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Trump: I’ve ‘authorized’ federal arrests for vandalizing statues; says up to 10 years in prison

President Donald J. Trump signs the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in front of the South Portico of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
June 23, 2020

President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday morning that he has “authorized” the federal government to arrest those who may vandalize or destroy federal property in accordance with existing laws.

“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 tweeted.

“This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!” he added.

It’s unclear whether or not Trump is authorizing any new actions toward those who destroy government property, as laws protecting statues and federal property have already been in place.

While the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003 does specify up to 10 years imprisonment for violators, it specifies destruction toward “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.”

Other laws are in place to protect federal property, however. 18 U.S.C. § 1361 states that those who intentionally destroy government property and incur more than $100 in damages are subject to up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

Trump’s announcement comes the morning after protesters in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square defaced a statue of Andrew Jackson and attempted to pull it down after attaching several ropes to it.

Social media video showed protesters who had climbed the statue to affix the ropes so the crowd could attempt to pull it down. The statue, however, remained in place.

“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!” Trump had tweeted Monday night while the demonstrations were ongoing.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt also tweeted Monday night, “I just left Lafayette Square where another so called ‘peaceful protest’ led to destruction tonight. Let me be clear: we will not bow to anarchists. Law and order will prevail, and justice will be served.”

“The scope of the violence and destruction since the protests started weeks ago have been significant. Criminals have vandalized national memorials and monuments, ignited sacred sites, attacked law enforcement officers, and destroyed countless businesses,” Bernhardt continued. “The Lincoln Memorial and World War II Memorial were previously defaced, and now the Andrew Jackson Statue in Lafayette Square has been defaced by criminals who sought to topple the statue recognizing the seventh President of the United States.”

“Across the country, some elected leaders of our cities have expressed enthusiasm and support for these criminals, exhibiting an undeniable unwillingness to protect law abiding citizens and their property,” Bernhardt added. “We live in the greatest country in the world, and I thank our dedicated law enforcement officials who stand tall against these coordinated attacks and seek peace and justice for all.”

Over the weekend, protesters in D.C. also pulled down and burned the statue of Confederate Gen. Albert Pike.

Also over the weekend, protesters in San Francisco pulled down statues of Union general Ulysses S. Grant, as well as national anthem writer Francis Scott Key. In Portland, statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were torn down.

Other statues commemorating Confederate or other historic figures were also torn down in various cities recently as Black Lives Matter protests have increasingly targeted symbols deemed “racist.”