The Slatest

Golf Club Guests Cheer Trump as He Says They Don’t Have to Wear Masks: “Peaceful Protest”

Country club members, few wearing facemasks, await the president's arrival ahead of a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 7, 2020.
Country club members, few wearing facemasks, await the president’s arrival ahead of a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 7, 2020. JIM WATSON/Getty Images

President Donald Trump held a surprise news conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey Friday night. But that wasn’t the only surprise of the night for reporters covering the commander in chief. As members of the White House press pool waited for the president to start the briefing, they reported members and guests of the president’s private country club were packed inside, also waiting for the show to start.

Dozens of people were standing close together in the room, seemingly caring little about social distancing guidelines while only a few were wearing masks. After reporters began tweeting photos of the largely unmasked crowd and pointing out that they were violating New Jersey Covid-19 regulations, staffers began handing out masks to the crowd after they had already been standing right next to each other for about half an hour. One reporter covering the event tweeted that a club official told the crowd to “spread out a little bit” because “the tweets are going out.”

Country club members are handed facemasks to wear as they await the US president's arrival ahead of a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 7, 2020.
Country club members are handed facemasks to wear as they await the US president’s arrival ahead of a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 7, 2020. JIM WATSON/Getty Images

In the question-and-answer portion of the briefing, a reporter specifically brought up the crowd who got an up-close view of the president while questioning Trump’s claim that the coronavirus is “disappearing” in the country. “You said that the pandemic is disappearing, but we lost 6,000 Americans this week and just in this room you have dozens of people who are not following the guidelines in New Jersey,” the reporter said. The crowd started booing and Trump quickly pushed back against the reporter’s claim as he came to the defense of his paying members. “You are wrong on that, because it is a political activity. They have exceptions … and it is also a peaceful protest,” Trump said.

The crowd clapped and cheered the president as the news conference suddenly took on the feel of a small Trump rally. “To me they all look like they pretty much all have masks on,” Trump said before going on to double down on his claim that the club members were actually there to protest the media and that’s why they were exempt from the state’s rules that were put in place to stem the spread of Covid-19. “They heard you were coming up, and they know the news is fake. They understand it better than anybody,” he said. “If the press in this country were honest, if it wasn’t corrupt, if it wasn’t fake, our country would be much further ahead.” Trump then ended the news conference as club members clapped.

For more of Slate’s news coverage, subscribe to What Next on Apple Podcasts or listen below.