‘A day we honor America’

Leslie Silverman


Mount Rushmore’s July 3 event emblazoned patriotism, liberty and American culture.

While for most locals the July 3 event at Mount Rushmore National Memorial was monumental, to the lucky 7,500 people who filed into the monument, the real draw was President Donald J. Trump.

“The day before the lottery was announced, we heard Trump would be speaking,” said Donna Lewis, who traveled with friends from Minnesota. “We all registered for the lottery. He is the icing on the cake.”

Trump being here is explosive, she added, saying, “We love our president.” She, along with many others, cared less about the fireworks and more about showing support for the nation’s president.

“I love everything about him,” said Joanie Meckelberg of Wisconsin who owns a travel agency and loves the economic policies Trump has created during his tenure as President.

“We hired two new employees,” she said. “It’s the best years I’ve ever had. We’re very patriotic. We’re from a military family. I really love that he’s trying to bring back patriotism.”

Meckelberg, who voted for Obama the first time, has been to five rallies for President Trump.

Most people in attendance at Mount Rushmore that day wore shirts and hats in support of President Trump and many had Trump 2020 signs in hand. Chants of  “four more years” could often be heard during the various speeches that took place.

This was Meckelberg’s first visit to the monument.

“Oh my gosh, I cried when I got into the parking lot,” she said. “I had no idea. This was on my bucket list.”

Douglas Hoff of Spearfish held signs in support of Trump as president.

“I feel today is a day we honor America and I think we all have an obligation to do that,” he said. “America isn't a perfect country; we need to learn from its history, we need to celebrate what it is and we need to make it better for everybody.”

Hoff viewed the opportunity to be at the event as a “chance of a lifetime to hear Trump speak.”

“The main thing I like about him is that he is not a politician,” Hoff said. “I think he’s a true American patriot and he truly wants to help America and Americans of all color.”

Alan and Lee Nichols came from Tucson, Ariz.

“We heard Trump was going to be here and we’ve never been to Mount Rushmore,” said Alan Nichols who loves Trump’s policies. “Putting people back to work,” he said. “He thinks about jobs, the future, children will be better, making education better, keeping America safe. That’s the kind of policies we need in his country. Most politicians sit around.”

The two described Mount Rushmore as “a work of art that somebody dreamed up and made happen.”

“That’s what America is about,” said Alan Nichols. “Seeing something, visualizing it and doing it.”

Raul Rodriguez, Jr., who repeatedly helped up a Trump 2020 sign, came from California to hear Trump speak.

“He is changing the way we do things,” he said. “He is trying to wake America up.”

Jessie Manning of Montana and Makena Simms of Wyoming also came to support Trump. They felt Trump is good for America and has a lot of good policies.

“He is a strong leader,” Manning said. “He is fighting against the deep state.”

That notion of Trump's fight against the deep state was repeatedly addressed by others in the crowd.

“We are patriots. Where we go one, we go all,” said Lewis. “He will be extraordinary.”

Lewis and her friends wore hand-designed shirts depicting their beliefs and ideals.

A first-time visitor to the monument, Lewis said the monument is “amazingly beautiful. A thing of history.”

The day featured bands, presidential re-enactors and Native American performances.

“No one expected me to be president,” said Fritz Klien, who impersonated Abraham Lincoln. “Even the best war is a terrible thing.”

His speech drew applause when he spoke of “recognizing the hand of God” and being “self sufficient to pray.”

Teddy Roosevelt, portrayed by Gib Young, was well received when he stated in character, “We do not back down. It takes courage to believe in yourself. Don’t wait for someone to rescue you.” The pair posed for pictures and interacted with attendees prior to their performances.

Jasmine Pickner-Bell, a hoop dancer for over 25 years, represented her people as part of the Independence Day tradition at Mount Rushmore. She dances with over 36 hoops. “We as a nation are going through a tough time,” she said. “Through our prayers we can heal as one.” Her performance was met with a standing ovation.

Darrell Red Cloud spoke of Lakota heritage in the Black Hills.

“When gold was found everything changed for our people. Our people are still here in this country. It seems like at times we are a forgotten people. We need to be recognized,” he said. “The Black Hills are not for sale. This is Lakota land.”

Musician Sequoia Crosswhite of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe enticed the audience with messages of love and peace. Playing guitar and flute, his performance was also met with a standing ovation.

Former “Entertainment Tonight” cohost Mary Hart, a South Dakota native and Miss South Dakota in 1970, hosted the evening’s speakers serving as Master of Ceremonies, which included Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Gov. Kristi Noem and President Donald Trump.

Even before Noem spoke, an audience member shouted out to her, “We love you Kristi. Now legalize pot.”

Noem said she had been working on bringing fireworks back to Mount Rushmore even before she became the leader of the state. She spoke about the importance of the Declaration of Independence.

“Let us never forget, especially today, that our government has the power it does because people have consented to it,” she said.

This statement drew cheers of “USA” from the audience. “Any attempt to cancel the founding fathers’ generation is an attempt to cancel our freedom,” she said.

Trump’s speech recognized the importance of Mount Rushmore.

“There could be no better place to celebrate America’s independence than beneath this magnificent, incredible, majestic mountain and monument to the greatest Americans who have ever lived,” Trump said.

He spoke at length about the recent movement to tear down monuments of historical figures.

“Those who seek to erase our heritage want Americans to forget our pride and our great dignity, so we can no longer understand ourselves or America’s destiny,” he said. “In toppling the heroes of 1776, they seek to dissolve the bonds of love and loyalty we feel for our country and that we feel for each other.  Their goal is not a better America; their goal is the end of America.”

This was met with boos from the audience, who shouted “USA” and “Four more years” throughout the president’s remarks.

Trump spoke about the achievements of each of the four presidents carved into Mount Rushmore. He also unveiled a plan to sign an executive order to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, “a vast outdoor park featuring the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live.”

There was no social distancing on site. All workers from National Park Service staff to Secret Service wore masks, but no performers or politicians did except Rep. Dusty Johnson.

Very few of the roughly 7,500 guests wore masks and none seemed worried about COVID-19.

Event attendees were thoroughly screened by the Secret Service prior to entry. Cars heading to the monument were searched, as well.

The event culminated in a half-hour fireworks display. Beginning with Neil Diamond’s “America,” colorful rounds of glowing light popped out of the rock just above the Mount Rushmore faces. The show featured spoken words in addition to a blend of familiar American-themed pop songs and traditional patriotic tunes.


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