“We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and people who in many instances have absolutely no clue what they are doing.”
The speech was seen by critics as a pre-election strategy designed to play to the President’s base, but one which would do little to unify a country rattled by coronavirus and a national reckoning on race.
Two hours later, as pyrotechnics lit up the sky in hues of red, green and gold, a brawl erupted between Trump supporters and Black Lives Matters protestors, prompting police to intervene and break up the confrontation.
Elsewhere, protesters in Baltimore pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus and threw it into the city’s Inner Harbor – less than a day after President Trump had promised to build a “national garden of American Heroes” in response to the anti-statue movement.
The garden plan would be issued via executive order, the President said, and would feature the likes of evangelical leader Billy Graham, frontiersman Davy Crockett, and conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. Trump’s garden would also feature monuments to non-Americans who “made substantive historical contributions to the discovery, development, or independence of the future United States” such as Italian explorer Columbus, who has been criticised for his violent enslavement of Indigenous people.
The events capped off what had otherwise been a relatively subdued Fourth of July weekend around the country. While spectators dotted DC – the majority not wearing masks or observing social distancing – across the US, many celebrations were watered down after the number of coronavirus cases exceeded 50,000 a day.
According to the New York Times, up to 80 per cent of community fireworks displays were scrapped at large cities and small rural towns this year amid fears of further outbreaks.
This included Arizona, where the number of COVID deaths now sits at 1805 after cases spiked significantly over the past week.
In Florida, which recorded 11,458 new cases on July 4, numerous beaches were forced to close, while its most populous county, Miami Dade, imposed a nightly curfew from 10pm to 6am.
And in California, which reported almost 4000 new cases on Friday, indoor dining at most restaurants has been shelved for weeks in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
Back in DC, part-time taxi driver Shah was sitting on a blanket in the National Mall shortly after 8pm waiting for the fireworks to begin. He told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald he had never experienced such a “low key” Fourth of July, but was looking on the bright side: “At least I could get a park,” he laughed.
“Things aren’t great in this country right now,” he said, “but it’s still nice to celebrate this day.”
Farrah Tomazin is a senior journalist and investigative reporter for The Age, with interests in politics, social justice, and legal affairs.