President Trump said Sunday that his administration’s crackdown has “completely stopped” vandalism of monuments and statues around the nation, as he highlights a law-and-order agenda that has become central to his reelection campaign in the wake of protests against racial injustice.
After a weekend of posting FBI “wanted” posters online of suspects who allegedly damaged a statue of Andrew Jackson near the White House, the president said the threat of lengthy prison terms is among the actions getting the attention of lawbreakers.
“Since imposing a very powerful 10 year prison sentence on those that Vandalize Monuments, Statues etc., with many people being arrested all over our Country, the Vandalism has completely stopped. Thank you!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Four men have been charged with damaging and trying to tear down the Andrew Jackson statue in Lafayette Square adjacent to the White House, federal prosecutors announced. One of the suspects, Connor Matthew Judd, has already been arrested and appeared in court Saturday.
The other three were at large as of the announcement. They are identified as Lee Michael Cantrell, 47, of Virginia; Ryan Lane, 37, of Maryland, and Graham Lloyd, 37, from Maine.
Prosecutors said all four were caught on video using straps to try to pull down the statue, which stands on federal land. The statue was targeted earlier this week as an outgrowth of the Black Lives Matter protests that have roiled cities across the country over the last month.
“This office remains steadfast in its commitment to protect the sacred First Amendment right of individuals to peacefully protest, but these charges should serve as a warning to those who choose to desecrate the statues and monuments that adorn our nation’s capital: your violent behavior and criminal conduct will not be tolerated,” said Michael R. Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
Attorney General William Barr had said the charges would be coming, warning that agents were scouring video of the park to see who could be identified among the protesters.
Mr. Barr also has ordered the formation of a task force to take on the “anti-government extremists” that he says disrupted peaceful protests and sowed chaos and destruction.
Mr. Trump has insisted those who tried to bring down the statue face charges in order to send a signal. He signed an executive order late Friday saying that his administration will prioritize prosecutions, to the fullest extent of the law, of anyone who damages monuments or statues, including religious statues.
The president stated 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.
He also is criticizing Democratic governors and mayors where some of the vandalism has occurred, saying they “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,” Mr. Trump 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.”
Mr. Barr said he is forming a new government task force to take aim at “anti-government extremists.”
Appearing as a guest Friday on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s podcast “The Verdict,” Mr. Barr said the Joint Terrorism Task Force has 500 active investigations into violence during recent protests.
“Although these extremists profess a variety of ideologies, they are united in their opposition to the core constitutional values of a democratic society governed by law,” Mr. Barr wrote in a memo obtained by The Washington Post. “Some pretend to profess a message of freedom and progress, but they are in fact forces of anarchy, destruction, and coercion.”
The administration’s high-profile actions come after weeks of racial and civil unrest in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death on May 25 while in police custody.
Over the weekend, Mr. Trump tweeted out photographs of suspects sought by the U.S. Park Police major crimes unit seeking the public’s help in identifying 15 other people sought in connection with the attempt to tear down the Andrew Jackson statue on June 22. Most of them are wearing masks.
The president also pinned on his Twitter feed a campaign video of the lawlessness in the wake of Floyd’s death, stating that “violent mobs of liberals are rioting and looting” in Democrat-run cities.
The Veterans’ Memorial Preservation Act of 2003 already authorizes fines and prison terms of up to 10 years for “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.”
Mr. Trump canceled a planned trip this weekend to his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, saying he wanted to stay in Washington to focus on law and order. But he did visit his Trump National golf club in Sterling, Virginia, on both Saturday and Sunday.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.