United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for protesters targeting monuments to be jailed.
The measure says that anyone who damages a public statue must be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”
Trump’s order also requires the withholding of federal funds from local jurisdictions and police departments that fail to stop that “mafia rule.”
Several American statues have been shot down since the police murder of an unarmed black man, George Floyd.
The president issued the order on Friday night after he abruptly canceled a planned trip to his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, tweeting that he would stay in Washington DC to “make sure THE LAW AND THE ORDER are followed. ”
The measure says: “Many of the leftist troublemakers, arsonists, and extremists who have carried out and supported these acts have explicitly identified themselves with ideologies, such as Marxism, that call for the destruction of the United States system of government.”
He accuses the protesters of “profound ignorance of our history”.
The order cites the recent attack by a San Francisco bust on Ulysses S Grant, who owned a slave before he became commander of the Union Army and defeated the slave-owning Confederation during the Civil War, a statue in Madison , Wisconsin, of an abolitionist immigrant who fought for the Union, and a Boston memorial commemorating an African American regiment that fought in the same conflict.
“People and organizations have the right to peacefully defend the removal or construction of any monument,” says the executive order.
“But no individual or group has the right to damage, deface or remove any monument through the use of force.”
He cites existing laws that provide up to 10 years in prison for anyone who damages federal property.
The order warns local jurisdictions that neglect to protect such monuments could lead to their federal funds being linked to retained public spaces.
Police departments that have failed to protect the statues from damage or vandalism could also lose those funds, the order warns.
It also states that anyone who “damages, defaces, or destroys religious property, including attacking, removing, or defacing representations of Jesus or other religious figures or works of religious art” must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The move appears to refer to a recent Twitter post by prominent social justice activist Shaun King, who wrote that “statues of white Europeans claiming that Jesus should come down too.”
The tweet added: “They are a form of white supremacy.”
Confederation-related monuments have been especially targeted in the US amid protests across the country sparked by Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a month ago.
President Trump has defended Confederate symbols as part of the American heritage.
The statues of Christopher Columbus, the 15th century explorer whose travels in the name of Spain opened the way for the European colonization of the Americas, have also been singled out as perceived symbols of imperialism.
Some state and local leaders have taken steps to remove the Confederate symbols.
Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced that a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee would be removed from the state capital in Richmond.