- President Donald Trump said that people who want to tear down or remove statues want to “overthrow the American Revolution” and to “end America.”
- Black Lives Matter protests have revived long-running debates about statues around the US glorifying Confederate generals and slave owners.
- At his Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore on Friday, he said people want to “tear down every statue, symbol and memory of our national heritage.”
- Activists argue statues glorify individuals rather than teach the nuances of history, and some point to how the American Revolution Trump referenced was, itself, a protest.
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US President Donald Trump said that people who want to take down statues as part of the anti-racism and anti-police-brutality protests that swept the US want to “overthrow the American Revolution” and to “end America.”
“There is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance,” the president told an audience of several thousand, gathered at the base of Mount Rushmore, in South Dakota.
“If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted and punished. Not going to happen to us,” he said.
Protests have spread across the country after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
They have broadened to a wider debate about police funding, police brutality, and racism across society, and may have become the largest social movement in US history.
Many protesters have revived old debates about statues of Confederate leaders and slave owners, and in some cases, have vandalised or torn those statues down.
Protesters say that statues serve to glorify individuals rather than remember events, but Trump described those who want to remove them as “angry mobs” at his Fourth of July rally.
“Make no mistake, this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing, they would destroy the very civilisation that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress.”
“To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.”
Activists and academics have pointed to the American Revolution referenced by Trump and how it was large-scale protests and property destruction.
Calls to remove statues are not new. Statues of Confederate generals have been the source of debate since they were first erected, and have previously served as cultural flashpoints during Trump’s presidency.
But the protests have sparked new pushes for change, including the renaming of military bases named after US generals, a proposal Trump has rejected.
And lawmakers voted to replace the state flag as the current one features the Confederate emblem.
Trump has made the removal of statues the subject of much of his ire during the protests, and has threatened anyone who vandalizes one with 10 years in prison.
At Mount Rushmore, Trump announced an executive order to create a “National Garden of American Heroes,” filled with statues of “our exceptional fellow citizens who, despite their flaws, placed their virtues, their talents, and their lives in the service of our Nation.”
The protests in the US kickstarted debates about other countries’ statues, leading to UK protesters toppling a 125-year-old slave trader statue and throwing it in a river.
And statues of Belgium’s former King Leopold II, whose rule killed as many as 10 million African people, have also been removed.