Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Oklahoma was hit by a lower-than-expected attendance because of teenagers on TikTok and fans of Korean pop music, it has been claimed.
The US president, who is looking to secure a second term in November’s election, held his first major campaign event since Covid-19 shut down much of the country in Tulsa on Saturday.
But images from the rally, which was moved back a day from its original June 19 date, show swathes of empty spaces at the BOK Center, which seats 19,000 people.
The empty seats were blamed on “radical protesters” and “apocalyptic media coverage” by Brad Parscale, Mr Trump’s campaign director.
But Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez replied, suggesting the low numbers were in fact down to a campaign on video-sharing app TikTok.
She tweeted: “Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations & tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during COVID.
“Shout out to Zoomers. Y’all make me so proud.
“KPop allies, we see and appreciate your contributions in the fight for justice too.”
The efforts to disrupt the rally numbers appear to have been started by Mary Jo Laupp, who on June 11 posted her anger at Mr Trump initially arranging the rally for the day of Juneteenth – a holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States – in a city where a racist massacre took place in 1921.
In her TikTok video, Ms Laupp – described by CNN as a 51-year-old grandmother from Iowa, encouraged people to register for two free tickets to the event on the Trump campaign website but not turn up in an effort to keep the venue as empty as possible.
In response, users – many of them young people, known as Generation Z or Zoomers – posted videos of themselves in front of screens showing they had registered for tickets, while dancing to the Macarena.
The viral effort was amplified by a number of K-pop fan accounts.
Trump officials had expected large numbers to turn out, with Mr Parscale tweeting last week that they had received 800,000 applications for tickets.
An overflow area was set up outside the venue, but with many empty spaces inside the arena, it was not needed.
While it is unclear how big a part the online campaign played in keeping seats in Tulsa empty, many online users felt that it was a factor.
Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist who has been a vocal critic of Mr Trump, tweeted in response to Mr Parscale: “My 16 year old daughter and her friends in Park City Utah have hundreds of tickets. You have been rolled by America’s teens.
“@realDonaldTrump you have been failed by your team. You have been deserted by your faithful. No one likes to root for the losing team.”
The rally was still thought to be the biggest indoor event in the country since lockdown measures were introduced to combat Covid-19.
Critics said Mr Trump was endangering lives by holding such an event at a time when coronavirus infections are increasing in parts of the US.
Protests outside the event – which saw Black Lives Matter demonstrators face off with supporters of the president – were said to have been largely peaceful, with only a handful of arrests reported by police.