President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday that directs federal law enforcement agencies to prosecute people who damage federal monuments and withhold portions of federal funds from cities that do not protect the statues of protesters.
The order marks the latest in Trump’s ongoing battle against protesters who have lobbied for the removal of monuments and statues commemorating Confederate leaders and other figures who supported slavery, white supremacy, or colonialism. Several monuments have been knocked down or removed in recent weeks amid protests against police brutality and racism, including statues of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Alabama and Confederate General Albert Pike in Washington, DC.
Trump responded to the removal of the statue in Washington by tweeting: “These people should be arrested immediately. A disgrace for our country! and with the order, it has provided a framework for making arrests.
The order directs the Justice Department to “prosecute to the maximum extent permitted by federal law” those who damage government monuments, participate in “efforts to incite violence” or damage religious property. Damage to federal property can be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Trump also included a directive to withhold federal funds from cities and local law enforcement agencies that have “turned themselves in to the mob government” by not trying to prevent protesters from damaging monuments. However, it is unclear to what extent the administration could enforce this provision.
Trump announced the edict on Twitter, hours after tweeting an FBI poster seeking information on 15 people allegedly involved in the attempt to tear down a statue of Andrew Jackson near the White House on Monday night, and calling the 15 to face “10 years in prison!”
Statues of the Confederates and others who promoted the ideals of white supremacy have become a campaign issue for the President as he resumes his re-election campaign. Speaking to supporters in Arizona on Tuesday, Trump praised the US Park Police for breaking the White House protest and preventing the statue of Jackson, who signed the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which caused the death of thousands of Native Americans, fell.
Protesters “hate our history, they hate our values, and they hate everything we value as Americans,” Trump told the audience.
Protesters, however, have argued that the monuments, particularly the Confederates who honor people who tried to destroy the United States, salute an ugly story that runs counter to the American values enshrined in the Constitution.
As Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) put it in introducing legislation that would remove Confederate monuments from the US Capitol, “Confederate statues and monuments still pay tribute to white supremacy and slavery in the Public spaces. … It is time to tell the truth about what these statues are: symbols of hatred that have no place in our society. “
The symbols of white supremacy have been falling across the country
The monuments, mostly to Confederate generals, have been falling for several weeks amid ongoing protests against police brutality and racism sparked by the George Floyd police murder in Minneapolis in May.
Protesters have knocked down or defaced a series of statues, such as that of Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham in Richmond, Virginia, which was spray painted, pulled down with string, and urinated.
Some local public officials have chosen to tear down the statues through more official means, such as the Democratic mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, who told protesters preparing to tear down the city’s Confederate Soldiers and Soldiers Monument: “Let me finish the job for you. “
Monuments to the slavery of historical figures have also been targeted, as have those with racist themes. The George Washington statues were knocked down in Portland and defaced in Baltimore last week. The likenesses of Ulises S. Grant, Spanish priest Junípero Serra, and “The Star-Spangled Banner” writer Francis Scott Key were shot down in San Francisco.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently ordered the removal of portraits of the United States Capitol of former House Presidents who served in the Confederacy, and asked that 11 statues of Confederate figures be removed from the collection. of the Statuary building.
Nascar, which has long partnered with a largely white southern fan base, banned Confederate flags at its events after pressure from the organization’s only black full-time driver, Bubba Wallace.
Trump has consistently opposed these changes, and quickly shut down the conversation about changing the names of Army bases named after Confederate leaders after Pentagon officials first said the names were open to discussion.
Order is the last step in this opposition, although it is not clear that the president’s views coincide with those of most Americans; For example, a Quinnipiac University poll conducted June 11-15 found 52 percent of Americans support removing Confederate monuments from public spaces (with a margin of error of 2.7 percentage points) .
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