President Trump on Saturday proposed a statue garden for America’s heroes, from George Washington to Amelia Earhart, scolded those who question the country’s forefathers and claimed 99% of coronavirus cases are “totally harmless” in a July 4 speech to a packed White House lawn — even as many Americans hunkered in their homes or forfeited holiday revelry.
In wide-ranging remarks, Mr. Trump used the second edition of his “Salute to America” to defend everyone from Christopher Columbus to law enforcement officers who’ve faced assaults from “very bad people” amid protests over racial injustice that have ranged from peaceful to fiery and violent.
“American heroes defeated the Nazis, dethroned the fascists, toppled the Communists, saved American values, upheld American principles and chased down the terrorists to the very ends of the earth,” Mr. Trump said. “We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and people who in many instances have absolutely no clue what they are doing.”
Mr. Trump, who signed an executive order late Friday night to create a national park stocked with monuments to a variety of American icons, said the U.S. will teach children “to cherish and adore their country.”
The park as designed will feature a long list of national heroes, including Alexander Hamilton, Jackie Robinson and many others— drawing a contrast with protesters who are pulling down existing statues.
“The patriots who built our country are not villains, they are heroes,” Mr. Trump said.
About 1,700 service members are involved in the national celebration of the country’s 244th birthday. Military flyovers also were proceeding in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Mr. Trump said when people deride America’s forefathers and history, they tear down everyone from the president himself to the men who raise the American flag at Iwo Jima during World War II.
“You slander them,” the president said.
Mr. Trump moved this year’s July 4 salute onto White House grounds instead of the National Mall, which was sparsely populated Saturday because of the virus.
The event featured a parachute show from the Army’s Golden Knights and an extensive air show over the heart of the nation’s capital featuring aircraft from conflicts throughout the 20th century.
Congressional Democrats in the D.C. area had objected to Mr. Trump holding a gathering this year in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The president’s detractors also say he is injecting political interests into festivities and fireworks that have long been a hallmark of July 4 in Washington.
Polls show Mr. Trump losing to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, in key battleground states ahead of November’s election. The campaign season has been overshadowed by the country’s struggles to corral a coronavirus that’s killed nearly 130,000.
Saturday’s event featured tables packed together on the White House lawn — some attendees wore masks, though many didn’t — even as the administration and governors in hard-hit states urge Americans to avoid crowds and use face coverings to reduce transmission.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said guests were not tested for COVID-19.
Mr. Trump said Americans can expect a vaccine for COVID-19 before the end of the year, and reiterated his belief that America’s unflattering caseload is due to widespread diagnostics.
“No other country is testing as we have,” Mr. Trump said.
Swaths of the Northeast are seeing improvement after Mr. Trump asked Americans to work and learn at home from mid-March to the end of April, though states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona and California are seeing a surge in cases as they reopen, leading to record single-day highs for cases. Hospitalizations and the rate of people testing positive is increasing, too, leading experts to warn of dire days ahead.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, our strategy is moving along well,” Mr. Trump said of the pandemic. “We’ve learned how to put out the flame.”