If you want to take down a federal statue or monument, be prepared to spend some time in prison — at least if President Donald Trump has anything to do with it.
In a tweet on Sunday morning, Trump implicitly threatened to invoke the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation Act if any more statue-topplers decide to rip down more monuments.
“No, Radical Left anarchists, agitators, looters or protesters will not be knocking down or harming the Washington Monument, the Lincoln or Jefferson Memorials, or just about any other Federal [Monument] or Statue,” Trump wrote.
“If they even try, an automatic 10 years in prison. Sorry!”
No, Radical Left anarchists, agitators, looters or protesters will not be knocking down or harming the Washington Monument, the Lincoln or Jefferson Memorials, or just about any other Federal Monumrnt or Statue. If they even try, an automatic 10 years in prison. Sorry!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2020
While not “automatic,” the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation Act does, according to Fox News, call for up to 10 years in jail as a punishment for damaging or attempting to damage “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.”
This isn’t the first time that Trump has invoked the specter of the act, either.
In remarks at the White House as he was leaving on Marine One on June 26, Trump — speaking one day after police stopped a crowd that had attempted to topple the statue of Andrew Jackson in Washington’s Lafayette Square, also threatened protesters with long jail sentences,
“Last night, we stopped an attack on a great monument — the monument of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park. And I just want to thank law enforcement. They did a great job.
“We were working very closely with the White House Secret Service and some of our executives. It was really — they did a great job. They stopped it cold,” Trump said, according to a White House transcript.
“Numerous people are in jail and going to jail today. People are already there, but we’re looking at long-term sentences under the act. We have a very specific monuments act. And we are looking at long-term jail sentences for these vandals and these hoodlums and these anarchists and agitators, and call them whatever you want. Some people don’t like that language, but that’s what they are.
“They’re bad people. They don’t love our country, and they’re not taking down our monuments. I just want to make that clear.”
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…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 23, 2020
He also signed a July 3 executive order on monuments and rebuilding them when and if they’re toppled.
“To destroy a monument is to desecrate our common inheritance,” that order states.
Obviously, you cheer any moment when one of the adults in the room — the adult in the room, actually — decides to prod people to enforce laws we’ve mostly given up enforcing, at least as it relates to the right kind of protester.
On the other hand, outside of the president, there’s little political will in Washington at the moment to enforce these statutes.
At least at the top, however, there is some interest. A June 26 executive order Trump signed directed Attorney General William Barr to “prioritize” prosecuting those who tear down — or attempt to tear down — our statues, according to The Hill.
The desire to tear down statues to achieve a political end doesn’t seem quite as great as it was just a few weeks ago, but if 2020’s taught us anything, it’s how volatile the situation can be. A serious deterrent to mob vandalism like we witnessed in Lafayette Square just a few weeks ago is in urgent need right now.
It’s time for the White House, Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice to follow through.
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