Trump signs executive order to punish vandalism against federal monuments

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday to protect federal monuments after a series of recent incidents related to vandalism of statues commemorating the Confederacy and some of the nation’s Founding Fathers.

“I have just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order that protects the Monuments, Monuments and Statues of the United States, and fights the recent Criminal Violence. Long prison terms for these illegal acts against our Great Country!” Trump said in a tweet.

The order would “strengthen” existing federal law, which penalizes the destruction of federal monuments. For example, the Veterans Monuments Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003 imposes a fine and up to 10 years in prison on anyone who destroys a monument.

“Individuals and organizations have the right to peacefully advocate for the removal or construction of any monument,” says the order. “But no individual or group has the right to damage, deface or remove any monument through the use of force.”

It also threatens to withhold federal funds from state and local agencies that “do not protect monuments, monuments and statues.”

“In the midst of these attacks, many state and local governments appear to have lost the ability to distinguish between the legal exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and unvarnished vandalism,” the order says. “They have surrendered to the mafia government.”

Protests against racism and police brutality sparked by the murder of George Floyd have rekindled debate around statues and other monuments honoring the Confederacy and slave presidents, such as George Washington and Andrew Jackson. After the violence sparked by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, there was a public outcry to remove Confederate symbols across the country.

Earlier this week, protesters defaced a statue of President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square outside the White House and tried to tear it down, but police sprayed protesters to protect the monument. Jackson was a slaver and oversaw the expulsion of Native Americans in which the federal government forcibly moved them west. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died on that trip, known as the “Trail of Tears.” The National Park Service has put up a barrier around the statue.

Elsewhere in the country, media reports detail protesters who disfigured and, in some cases, tore down statues of Confederate soldiers and generals who fought to defend slavery. Washington, the first president of the United States, also became a target in which protests tore down his statue in Portland, Oregon, and defaced a different statue in Baltimore. A World War II memorial was also destroyed in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he is seeking severe sanctions for acts of vandalism against federal monuments.

“We are looking for long-term prison terms for these hooligans and these thugs and these anarchists and agitators and we call them whatever they want. Some people don’t like that language, but that’s what they are. They are bad people, they don’t love our country, and they are not tearing down our monuments, “he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, requested the removal of Confederate monuments in the Capitol building earlier this month and also ordered the removal of the portraits of four House speakers who served on the Confederation on display at the Capitol.