More than 200 people attended President Donald Trump’s speech at Benedict College, but only about 10 actual students were invited to the event — his first appearance at a historically black college, and an effort to reach out beyond his usual base of support.
Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Stephen Benjamin told CNN that out of the more than 200 invitees to the President’s speech, only about 10 were actual students from the college. The others, Benjamin said, were “brought in” from somewhere else. More than 2,100 attend the school, according to its website.
Benedict College spokeswoman Kymm Hunter later told reporters that only seven students ultimately attended the speech.
“This should have been an opportunity for at least scores of students to attend this event,” Benjamin told CNN. He said the president of the college requested more students be able to attend, but that the White House maintained control of organizing the event.
Trump’s visit Friday to the HBCU came amid the fallout over his decision this week to compare the impeachment proceedings on Capitol Hill to a “lynching” — words for which he declined to apologize as he prepared to leave the White House for the journey to South Carolina.
The President’s language created a divisive backdrop for his rare appearance at the historically black college, where he was slated to highlight his administration’s work on criminal justice reform. Although Trump did speak extensively about the criminal justice reform bill he signed into law in April, he also found a way to mention impeachment twice, demonstrating that the political turmoil engulfing his administration is never far from his mind.
Describing his “own experience” with unfair treatment, Trump said he is now facing “an investigation in search of a crime.”
“If this were a Democrat, they would never allow this to happen,” he said.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the venue as Trump’s motorcade pulled into the college Friday afternoon.
The head of the South Carolina NAACP released a statement ahead of the visit condemning Trump’s words and encouraging skepticism, underscoring the divides within the community around Benedict over inviting Trump to speak.
The college referred questions to the White House and to the 2020 Bipartisan Justice Center, the group organizing the broader event at which Trump spoke. The White House declined to comment. The organizing group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.