After Trump rally falls flat, TikTok teens take a victory lap for fake reservation campaign

TikTok teens, young adults and K-pop fans celebrated after Trump's Tulsa rally had lower than expected turnout.
Image: A supporter sits in the stands at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20, 2020.
A lone supporter at a Trump campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday, June 20, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

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By Kalhan Rosenblatt

For Diana Mejia, the idea to troll President Donald Trump with false ticket reservations to Saturday's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, came from TikTok.

On June 12, Mejia, 19, saw a video from TikTok user Mary Jo Laupp, noting people could reserve tickets they had no intention of using in an attempt to humiliate the president with an empty arena. The video has been viewed more than 2 million times as of Sunday, according to TikTok's metrics.

“I saw it was super popular on TikTok, and I was like, ‘We should definitely bring this to Twitter because I haven’t seen this on Twitter,’” Mejia said.

Twenty minutes after seeing the video, Mejia tweeted that she had reserved her own set of tickets: “oh no! I just reserved my tickets for 45’s rally on JUNETEENTH in TULSA and completely forgot that I have to mop my windows that day! now my seats will be EMPTY!”

Not long after she posted the tongue-in-cheek tweet, it went viral with more than 50,000 likes and other young people saying they planned to do the same.

On Sunday, following a lower-than-expected turnout at Trump’s Tulsa rally, TikTok teens, young adults and K-pop stans (fans of Korean hip-hop and pop music) celebrated their efforts to troll the president. Half a dozen young people told NBC News they felt satisfied after seeing the modest crowd size.

But there was no cap to the tickets available and there’s no data to show if the online campaign targeting the Tulsa rally — which has been a strategy of Trump’s detractors since 2015, when he first announced his candidacy — contributed in any way to the Trump campaign’s excessive expectations about the turnout.

Trump and some of his high-profile supporters had bragged in the days before the rally that more than 1 million people had signed up to attend. Trump Campaign Manager Brad Parscale tweeted on June 14 that “Saturday is going to be amazing” after saying that more than 800,000 people had signed up for tickets at the 19,000-seat Bank of Oklahoma Center.

Approximately 6,200 people attended the rally on Saturday, according to the Tulsa Fire Department.

Parscale downplayed the impact of the online campaign in a statement Sunday.

“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. Reporters who wrote gleefully about TikTok and K-Pop fans — without contacting the campaign for comment — behaved unprofessionally and were willing dupes to the charade,” Parscale said.

Parscale said that the campaign weeds out “bogus” reservations and that phony ticket requests “never factor into our thinking.” He blamed the coronavirus, ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and the media for the low turnout.

Although many of the young people who spoke to NBC News were aware that there was no limit to the number of seats that could be reserved, they still took pride in the fact so many of them came together in an attempt to troll the president.

Ruth, 20, of California, who asked that NBC News only identify her by her first name over concerns of online harassment, is a K-pop stan who reserved tickets to the rally.

“I think it’s a reminder we should try to make sure we’re using the power that we have and the voice that we have for good,” she said.

@maryjolaupp

Did you know you can make sure there are empty seats at Trump’s rally? ##BLM.

♬ original sound - maryjolaupp

K-pop stans have recently made headlines for their style of online protest, in which they’ve tried to aid the Black Lives Matter movement and the public demonstrations by co-opting racist hashtags and flooding them with images, gifs and videos of their favorite K-pop stars. The fans also made a similar move in response to a call from the Dallas Police Department to send videos of “illegal activity from the protests.”

“The music they’ve written has reflected that there needs to be a change and a different status quo to what society has going on right now, “ Ruth said of one of the most popular K-pop groups, BTS. “That message affirms how we feel.”

Many of the young people who spoke to NBC News said that they often feel their voices and concerns have little effect on the president’s actions, so when they saw an opportunity for what amounted to a fairly harmless troll, they jumped at it.

“So many of us are not at a voting age, and even those of us that are at a voting age are looking at the Trump-Biden match up and we don’t particularly see a candidate that we like a whole lot and we’re so frustrated at both of them," Mitch Reid, 18, of Florida, said. "Especially Trump, more than fed up with Trump, and we can hardly wait to vote him out, so why not mess with him now?”

The trolling of Trump dates back to the start of his campaign in 2015. Resistance Twitter, the moniker given to the part of the internet that has protested Trump’s presidency and policies, has attempted to find ways to humiliate the president, although these tactics don’t always work.

Some critics put the blame for the high expectations on Saturday squarely on Parscale for aggressively touting the numbers in the lead up to the rally.

“It’s politics 101, you under-promise and over-deliver,” one Trump ally told NBC News. The ally added that the campaign was at fault for the misstep of touting nearly one million people had RSVP’d.

Regardless of how some people view the TikTok teens and K-pop stans’ ticket protest, many praised their efforts on Saturday evening into Sunday morning.

“Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations & tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during COVID Shout out to Zoomers,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in a tweet in response to a post from Parscale claiming protesters in Tulsa were to blame for the low turnout. “Y’all make me so proud.”

While she acknowledged it’s unclear if young people had any effect on the crowd size on Saturday night, Mejia said seeing Trump and his campaign go from bragging to “meltdown” was, in her opinion, hilarious.

“Even though the reserving itself had no effect, it was kind of like our own form of protest in a way because we were able to get a million requests and most if it was not the people who were planning on going,” she said. “It was really just us.”