(CNN) — There will be no masks required and no rules for social distancing in place when President Trump holds a Fourth of July celebration Friday night at Mount Rushmore.
Thousands of people are expected to attend.
It’s a made-for-TV election-year photo-op for the president to kick off the holiday weekend.
“It’s going to be a fireworks display like few people have seen,” President Trump said Thursday.
Standing in the shadow of four presidents at Mt. Rushmore with military flyovers and the first fireworks display at the monument in a decade — all amid a global pandemic.
Critics say the event is risking coronavirus spread among the expected 7,500 spectators.
As cases continue to spike across the country, there are nearly 7,000 confirmed cases in South Dakota, and 97 deaths.
There will be no social distancing, but masks will be provided.
“We won’t be social distancing, we’re asking them to come, be ready to celebrate, to enjoy the freedoms and the liberties that we have in this country,” said South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.
It’s not clear how many of those 7,500 visitors will come from other places experiencing rising cases.
“We are concerned about the coronavirus. We want our visitors to be safe and healthy. We’re very confident that we have been quite careful in analyzing the situation on how to have a safe and responsible event,” said Maureen McGee-Ballinger, chief of interpretation and education, Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
The president once suggested to South Dakota’s governor that he’d like to be the fifth face on the mountain – and here in Trump country people actually buy into it.
“One day, Donald J. Trump will be on that monument. I firmly believe it,” said Lois DeYoung, visiting monument.
But at a time of racial unease when protesters are tearing down statues of slave holders and calling for the names of Confederate generals to be removed from army bases — the Rushmore event is a reminder that Trump is fighting to preserve these relics of heritage and history that some see as symbols of oppression.
And to indigenous people, Mt. Rushmore — with four white presidents — two of whom were slave owners —is one of those symbols.
“Indigenous people 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 people? the fact that we don’t as america think of that as an absolute outrage is ridiculous,” said Nick Tilsen, founder and ceo, NDN Collective.
The dispute over Mount Rushmore has gone on for decades. Carved out of South Dakota’s Black Hills on land sacred to native Americans who have never gotten over the fact that the government took over this location and turned it into a tourist attraction. Activists say the government should give back the land to the original owners.
They’re planning protests and local tribal councils have denounced the Trump visit.
“All of a sudden what indigenous people have been saying for generations, there’s an appetite to have a conversation about symbols of white supremacy, structural racism,” Tilsen said.
Historian Tom Griffith says getting rid of the monuments isn’t the answer.
“We can easily erase all of the symbols of our past, but we can’t ignore the history. It will remain no matter what sculptures are torn down around the country. and that continues today,” said Tom Griffith, historian, Mt. Rushmore Society.
To some, Mt. Rushmore, the creation, is almost as controversial today as its creator, Gutzon Borglum. The sculptor was an ardent supporter of the Ku Klux Klan, though he never took the oath.
“I think more than the ideology, but more practically, he was affiliated with the klan to raise money,” Griffith said.
Experts have raised concerns about the fireworks leading to wildfires but the National Park Service says conditions are good and the right precautions are in place.