President Donald Trump kicked off a “Salute to America” Saturday night on the grounds of the White House with a speech that took on the “angry mob” as he revisited the language and themes of his address a night earlier at Mount Rushmore.
“We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and the people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing,” he said. "We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children.
"And we will defend, protect and preserve (the) American way of life, which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America,” he said.
Earlier Saturday, Democrat Joe Biden, Trump's presumptive opponent in the November election, used a different tone, tweeting: "Our nation was founded on a simple idea: We're all created equal. We've never lived up to it — but we've never stopped trying. This Independence Day, let's not just celebrate those words, let's commit to finally fulfill them."
Crowds of spectators turned out along the National Mall for the event, which included a large fireworks display, despite the city’s concerns about the coronavirus. Crowds started to form Saturday morning along the mall but were smaller than a year ago and many individuals wore masks, according to the Associated Press.
Among them was nurse Zippy Watt from Riverside, California, who came to see the military flyover and fireworks with her husband and their two daughters. The family wore matching American flag face masks even when seated together on a park bench.
"We chose to wear a mask to protect ourselves and others," Watt told the AP. She said she is "more of a Trump supporter" because of what she sees as socialist tendencies and high taxes in her state.
Streets were blocked off around the White House, Lincoln Memorial and Black Lives Matter Plaza, where protesters peacefully marched for racial equality and police reform.
Among the protesters were the Freedom Fighters DC.
"We're marching today to showcase that Black folks are still fighting for the simple liberties that the constitution is said to provide," Kerrigan Williams, 22, one of the founders of the group, said to Reuters.
Earlier at the White House, several hundred invited guests, most not wearing masks, gathered on the South Lawn around tables decorated with flowers and small U.S. flags.
The attendees were doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers and military members as well as officials from the administration, said Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary. He said the event was a tribute to the “tremendous courage and spirit” of front-line workers and the public in the pandemic.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the July Fourth celebrations included a milelong firing of 10,000 fireworks that he called “the largest in recent memory.”
Bernhardt said visitors would be encouraged to wear masks and keep a 2-meter distance from one another.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has criticized the plans, saying they go against established health guidelines.
“We know this is a special event for the Department of Interior. We’ve communicated to them that we do not think this is in keeping with the best CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Department of Health guidance,” she said.
She noted the event would take place entirely on federal property, which means she does not have the right to shut down the holiday festivities.
Bowser asked city residents to avoid large crowds and to celebrate July Fourth near their homes.
In his speech, the president did not mention the U.S. deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, but he did say that China must be “held accountable.”
Many other U.S. cities have canceled or scaled back their firework displays this year because of the pandemic and concerns of large groups of people gathering.
However, sales of fireworks have been strong, indicating that many Americans are planning to celebrate the holiday in their backyard, according to the Associated Press.