President Donald Trump railed against "angry mobs" that tried to tear down statues of Confederate leaders and other historical figures, warning thousands of supporters at Mount Rushmore that protesters were trying to erase US history.
Speaking underneath a famed landmark that depicts four US presidents, Trump warned that the demonstrations over racial inequality in American society threatened the foundations of the US political system.
"Make no mistake, this left wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American revolution," Trump said.
"Our children are taught in school to hate their own country," he added.
The event drew an estimated 7500 people, packed tightly into an amphitheatre beneath the famed landmark that depicts the images of US presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Masks were offered to attendees but many did not wear them.
Trump has held three public events that have drawn thousands of supporters over the past three weeks, despite warnings from public-health officials who have urged Americans to avoid large gatherings as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country. Seven states posted a record number of new Covid-19 cases on Friday.
The virus has even reached Trump's inner circle. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior campaign official and the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr, tested positive in South Dakota before attending the Mount Rushmore event, according to a source familiar with the situation. Trump Jr has tested negative, the source said.
The president has come under criticism for his "law and order" reaction to nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
Mount Rushmore has not hosted a fireworks spectacle since 2009 because of environmental concerns. Trump advocated for a resumption of the display, and the state says the surrounding Black Hills National Forest has "gained strength" since then and that fireworks technology has advanced.
Native American protesters were arrested after blocking a road to the South Dakota landmark, according to video livestreamed on social media. They have criticized Trump's visit for increasing the risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus and for celebrating US independence in an area that is sacred to them.
South Dakota, a solidly Republican state, has not been hit as hard as other states by Covid-19, but cases in Pennington County, where Mount Rushmore is located, have more than doubled over the past month.
Cheryl Schreier, superintendent of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial from 2010 to 2019, admonished Trump for defying social distancing guidelines for an event she warned carried risks of spreading disease, triggering wildfires and contaminating groundwater.
"This is a recipe for disaster," she wrote in a column published in the Washington Post.
Trump will hold another celebration for the 4 July holiday on Saturday in Washington.