Did teenagers and K-pop fans thwart Trump rally?

The fall-out from Donald Trump’s embarrassing rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has prompted one major question: Did teenagers, TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music troll the president of the United States?

For more than a week before Mr Trump’s first campaign rally in three months, these tech-savvy groups opposing the president mobilised to reserve tickets for an event they had no intention of attending.

While it is unlikely they were responsible for the low turn-out, their antics may have inflated the campaign’s expectations for attendance numbers that led to Saturday’s disappointing show.

“My 16-year-old daughter and her friends in Park City Utah have hundreds of tickets. You have been rolled by America’s teens,” veteran Republican campaign strategist Steve Schmidt tweeted on Saturday.

The tweet garnered more than 100,000 likes and many responses from people who say they or their children did the same.

On Sunday, Mr Schmidt called the rally an “unmitigated disaster” — days after Trump campaign chairman Brad Parscale tweeted that more than a million people requested tickets for the rally through Mr Trump’s campaign website.

Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, said the turn-out was a sign of weakening voter support.

“Donald Trump has abdicated leadership and it is no surprise that his supporters have responded by abandoning him,” he said.

In a statement, the Trump campaign blamed the “fake news media” for “warning people away from the rally” over Covid-19 and protests against racial injustice around the country.

On Sunday, it was possible to sign up to stream a recap of the Tulsa event later in the day through Mr Trump’s website. It requested a name, email address and phone number. There was no age verification in the signup process, though the site required a PIN to verify phone numbers.

Donald Trump has abdicated leadership and it is no surprise that his supporters have responded by abandoning him

Inside the 19,000-seat BOK Center in Tulsa, where Mr Trump thundered that “the silent majority is stronger than ever before,” numerous seats were empty.

While city officials had expected a crowd of at least 100,000 people, the Tulsa fire marshal’s office reported a crowd of just less than 6,200 in the arena.

Social media users who have followed recent events might not be surprised by the way young people, and some older people, mobilised to troll the president.

They did it not just on TikTok but also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. K-Pop fans — who have a massive, coordinated online community and a cutting sense of humour — have become an unexpected ally to American Black Lives Matter protesters.

In recent weeks, they have been re-purposing their usual platforms and hashtags from promoting their favourite stars to backing the Black Lives Matter movement.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>President Donald Trump supporters listen to Trump speak during the rally (Evan Vucci/AP)</figcaption>
President Donald Trump supporters listen to Trump speak during the rally (Evan Vucci/AP)

Many of the early social media messages urging people to sign up for tickets mentioned the rally had originally been scheduled for Friday, June 19, which is Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Furthermore, Tulsa was the scene in 1921 of one of the most severe white-on-Black attacks in American history.

Mr Schmidt said he was not surprised. Today’s teens, after all, grew up with phones and have “absolutely” mastered them, he said.

They were “aware”, were the first generation to have remote Zoom classes, and had a “subversive sense of humour” having come of age in a world of online trolls and memes, Mr Schmidt said.

“Like salmon in the river, they participate politically through the methods and means of their lives,” Mr Schmidt said.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Mr Trump, looking glum on arrival back at the White House in the early hours of Sunday, was said to have been furious with the low turn-out (Patrick Semansky/AP)</figcaption>
Mr Trump, looking glum on arrival back at the White House in the early hours of Sunday, was said to have been furious with the low turn-out (Patrick Semansky/AP)

That said, the original idea for the mass ticket troll may have come not from a teen but from an Iowa woman.

The politics site Iowa Starting Line found that a TikTok video posted on June 11 by Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old grandmother from Fort Dodge, Iowa, suggesting people book free tickets to “make sure there are empty seats”.

Ms Laupp’s video, which also tells viewers how to stop receiving texts from the Trump campaign after they provide their phone number, has had more than 700,000 likes.

It was also possible to sign up for the rally using a fake or temporary phone number from Google Voice, for instance.

However, as Mr Parscale himself pointed out in a June 14 tweet, the ticket signups were not simply about drawing people to the rally.

He called it the “Biggest data haul and rally signup of all time by 10x” — meaning the hundreds of thousands of emails and phone numbers the campaign now has in its possession to use for microtargeting advertisements and to reach potential voters.

Still, it is possible that many of the emails are fake and that the ticket holders have no intention of voting for Mr Trump in November.

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