(CNN)A tumultuous spring spilled into summer in America on Saturday with President Donald Trump returning to the campaign trail in Tulsa and protests over racism and police brutality sweeping the country.
Trump calls protesters 'thugs' despite peaceful demonstrations in Tulsa and much of the US
Trump held his first rally since the coronavirus pandemic began on a tense Juneteenth weekend in the Oklahoma city where the 1921 Tulsa race massacre left up to 300 Black residents dead and the Black Greenwood District in ruins.
Thousands of people, many wearing MAGA hats and waving American flags, arrived at Tulsa's Bank of Oklahoma Center arena, while a group of protesters chanted "Black lives matter" near one of the site's entrances.
After the number of people at Saturday's rally was smaller than initially expected, Trump thanked those who attended the event.
"You are warriors. We had some very bad people outside. They were doing bad things. But I really do appreciate it," Trump said.
Later, the President said there were "very bad people" outside, describing protesters as "thugs."
There were large groups of protesters in downtown Tulsa near the site of the rally, police said, but they were demonstrating peacefully.
"There are multiple groups of demonstrators with varying viewpoints in the area adjacent to the rally," the Tulsa Police Department tweeted. "Overwhelmingly these encounters have been peaceful with everyone attempting to share their views."
Earlier, the Trump campaign blamed what they described as "radical protesters" for preventing people from entering the rally. Several CNN teams in Tulsa did not see any of that type of activity.
Similar protests and marches, ignited by the May 25 death of George Floyd, in at least a dozen other US cities were peaceful on Saturday.
Crowds of protesters gathered outside a police precinct in Atlanta and a woman sang "America the Beautiful" while waving a burning American flag.
In New York, protesters marched over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan's Foley Square while groups rallied in different parts of Washington, DC, and near the White House.
The demonstrations come one day after Trump warned on Twitter that "protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes" outside his rally could be treated roughly.
The rally aimed at reigniting Trump's reelection bid was originally scheduled for Friday, which was Juneteenth -- the day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
The President rescheduled the event in response to criticism but has largely remained silent on the issue of systemic racism and has resisted changes proposed in the wake of the protests.
Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma told Fox News on Saturday that he expected Trump to speak about race, adding that "only the President can speak to this issue unlike any other American can speak to this issue."
"It would be important for the President to make a very clear statement that we are one nation under God, indivisible," Lankford said.
Both the ongoing nationwide protests and Trump's Saturday rally have generated concerns about the potential spread of coronavirus.
Six staffers working on the Tulsa event have tested positive for the virus, the Trump campaign said Saturday.
People attending the rally on Saturday were not required to wear masks and agreed to a disclaimer that states they acknowledge the "inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present."
Millions of Americans have poured onto the streets across the country since the killings of Floyd and other African American men by police officers.