No social distancing is planned for the event despite new cases of new coronaviruses in the United States. And the event takes place amid environmental concerns about the use of fireworks on dry land and as the country engages in reckoning on its own monuments and racist history.
“We told people who have concerns that they may stay home, but those who want to come and join us, we will give them free face masks if they choose to wear one. But we are not going to be social spacers” Republican Governor Kristi Noem said during a Monday appearance on Fox News.
The 7,500 tickets for Friday’s event are lower than the typical visitor flow during the peak summer season. On normal days, 28,000 to 32,000 visitors come to Mount Rushmore over a 10-hour period. Amid the pandemic, the park never closed, but visits were reduced to about 20,000 people, said Maureen McGee-Ballinger, head of interpretation and education at Mount Rushmore.
The dark history of the Mount Rushmore sculpture is central to Trump’s visit. The president, who has stoked racial spirits since he first entered the political arena, has moved to defend racist monuments in the face of protests across the country over the treatment of American blacks. Friday’s event, however, was planned ahead of the nationwide riots.
Construction on Mount Rushmore, carved out of the Black Hills of South Dakota, began during the Coolidge administration in the summer of 1927 and was completed on October 31, 1941. The iconic sculpture features the 60-foot-tall faces of the Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Some tribal nations have passed symbolic bans on Trump visiting their lands before the visit, and protests by Native American activists in the area are expected, amplifying calls to return Mount Rushmore to the native people who come as communities from The entire country removes other symbols from the country. The nation’s racist past, including many Confederate monuments.
Generations of Lakota indigenous people have opposed Mount Rushmore since its construction, said Nick Tilsen, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota nation and founder, CEO and president of the NDN Collective, a nonprofit organization that supports indigenous people.
“Indigenous peoples and my ancestors fought and died, and gave their lives to protect the sacred land, and to blow up a mountain and put the faces of four white men who were colonizers who committed genocide against indigenous peoples: the fact of that we don’t “To think of it as outright outrage is ridiculous,” he told CNN in an interview on Wednesday.
In the current political climate, Tilsen said, there is an opportunity to question the history and purpose of the monument.
“What indigenous peoples have been saying for generations, there is an appetite to have a conversation about the symbols of white supremacy, structural racism, and now we have to bring down these systems if we want to bring down white supremacy and structural racism in this country, “he said, calling for the monument to be closed and for the lands to be returned to indigenous peoples, who can then decide how to move forward.
Presidential historian and board member of the Mount Rushmore Society, Tom Griffith, said getting rid of the nation’s monuments is not the right approach.
“We can easily erase all the symbols from our past, but we cannot ignore history. It will remain no matter what sculptures, what are demolished across the country. And that continues today. It is of great concern to historians who we believe is not just the symbol is the story you are trying to erase. And we cannot rewrite, we cannot be revisionists, “he told CNN Thursday at Mount Rushmore.
The president has clung to the issue of protecting monuments as he seeks to win the support of his political base. Last week, he signed an executive order that “mandates that those who incite violence and illegal activity be prosecuted to the fullest extent under the law.”
Activists point to other reasons to question Mount Rushmore’s place in history: Gutzon Borglum, who created the sculpture, was aligned with the Ku Klux Klan.
“Before Mount Rushmore was considered, Borglum was working on Stone Mountain, Georgia, a Confederate monument. I think more than ideology, but more practically, he was affiliated with the Klan to raise money for this Confederate monument,” Griffith told CNN.
Lincoln, Tilsen said, “was a mass murderer, a colonizer – he ordered the largest hanging mass in the history of the nation. So he was not one of our heroes. He is not someone – he was an enemy of our people, of indigenous peoples, and it is important that we take into account the true history of this nation. ”
McGee-Ballinger, the park’s educator, said in an interview that local tribes had been consulted prior to Friday’s event.
The official account of the Democratic National Committee pointed to Trump’s trip in a tweet earlier this week that has since been removed.
The president’s re-election campaign sent an email to supporters in the tweet on Wednesday night, alleging that Democrats “HATE America.”
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son and outspoken advocate, criticized reports questioning the decision to visit.
Friday’s festivities also carry an environmental risk. There were fireworks on July 4 at Mount Rushmore for several years, but they were discontinued in 2009 due to environmental concerns, including an increased risk of fire.
Pine beetle infestations in nearby forests were a cause for concern when the fireworks were suspended. These infestations can kill trees, increasing your risk of flammability and, in turn, posing a potential forest fire hazard. Fireworks increased the risk of a fire catching fire.
“Firing fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest, or any flammable vegetation, is not advisable and should not be done. Period,” Gabbert told the publication.
“We are very confident that we have been very careful in analyzing the situation on how to have a safe and responsible event,” said McGee-Ballinger, citing the environmental assessment.