United States military armored vehicles stood near Washington's majestic Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday as President Donald Trump pushed ahead with an elaborate Fourth of July production with him at the centre, as critics accused him of hijacking a non-partisan celebration of America's Independence Day.
Trump, seeking re-election next year, was billing his appearance on Washington's monument-lined National Mall as a tribute to the American armed forces, featuring fighter jet flyovers, military music and an extended fireworks display.
The scale, cost and partisan tone of the show being managed by the former reality TV personality turned Republican politician came under attack from critics, injecting Washington's divisive politics into a national holiday.
Trump defended his plans in a Twitter post on Wednesday that said, ”The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!”
An annual parade and fireworks show in Washington on the Fourth of July typically draws hundreds of thousands of people for a nonpolitical commemoration of the anniversary of the nation's founders declaring independence from Britain in 1776.
Trump's plans, which were still being devised this week, called for a different sort of event.
Republican political groups confirmed that they had been given prime tickets for Trump's speech. Protest groups planned floats and events to mock the president. Scattered thunderstorms were forecast for Thursday afternoon and evening.
Democrats have accused Trump of using taxpayer money to mount a political rally, and some commentators have raised concerns about the politicization of the military. The White House said the president will focus his remarks on patriotism, not politics.
A Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicle was parked across from the white marble Lincoln Memorial, with military personnel clad in camouflage uniforms. M1 Abrams tanks also will be displayed.
The Defense Department shipped tanks by rail from the US Army's Fort Stewart in Georgia and arranged for flyovers by the US Navy Blue Angels squadron, a B-2 stealth bomber, F-35 and F-22 fighter jets, a V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and the Marine One helicopters and Air Force One jetliner used to transport the president. The Pentagon said top military leaders will attend.
The Washington Post reported that the US National Park Service has diverted US$2.5 million in park entrance fees to help pay for the event, which typically costs about US$2 million.