President Donald Trump claimed in a tweet on Tuesday that he had “authorized” the federal government to arrest people who vandalize monuments “with up to 10 years in prison” after admonishing cities to “guard their monuments.”
The president promised some sort of executive order that will serve to punish anyone who tries to destroy monuments as anti-racism protesters continue to topple those honoring figures from the Confederacy.
Laws already allow local police to protect property from illegal destruction, so it’s not clear what Trump’s order would change. He lacks the power to order local or state governments what to do unless he invokes the Insurrection Act in extreme circumstances.
The “Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003” also covers some offenses. It authorizes fines or imprisonment for the destruction of veterans’ memorials on public property.
In Tuesday’s tweets, Trump said his order “may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused.”
He seemed anxious to project a hard line on the issue as he prepared to depart for Phoenix on Tuesday. Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, he thanked police for thwarting protesters’ attempts to topple a statue of former President Andrew Jackson nearby on Monday night.
“We are looking at long term jail sentences for these vandals, hoodlums, anarchists and agitators,” Trump said.
He then promised an executive order that wouldn’t contain anything new.
“I will have an executive order very shortly. And all it’s really going to do is reinforce what’s already there, but in a more uniform way,” Trump said.
“We’re going to do an executive order, and we’re going to make the cities guard their monuments,” he said.
For the “most part” the statues “are not federal,” Trump noted, underscoring a jurisdictional issue.
“You saw Ulysses S. Grant, where they want to take him down. He’s the one that stopped the ones that everybody dislikes so much,” Trump said, referring to the Confederates, whose supporters he usually defends. He pronounced Ulysses as “Ulyssee-us.”
“It’s a disgrace,” he added. “Also, remember, some of this is great artwork. This is magnificent artwork, as good as there is anywhere in the world — as good as you see in France. As good as you see anywhere. It’s a disgrace.”
Monday night, protesters near the White House attempted to topple a bronze statue of former President Andrew Jackson, but were repulsed by police in riot gear who used pepper spray, according to The Washington Post. Jackson, a former U.S. Army general and slave owner known for harsh treatment of Native Americans, has been compared with Trump for his populist style.
Arroyo also asked Trump about “unprecedented violence across the country,” apparently referring to anti-racism protests, which have been overwhelmingly peaceful.
Trump said all the protest areas are “run by Democrats.” He added: “Take a look at the way we’re running things. We’re running ’em good.”
Check out Trump’s comments about unpopular statues in the video above, beginning at 0:49.