Shortly before President Donald Trump appeared on stage at his much-anticipated rally in Tulsa, it was plainly evident that the campaign had completely oversold the event. Days ahead of the event, Brad Parscale, the chairman of the president’s reelection campaign, and even Trump himself had taken to Twitter to boast about the number of ticket requests they had received for the Saturday night rally. “Almost One Million people,” boasted Trump on Twitter as he publicly said his campaign expected the 19,000-capacity arena to be packed. Expectations were so high that Trump planned to speak to an overflow crowd outside. But the outside portion ended up being canceled as there were lots of empty seats inside. According to the Tulsa Fire Department even saying that the arena was half-empty was an overstatement as turnout at the rally was under 6,200 people.
TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music groups claimed they were at least partly responsible for creating the outsized expectations for the rally. They claimed to have registered for as many as hundreds of thousands of tickets as a prank after Trump’s campaign called for supporters to register for tickets. It seems K-pop fan accounts, which have been starring in unusually high-profile political actions lately, were the first to pick up the baton, reports the New York Times. The highly active accounts dedicated to honoring Korean pop called on followers to register for the rally and not show up. That call then spread on TikTok, where many made videos that quickly went viral instructing people how to go about requesting tickets.
Although many are referring to “TikTok teens” the truth is that at least some of the people who were calling to carry out what was effectively a trolling campaign were decidedly older than teenagers. One of them, for example, was a 51-year-old grandmother who posted a video calling on people to register for the event and not show up. Mary Jo Laupp had around 1,000 followers then, but the video quickly blew up, reports CNN. Many others posted similar posts, often deleting them after a day or two to try to prevent the videos from spreading to other corners of the internet. Still, the trend spread to other social networks, including Twitter and Instagram, although to a much smaller degree.
Many were quick to praise the online activists for their actions after the low attendance became the main story out of Trump’s first rally since March. “Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York tweeted in response to Parscale blaming protesters and “apocalyptic media coverage” for the low turnout. “KPop allies, we see and appreciate your contributions in the fight for justice too,” Ocasio-Cortez added in a subsequent tweet.
The move to request lots of tickets for Trump’s rally marks the latest example of how internet-savvy K-Pop fans are taking a high-profile involvement in American politics recently. Earlier this month, for example, they answered a call from Trump’s campaign for birthday greetings for the president with a bunch of prank messages. K-pop accounts have also taken part in the Black Lives Matter protests by drowning out opponents of the movement while also flooding police apps with videos of Korean pop.
The Trump campaign dismissed the importance of any fake ticket request. “Leftists always fool themselves into thinking they’re being clever,” said Tim Murtaugh, a campaign spokesman. “Registering for a rally only means you’ve RSVPed with a cell phone number. Every rally is general admission and entry is first-come-first served. But we thank them for their contact information.” And it is true that while the K-Pop fans and TikTok users may have helped contribute to the huge expectations for the event but the prank ticket requests don’t actually explain why the president’s much-anticipated rally was not full in the first place.