In recent weeks, violent mobs have been tearing down statues across the United States, and while the destruction originally targeted Confederate monuments, the attacks have expanded to include other historical figures such as Union Gen. and former President Ulysses S. Grant.
Last weekend, the Washington Examiner reported that rioters attempted to destroy a statue of former President Andrew Jackson that is located across from the White House. In response, President Donald Trump authorized enhanced criminal charges and stiff potential penalties for those involved in such acts, the Examiner reported separately.
“I have authorized 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,” Trump said in a tweet early Tuesday morning.
The president added: “This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!”
Serious penalties apply
The president had issued a similar communication a day earlier, tweeting, “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.”
Trump went on to stress that such crimes are punishable by “10 years in prison under the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act,” telling potential miscreants, “Beware!”
Passed in 2003, the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act provides that someone who “willfully injures or destroys, or attempts to injure or destroy, any structure, plaque, statue, or other monument on public property commemorating the service of any person or persons in the armed forces of the United States shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”
This applies to any “structure, plaque, statue, or other monument” that “is located on property owned by, or under the jurisdiction of, the Federal Government.”
Anyone who attacks non-federal monuments can also be prosecuted if that individual “travels or causes another to travel in interstate or foreign commerce, or uses the mail or an instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce.”
Monument removal push continues
Some local authorities have decided to preempt mob violence by instead choosing to remove controversial statues themselves. This week it was announced that the statue of President Theodore Roosevelt outside of New York’s American Museum of Natural History would come down, The New York Times noted. The monument depicts Roosevelt flanked by a Native American and an African man in what some have decried as a racially subjugated posture, according to the BBC.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared his approval, and was quoted by Fox News as saying, “It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue.”
By way of historical context, it is perhaps worth noting that during his time as president, Roosevelt courted controversy when he invited early civil rights activist Booker T. Washington to dinner. According to NPR, it was the first time an African American had ever been asked to dine at the White House.