US President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday hosted a fraction of the expected supporters. Some of the no-shows may have been teenagers who decided to RSVP with no intention of attending.
Over the past few days, people who oppose Trump organised efforts on social-media apps TikTok, Instagram and Twitter to sign up for the rally, sometimes with fake names or burner email accounts.
The message spread among teens, especially fans of Korean pop music, who have pivoted their networks to political causes recently.
Memes on video-sharing app TikTok showed teenagers dancing in front of screenshots of their Trump rally registrations. Many of the posts were set to the tune of the 1993 song Macarena, prompting others to repeat the gesture and causing the meme to go viral.
Just under 6,200 people attended the event, according to a spokesman for the city’s fire department.
It is impossible to know how many of the no-shows at the rally can be attributed to the viral effort.
Trump had boasted of nearly 1 million sign-ups, far beyond the capacity of the Bank of Oklahoma Centre, which has 19,000 seats. The president was planning to address overflow crowds at a stage outside the arena, but there was no need.
His campaign attributed the low turnout to “radical protesters, fuelled by a week of apocalyptic media coverage,” according to a tweet by Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager.
Still, online, the opposition declared victory. “My 16 year old daughter and her friends in Park City Utah have hundreds of tickets,” Steve Schmidt, a political strategist who worked for President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, wrote on Twitter. “You have been rolled by America’s teens.” Other parents’ posts also made similar claims.
Elijah Daniel, a music artist under the name Lil Phag, started asking his followers on TikTok days ago to reserve tickets and spread the word.
On Saturday he followed up on Twitter, asking how many had done so. Dozens responded saying they’d reserved a few tickets, with joke excuses for why they couldn’t go – from walking their plants to feeding their rocks.
“Seeing how this generation has stood up and become so creative in fighting for what they believe in is awesome to see,” Daniel said in an interview, crediting K-pop fans for giving him the idea.
“Leftists and online trolls doing a victory lap, thinking they somehow impacted rally attendance, don’t know what they’re talking about or how our rallies work,” campaign manager Parscale said in a statement on Sunday.
He said the campaign weeds out bogus phone numbers and that they did this with “tens of thousands” at the Tulsa event in calculating possible attendance.
The Trump campaign said registering for the rally didn’t mean guaranteed entry for the event, and no one was issued an actual ticket.
“Leftists always fool themselves into thinking they’re being clever,” said Tim Murtaugh, a campaign spokesman. “Registering for a rally only means you’ve RSVPed with a mobile phone number. Every rally is general admission and entry is first-come-first-served. But we thank them for their contact information.”
It wasn’t just young people. Mary Jo Laupp, who calls herself a TikTok Grandma, said the rally was “a slap in the face to the Black community”.
She told followers the campaign was offering two free tickets per mobile phone number, and advised people to sign up and then just reply “STOP” to the text messages. Her post was liked 704,500 times and shared 135,000 times.
The Trump campaign relies on data from rally sign-ups to target effective advertisements leading up to election day. On June 14, Parscale tweeted that Tulsa represented the “biggest data haul and rally sign-up of all time by 10x”. At least some of that data is likely to be ineffective.