- President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday saying he authorised federal officials to “arrest anyone” who vandalised statues or monuments on federal property.
- In the tweet he appeared to be asking federal agencies to enforce rules that already exist. Trump does not have direct jurisdiction over most US law enforcement.
- On Monday night, protesters outside the White House attempted to bring down a statue of President Andrew Jackson.
- Statues and other monuments associated with America’s slave-owning past have become flash points in anti-racism protests.
- In an interview with a Catholic TV station, Trump said he would issue an executive order compelling cities to defend monuments targeted by protesters.
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President Donald Trump in tweets early Tuesday called for harsh punishment for protesters targeting statues and said he was authorizing the federal government to enforce it.
Trump cited a law meant to protect memorials in the US and appeared to call for existing law to be enforced more widely.
“I have authorised the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S. with up to 10 years in prison, per the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent,” he wrote.
“This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!”
Carl Tobias, who holds the Williams chair in law at Richmond University, told Business Insider in an email that the threat, “as many others,” seemed intended to bolster his core support rather than function as a substantive legal order.
Trump “may have some leverage to try to protect certain federal monuments, but it is unclear that the federal law he cites does that,” Tobias wrote.
Statues and monuments, many commemorating figures from the Confederacy, have become a flash point in America’s culture wars in recent years, with several torn down recently by anti-racism protesters.
In a new wave of protests that have swept the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protesters have targeted monuments to other figures associated with colonialism and racial oppression, such as Christopher Columbus.
Trump has been critical of the removal and defacement of such monuments.
On Monday night, protesters outside the White House tried to pull down a statue of President Andrew Jackson, who in the 19th century forced thousands of Native Americans from their ancestral lands in deadly forced marches. The protesters were stopped by police officers, and several arrested.
Trump, who has hailed Jackson as an inspiration and keeps a portrait of him in the Oval Office, tweeted a warning Monday night to the demonstrators.
“Numerous people arrested in D.C. for the disgraceful vandalism, in Lafayette Park, of the magnificent Statue of Andrew Jackson, in addition to the exterior defacing of St. John’s Church across the street. 10 years in prison under the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act. Beware!” he wrote.
Earlier, in an interview with a Catholic TV station, Trump announced plans to sign an executive order compelling cities to defend their monuments.
“We are going to do an executive order and make the cities guard their monuments,” Trump told Eternal Word Television Network’s Raymond Arroyo. “This is a disgrace.”
“It’s a disgrace,” Trump repeated. “Remember, some of this is great artwork. This is magnificent artwork, as good as there is anywhere in the world, as good as you see in France, as good as you see anywhere. It’s a disgrace.”
Of the proposed executive order, Tobias remarked that “federalism limits his authority to make localities do very much in this context, unless the localities request federal help. We shall have to see if he issues an executive order and, if so, what it says.”