Nevada city fines Trump rally venue $3,000 in COVID-19 flap
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Nevada city where President Donald Trump held an indoor campaign rally said Monday the venue owner is being fined $3,000 for violating coronavirus prevention mandates imposed by the state’s Democratic governor.
Henderson officials told Xtreme Manufacturing owner Donald Ahern that the event that drew thousands of people to a warehouse in suburban Las Vegas violated Gov. Steve Sisolak’s coronavirus emergency directives.
State rules prohibit gatherings larger than 50 people, require “social distancing” of 6 feet (1.8 meters), and mandate masks or face coverings in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Ahern’s attorney, Michael Van, acknowledged receiving a notice from the city and said Ahern will decide whether to challenge it. He has 30 days.
“It’s interesting that if it’s a demonstration, it’s OK. If it’s a rally, it’s not OK,” Van said, casting the dispute as a First Amendment fight. “There’s just inconsistent application of that declaration.”
Ahern, a local heavy equipment rental mogul and hotel owner has a separate lawsuit pending against Sisolak after being fined more than $10,000 for hosting an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally and a separate beauty pageant last month at his renovated casino-turned-convention hall.
In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Sisolak accused Trump of knowingly violating coronavirus directives and endangering Nevada residents.
“He knew what the rules were. He chose to show callous disregard in a reckless, selfish, irresponsible way. There’s no other way to put it,” the governor said. He added that it was “absurd for him to think that the rules didn’t apply to him.”
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh on Monday called the rally crowd, “great Americans who supported their fellow citizens in wanting to hear from the president of the United States.”
Henderson city spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said that Ahern was warned verbally and in writing before the event. A business compliance officer observed six violations amounting to fines worth $500 each among the mostly maskless crowd.
During the rally, Trump derided Sisolak, with whom he has clashed in the past, as “a political hack,” and urged Nevada residents to “tell your governor to open up your state.”
Trump’s campaign is suing Nevada’s Republican secretary of state in federal court to try to block a new state law and prevent mail-in ballots from going to all active Nevada voters amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Nevada wants the court to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that vote-by-mail does not lead to election fraud and the virus could make voting in person dangerous.
Trump told his supporters the governor was “playing around” with ballots. He blamed Sisolak for forcing the Trump campaign to abandon plans to hold two outdoor rallies last weekend at a private air facility at McCarran International Airport and at an airport hangar at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
The northern Nevada event was moved to an outdoor airport venue in Minden, more than a one-hour drive from Reno, where Nevada GOP party Chairman Michael McDonald made a point of calling the event a protest. Trump told the crowd that Sisolak “tried very hard to stop us from having this event.”
“They can have riots and they can all sorts of things and that’s OK. You can burn up the house, that’s OK,” Trump said. “If you call it a protest, you’re allowed to have it. So, if anybody asks you outside, this is called a `friendly protest.’”
Douglas County, where Trump held that rally, could also face punishment.
Nevada agreed to allocate the county $8.9 million in federal relief dollars on the condition that safety directives be enforced. Nevada COVID-19 response chief Caleb Cage told reporters Monday he didn’t know whether the state would withhold or claw back relief given to Douglas County.
Associated Press writers Sam Metz in Carson City, Nevada, and Scott Sonner in Reno contributed to this report.
Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.