President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has rejected claims that a social media campaign by Tik-Tok users and K-Pop fans was behind lower-than-expected turnout for Oklahoma rally.
Teenagers are said to have booked tickets without intending to turn up so as to produce empty seats.
But the Trump 2020 team said it had weeded out bogus reservations.
Mr Trump had said he expected one million to come.
The Bank of Oklahoma Center venue in Tulsa seats 19,000. The event was also planned to extend outside, though that part of it was cancelled.
The Tulsa fire brigade is quoted as saying more than 6,000 attended, but the 2020 campaign suggested the figure was much higher.
The team’s campaign director said in a statement that “phony ticket requests never factor into our thinking” as entry to rallies is on a first-come first-served basis. Brad Parscale blamed the media and protesters for dissuading families from attending.
“Leftists and online trolls doing a victory lap, thinking they somehow impacted rally attendance, don’t know what they’re talking about or how our rallies work,” Mr Parscale said.
“Registering for a rally means you’ve RSVPed [confirmed attendance] with a cellphone number and we constantly weed out bogus numbers, as we did with tens of thousands at the Tulsa rally, in calculating our possible attendee pool.”
Former Republican strategist and a critic of Mr Trump, Steve Schmidt, said teenagers across the US had ordered tickets without intending to turn up. His 16-year-old daughter and her friends had requested “hundreds” of tickets.
A number of parents responded to Mr Schmidt’s post saying that their children had done likewise.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading progressive figure, praised the young people and K-pop fans she said had “flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations”.
Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations & tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during COVID
It is unclear how many of the hundreds of thousands of ticket reservations touted by the Trump campaign were fake, but one TikTok video from 12 June encouraging people to sign up for free tickets to ensure there would be empty seats at the arena has received more than 700,000 likes.
The video was posted after the original rally date was announced for 19 June.
The news had sparked angry reaction because it fell on Juneteenth, the celebration of the end of US slavery. The location of the event, Tulsa, was also controversial, as it was the site of one of the worst racial massacres in US history.
After news of the smaller crowd numbers emerged, the account’s owner Mary Jo Laupp praised the response, telling young people who were too young to vote: “Remember that you, in doing one thing and sharing information, had an impact.”
If true, it would not be the first time social media users have shown their political impact in recent weeks.
Fans of K-pop, South Korea’s popular music industry, have been active in drowning out hashtags used by opponents of Black Lives Matter (BLM) in recent weeks, and raised money following the death of African-American George Floyd last month.
The BBC’s Anthony Zurcher, who was in Tulsa, says rally organisers always approve more tickets than there is space, so pranksters filling out reservations would not have stopped legitimate supporters from attending.
However, it appears they convinced the Trump campaign that more people were interested in going than actually were.
The campaign had boasted of about one million RSVPs but if even half of those reservations had been legitimate the rally would have seen a far greater attendance, he adds.