President Trump signed an executive order Friday to protect U.S. monuments from vandalism, and said he skipped a weekend at his golf resort in New Jersey to make sure law and order prevails in Washington.
“I just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues - and combatting recent Criminal Violence,” Mr. Trump tweeted late Friday. “Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!”
Following protests over racial injustice, vandals have been defacing monuments such as statues of Confederate generals and other memorials. The FBI has issued a “wanted” poster of 15 suspects who were photographed vandalizing a statue of President Andrew Jackson this week at Lafayette Square near the White House.
The president is calling for prison terms of up to 10 years for people who vandalize or destroy monuments or memorials on federal property.
Mr. Trump had planned to leave the White House Friday afternoon for his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, but decided to stay in Washington instead.
“I was going to go to Bedminster, New Jersey, this weekend, but wanted to stay in Washington, D.C. to make sure LAW & ORDER is enforced,” Mr. Trump said. “The arsonists, anarchists, looters, and agitators have been largely stopped. I am doing what is necessary to keep our communities safe — and these people will be brought to Justice!”
The president’s order also endorses severe penalties for “any person or any entity that damages, defaces, or destroys religious property, including by attacking, removing, or defacing depictions of Jesus or other religious figures or religious artwork.” The Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 calls for penalties for defacing or damaging religious property.
Federal law already calls for criminal penalties for damaging memorials and statues. The president’s order states that “it is the policy of the United States to prosecute to the fullest extent permitted under federal law, and as appropriate, any person or any entity that destroys, damages, vandalizes, or desecrates a monument, memorial, or statue within the United States or otherwise vandalizes government property.”
The president states in his order that the criminal acts “are frequently planned and supported by agitators who have traveled across state lines to promote their own violent agenda.”
“These radicals shamelessly attack the legitimacy of our institutions and the very rule of law itself,” Mr. Trump said.
The president said many state and local governments “appear to have lost the ability to distinguish between the lawful exercise of rights to free speech and assembly and unvarnished vandalism.”
“They have surrendered to mob rule, imperiling community safety, allowing for the wholesale violation of our laws, and privileging the violent impulses of the mob over the rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said. “My administration will not allow violent mobs incited by a radical fringe to become the arbiters of the aspects of our history that can be celebrated in public spaces. State and local public officials’ abdication of their law enforcement responsibilities in deference to this violent assault must end.”