Hollywood studios of the American Mind sent Steve Bannon's apocalyptic screenplay into turnaround.
Tulsa might just be a bookend to that day in Charlottesville.
- The Editors
Tulsa Time ::: Jimmy LaFave
24 Hours From Tulsa ::: Gene Pitney
Tulsa Town ::: Dwight Twilley
From Tulsa To North Carolina ::: Link Wray
Last Trip To Tulsa ::: Neil Young
Tulsa County ::: Jesse Ed Davis
Boy From Oklahoma ::: Willis Alan Ramsey
My Oklahoma ::: Steve Young
Oklahoma USA ::: The Kinks
Holy Tulsa Thunder ::: Beau Jennings
Take Me Back To Tulsa ::: Bob Wills
Take Me Back To Tulsa ::: Merle and Kris