WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday that he said will provide long prison sentences to people who tear down or vandalize statues and other historical monuments.
“I just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order protecting American Monuments, Memorials and Statues – and combating recent Criminal Violence,” Trump announced on Twitter. “Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country.”
Anyone who vandalizes or destroys a monument, memorial or statue already can be sentenced to prison for up to 10 years under federal law.
Trump's order calls for violators to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and puts state and local law enforcement agencies on notice that they could lose federal support if they fail to protect such monuments. The order also says the federal government also will ensure personnel are available across the country to help protect memorials, statues and property.
"These monuments memorialize the history we all share as Americans, and they deserve to be defended for future generations," the White House said.
Trump’s order comes as federal statues across the country have been targeted for removal by protesters following the death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who was killed when a white police officer penned him to the ground with a knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Earlier this week, protesters tried to topple a statue of former President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park just across the street from the White House. Police intervened before the statue was knocked down.
Statues of other historical figures, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert E. Lee and Christopher Columbus, also have been targeted in cities across the country.
The Veterans Memorial Preservation Act, a federal law passed in 2003, already makes it a crime to destroy or attempt to destroy a plaque, monument or statue "commemorating the service" of anyone who served in the armed forces. The law carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Four hundred National Guard troops were activated to protect monuments and infrastructure in Washington after the attempts to remove the statue of Jackson, who as president removed Native American tribes in the Southeastern United States from their ancestral lands.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he had requested the troops and instructed the Department of the Interior to erect a fence around Lafayette Park, which as been the site of large protests since Floyd's death
Trump has condemned the protesters as “hoodlums” and “anarchists.”
“They’re tearing down statues, desecrating monuments and purging dissenters,” he said during a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday. “It’s not the behavior of a political movement. It’s the behavior of totalitarians and tyrants and people that don’t love our country.”
Michael Collins covers the White House. Reach him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Protests: Trump signs order protecting federal statues, monuments