Updated August 6, 2020 - 11:14 pm
Hundreds of people packed the Ahern Hotel in Las Vegas on Thursday for a faith-based campaign event for President Donald Trump headlined by the president’s personal pastor, Paula White.
“Our president understands how important faith is to our country,” White said.
According to organizers and one speaker, the Evangelicals for Trump event proceeded despite warnings from city and state officials, including several attempts by police to shut it down as it unfolded.
Ralph Reed, a political consultant and chair of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and the City Council threatened the owners of the Ahern Hotel with fines and license revocation if they allowed the event to proceed.
White added during her speech that Gov. Steve Sisolak also attempted to block the event.
The Review-Journal obtained a copy of a letter sent by the city to the event’s organizers Thursday afternoon warning that the event would be a violation of Sisolak’s Phase Two order limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
$250 violation issued
City spokesman Jace Radke said Thursday evening that the event’s organizers and owner Don Ahern were issued a notice of violation from the city’s business licensing department, which includes a $250 civil fine.
More than 500 people attended the event, according to organizers, which was held in the hotel’s lobby. The lobby’s maximum occupancy is more than 1,600, organizers said. Masks were required, and attendees’ temperatures were checked at each entrance. A sign ordered anyone feeling ill to go home.
The Trump campaign maintained that hotels are allowed to hold events at 50 percent occupancy and are not subject to the 50-person event cap placed on churches and other venues.
The Gaming Control Board recently filed a complaint against the Sahara Las Vegas for hosting an event with more than 50 people.
Reed and White said police attempted to shut down the event but were blocked by Trump’s campaign legal team.
Shutdown threats apparently abated, a handful of pastors wove faith and political messages together in support of Trump’s re-election.
White described a gathering of preachers in 2011 who prayed for Trump for six hours, after which Trump asked White if he should run for president.
“I remember looking at him knowing in my spirit he was going to be president someday,” White told the crowd. “And I said, ‘Our country needs you, sir.’”
Most of the evening’s speakers voiced support for Trump’s judicial appointments and his stance on Israel. Several said explicitly that Trump was chosen by God to be president.
After a mostly apolitical start to the event set to live worship music, pastors dived into why they believe the country should back Trump for a second term.
Pastor Jentezen Franklin of Free Chapel in Georgia called Trump “the most pro-life, pro-Israel, pro-Christian and pro-religious freedom president in history.”
He urged the crowd to work to re-elect Trump, saying presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden will “marry America to the far-left extremists.”
Franklin also crystallized one of main reasons for evangelical support of Trump: his appointment of some 200 federal judges and two U.S. Supreme Court justices who oppose abortion.
“You’re not voting for the next four years,” he said. “You’re voting for next 37 years. This president will secure the courts and secure our Constitution.”
“God raised up this president,” said Pastor Tony Suarez, chief operating officer of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
‘He’s not a racist’
Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., of Hope Christian Church in Maryland, said four more years of Trump could secure a Christian future.
Jackson, who is Black, said Trump is “not a racist. He’s a problem solver.”
He asked the audience to speak to their friends of color about supporting Trump, adding that Democrats “usually come the Sunday before the Tuesday” for their support on Election Day.
“They want what they want when they want it, but they don’t really want us,” Jackson said.
Several of the speakers also railed against Democratic governors, including Sisolak, for restricting church gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“God doesn’t believe the church is ‘essential’ or ‘unessential’ either,” said Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in California. “The church is transcendent.”
Hibbs also brushed aside the president’s online demeanor.
“People say, ‘I don’t like the tweets.’ Can you get over the tweets?” he said, to light applause.
The pastors joined one another on stage for more than 10 minutes of prayer for Trump, law enforcement and others to close the event.