Mount Rushmore: Trump hosts 4 July celebration event amid criticism
US President Donald Trump is presiding over an event to mark 4 July celebrations at Mount Rushmore, despite concerns over coronavirus.
In a speech at the South Dakota landmark, he said it would "stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom".
"This monument will never be desecrated, these heroes will never be defaced," he told a cheering crowd.
Mount Rushmore features the carved faces of four US presidents.
Activists have long taken issue with the monument, which was created on land sacred to the Sioux tribe. Two of the former presidents depicted – George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – were slave-owners.
The president's decision to hold an event there has been criticised at a time when statues of Confederate generals and slave-owners are being re-evaluated, and in many cases pulled down, amid anti-racism protests.
What else is Trump expected to say?
President Trump is expected to denounce "cancel culture", and the toppling of monuments during recent anti-racism protests.
A Trump campaign official said he would rail against people trying to "tear down" the United States.
"The left wing mob and those practicing cancel culture are engaging in totalitarian behaviour that is completely alien to American life – and we must not accept it," the official said, summarising Mr Trump's expected comments.
A fireworks display will also be held at the pre-Independence Day event, which 7,500 people are expected to attend.
Masks will be available but not required, and social distancing will not be strictly enforced.
Welcoming people to the event, South Dakota's Republican Governor Kristi Noem echoed the president's tone on protesters, accused them of "trying to wipe away the lessons of history".
"This is being done deliberately to discredit America's founding principles," she declared.
The fireworks will be the first at Mount Rushmore in over a decade, after a ban was imposed over environmental concerns.
The monument is surrounded by a national forest and some fear the display could set off wildfires in the dry brush, though local officials have said the risk is low.
Friday's gathering is the latest to be held by President Trump during the coronavirus pandemic, as he attempts to fire up his supporters ahead of November's presidential election.
Oklahoma and Arizona recently hosted large events, raising fears they could spread Covid-19 as cases continue to rise nationwide.
On Friday, the US recorded its largest single-day total of new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.
What have Native Americans said about the event?
Native American groups have criticised Mr Trump's visit for posing a health risk, and for celebrating US independence in an area that is sacred to them.
Many Native Americans do not celebrate Independence Day because they associate it with the colonisation of their tribal homelands and the loss of their cultural freedoms.
The Mount Rushmore landmark was carved between 1927 and 1941, but the land it lies on – in the Black Hills of South Dakota – was taken from the indigenous Lakota Sioux by the US government in the 1800s.
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"The president is putting our tribal members at risk to stage a photo op at one of our most sacred sites," said Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
Ahead of the event, a group of mostly Native American protesters blocked a main road to the monument with white vans, leading to a tense stand-off with police.
They were eventually cleared from the road by police officers and National Guard soldiers, who used smoke bombs and pepper spray, local reports say.
The vans were towed away and several protesters were arrested after the police declared the road block an "unlawful assembly", local newspaper the Argus Leader reported.