The death of George Floyd has spiraled from Black Lives Matter protests to police reform to the destruction of property and statues across the nation. Democrat-run cities and states let the chaos escalate, even allowing a portion of Seattle to be overtaken and claimed as a new country, representing a “summer of love.” President Donald Trump warned these laid-back leaders that they needed to take control of their territory, or the federal government would do it for them. And now, after a rash of violent statue removals and criminal defacings, the president tweeted that he has “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.”
On June 22, protesters tried to pull down a statue of President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, located across the street from the White House. Infuriated, Trump called for enforcement of the statute that punishes anyone who willfully destroys, injures, or attempts to do either to a monument, statue, or structure on public property that commemorates someone who served in the armed forces of the United States.
Critics have called Trump’s announcement all bluster since the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation Act already provides punishment. But the president said, “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,” although exactly how this would happen wasn’t explained.
Since the 2015 Charleston, SC, church shooting, more than 70 Confederate monuments have been removed. About one-third of those came down after the killing of Floyd. But the protesters have also damaged other monuments, such as that of General Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union troops to victory in the Civil War, the Lincoln Memorial, and more. Fighting back, Trump tweeted, “This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions.”
Protesters tried to copy Seattle’s CHOP zone, attempting to set up the Black House Autonomous Zone outside the North Lawn of the White House on June 23, but were thwarted. This was just hours after the president’s promise to prosecute those who destroy monuments. He then tweeted out another warning, which was flagged by Twitter as “abusive behavior.” “There will never be an ‘Autonomous Zone’ in Washington, D.C., as long as I’m your President. If they try they will be met with serious force!”
The chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Brandeis University, Chad Williams, said the executive order is concerning:
“How an order like that would actually be enforced remains to be seen. But what this thing speaks to in a really problematic way is the president’s desire to tamp down, to crush any forms of protest and dissent and to weaponize the various apparatuses of federal government, including the military, National Guard, Secret Service, to act as agents of enforcement.”
Well, sending counselors to confront and control protesters bent on destroying anything they are offended by, taking over American land, and deeming it a new country, isn’t exactly going to work. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) was frustrated enough to send Attorney General William Barr a letter requesting something be done about the destruction of statues and monuments:
“These criminals masquerade as protestors exercising their lawful right to peacefully assemble, but there can be no right to destroy public or private property. To borrow from Abraham Lincoln – whose Memorial in our nation’s capital was also defaced – ‘there is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.’
“Thus, I urge the Department of Justice to bring charges against these criminals. They aren’t exactly criminal masterminds, typically filming their crimes and posting the videos on social media.”
The looters and protesters are testing authority, and the president is putting his foot down. This isn’t just about protesting anymore. Nor is it about an injustice. It is not about Floyd’s death or preserving history. It’s about protecting our nation, our security, and our reputation. What kind of message do we send to the world by letting disgruntled, lawless citizens destroy our heritage and seize city blocks?
Read more from Kelli Ballard.