Four months from Election Day, US President Trump's comments amounted to a direct appeal to the political base, including many disaffected white votes, that carried him to the White House in 2016.
US President Donald Trump bemoaned protests demanding racial justice as "violent mayhem" on Friday, but said little about an alarming resurgence of coronavirus cases as he attended a crowded, fireworks-studded Independence Day celebration beneath majestic Mount Rushmore.
Trump, under fire for his response to America's spiraling coronavirus caseload four months before the presidential election, spoke on the eve of the July 4th celebrations before thousands of closely-packed people — many of whom chanted "Four more years;" few of whom were wearing masks.
In the shadow of four notable predecessors — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, whose likenesses are carved into a granite cliff in South Dakota's Black Hills — the president called on supporters to defend America's "integrity".
"Americans shouldn't apologize for their history"
The US has been engulfed by a once-in-a-generation reckoning on racism and police brutality since George Floyd, an African American man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.
“This movement is openly attacking the legacies of every person on Mount Rushmore," Trump said. He lamented “cancel culture" and charged that some on the political left hope to “defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children." He said Americans should speak proudly of their heritage and shouldn't have to apologize for its history.
"The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets and cities... is the predictable results of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism and other cultural institutions," he said.
“We will not be terrorized, we will not be demeaned, and we will not be intimidated by bad, evil people,” Trump added. “It will not happen.”
READ MORE: What protests in the US tell us
During the speech, the president announced he was signing an executive order to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the “greatest Americans to ever live.”
Native American groups protest the event
Leaders of several Native American tribes in the region raised concerns that the event could lead to virus outbreaks among their members, who they say are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 because of an underfunded health care system and chronic health conditions.
“The president is putting our tribal members at risk to stage a photo op at one of our most sacred sites,” said Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
Some Native American groups used Trump's visit to protest the Mount Rushmore memorial itself, pointing out that the Black Hills were taken from the Lakota people.
About 15 protesters were arrested after blocking a road and missing a police-imposed deadline to leave.