KEYSTONE, S.D. — President Donald Trump flew to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota on Friday, July 3, to preside over a night of speeches, flyovers and fireworks.
Forum News Service reporters were there, both at the memorial and outside, where Native Americans demonstrators blocked the road leading to the memorial's entrance, and in Keystone, a small town nearby.
Here's a collection of our interviews and notes that didn't make it into our other reporting, but were nonetheless interesting.
- Keystone is a tourist town, a popular stop for Black Hills visitors. But on Friday it was a Trump town. The sidewalks of Keystone bustled with many people wearing Trump T-shirts, hats and other items. Many of them weren't wearing masks or observing social distancing conventions.
- The string of shops in Keystone's downtown usually sell items like Mount Rushmore magnets and Black Hills sweatshirts. This day most were selling Trump items, and making a killing. "All the Trump stuff is selling like wildfire," Mariah Welch, a sales associate at Keystone Fashions. "Two weeks ago, we couldn't make $10 because of the coronavirus. Now I can't take a 10-minute break."
- But some Keystone shops noticeably weren't selling Trump items. One store owner estimated sales were down 36% from the same day a year ago, even with a town filled with visitors.
United States Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was in high spirits while waiting for the fireworks show and Trump’s arrival at Mount Rushmore. Bernhardt spoke to Forum News Service, noting that the event came to fruition via extensive planning with efforts coming from the state and national leadership.
“First thing it took is leadership and cooperation and partnership between the president and Gov. Kristi Noem really over the last year in a half to ensure we could bring this back in a manner that is very, very safe. And that’s what you see here today,” Bernhardt said.
Bernhardt touched on a prescribed burn in the forests near the monuments, which was one part of the many ways the state and federal departments cooperated to ensure the event could happen. “The active management of our forests is something that is very important to our president and very important to our communities, and here we did do some active management to make sure we minimized the opportunities for a significant wildlife,” Bernhardt said.
He also gave hefty credit to Noem for putting the plan in motion in the first place. “The governor is a strong leader and she had a strong vision of this. I think she was the first one to personally raise the issue with the President the very first time, which caught his attention."
- Protesters, many of them Native American, clashed with National Guard troops and law enforcement at an improvised roadblock of the road leading to Mount Rushmore. But even as the groups fought over ground, there were grace notes. Erin Bormett, a photojournalist for the Argus Leader, was handed a bag of saline solution by a National Guardsman to help a protester who had been pepper sprayed by a sheriff's deputy. Another protester walked down the side of the highway putting trash in a large plastic bag and leaving the area tidy.
- While the National Guard units who responded to the protests wore gas masks at times, tear gas was never used to disperse the protesters.
- A small group of onlookers and pro-Trump visitors stayed to watch the road blockade, occasionally jeering at protesters and cheering as police and National Guard units passed by.
- The crowd of 7,500 ticket holders to the fireworks event frequently chanted "U-S-A!" and "Four more years!" in anticipation of Trump's arrival.
- The Blue Angels, UH-60s from the South Dakota Army National Guard, F-16s from the South Dakota Air National Guard, and the Ellsworth Air Force Base B-1 bombers performed flyovers during the event.
- South Dakota native and celebrity Mary Hart was the emcee for the event, saying she received a text message from Gov. Kristi Noem asking if she "got her text" to which Hart said she hadn't, which prompted Noem to immediately call Hart to ask if she'd consider emceeing the event. Hart said she was proud to be a part of the event and recalled the last time her and fellow South Dakota native Tom Brokaw hosted President George W. Bush when he attended a celebration at Mount Rushmore decades ago.