Oklahoma National Guard troops activated to assist with President Donald Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa encountered few problems with protesters, officials say.
Last week, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt activated about 250 OKNG troops to support law enforcement efforts during the rally and protests, Lt. Col. Geoffrey Legler, an OKNG spokesman told Military Times.
The troops ran checkpoints around the BOK Center, which served as the site for Saturday night’s rally, Legler said, adding that there were two levels of exclusion zones. Troops worked entry control points with at least one, sometimes two, law enforcement officers, he said.
In addition, the troops helped the Oklahoma Highway Patrol with crowd control.
“There were really no serious clashes between any of the varying groups protesting,” Legler said. “They got a little loud with each other, but there was no violence that I am aware of. There were no altercations where they had to step in and assist.”
At one point, OKNG troops were moved to a location where there was a concern they’d be needed, said Legler.
When Black Lives Matters demonstrators approached a National Guard bus, Tulsa police officers fired pepper balls to push back the crowd, said Tulsa police spokesperson Capt. Richard Meulenberg. Officers left the area once it cleared.
Legler said he was on the bus but did not see pepper balls fired.
“The situation was over in less than 20 minutes and was never dangerous for anyone inside or outside of our bus,” he said. “Also, I never saw pepper balls fired by police, but they may have been far enough ahead of us that we couldn’t see them.”
Though tensions were high, there were few arrests.
The atmosphere several blocks away from the BOK Center was festival-like, with food vendors serving hot dogs and cold drinks and sidewalks lined with people selling various Trump regalia.
There was, however, an undercurrent of tension near the entrance to the secured area, where Trump supporters and opponents squared off. Several downtown businesses boarded up their windows as well to avoid any potential damage.
Kieran Mullen, 60, a college professor from Norman, Oklahoma, held a sign that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Dump Trump.”
“I just thought it was important for people to see there are Oklahomans that have a different point of view,” Mullen said of his state, which overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016.
Brian Bernard, 54, a retired information technology worker from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, sported a Trump 2020 hat as he took a break from riding his bicycle around downtown. Next to him was a woman selling Trump t-shirts and hats, flying a “Keep America Great Again” flag. Her shirt said, “Impeach this,” with an image of Trump extending his middle fingers.
“Since the media won’t do it, it’s up to us to show our support,” said Bernard, who drove nine hours to Tulsa for his second Trump rally.
Bernard said he wasn’t concerned about catching the coronavirus at the event and doesn’t believe it’s “anything worse than the flu.”
Across the street, armed, uniformed highway patrol troopers milled about a staging area in a bank parking lot with dozens of uniformed National Guard troops.
Legler said OKNG troops were activated from 12:01 a.m. Friday through 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
He referred questions about the cost of the activation to Stitt’s office. A spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
During the height of civil unrest in the wake of what prosecutors say was the murder of a Black man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis police officer, more than 40,000 National Guard troops were activated nationwide.
That number has fallen dramatically as the protests turned largely peaceful.
However, there is still an ongoing investigation into the use of D.C. National Guard helicopters on June 1.
Cell phone video and witness accounts show two D.C. National Guard helicopters, normally designated for use in medical evacuations, hovering low enough to create a deafening noise, snap some trees and spray protesters with rotor wash on Monday.
The results of that investigation have yet to be released.
This story contains information from the Associated Press.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.