Trump signs executive order 'to protect statues' and threatens long prison sentences

White House says protesters will be 'prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law' despite federal law already in place

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 26 June 2020 19:16 BST
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Donald Trump has signed an executive order threatening “long prison terms” as he continues to rail against widespread demonstrations to remove Confederate-era monuments and other statues across the US in the wake of renewed calls to dismantle symbols of white supremacy.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Twitter that “those who vandalise our monuments will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”.

It was not immediately clear what’s in the order, as federal law already prohibits vandalising or destroying certain monuments punishable up to 10 years in prison. US Marshals could be deployed as security, according to reports.

The president – who has called for “retribution” against vandals amid demonstrations against racial injustice – has raged against protesters targeting statues, including monuments to the Confederacy.

Outside the White House on Monday, protesters attempted to tear down a statue to former president Andrew Jackson, who has been targeted in demonstrations as a slave owner and supporter of the Indian Removal Act.

The following day, the president called for the federal government ”to arrest anyone who vandalises or destroys any monument, statue or other such federal property in the US with up to 10 years in prison, per the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent.”

But across the US, demonstrators have toppled several monuments to former Confederates, erected in the Jim Crow era after the Civil War, as several city and state officials have argued that it’s time for those symbols to be removed from public view.

On 19 June, the president called for the “immediate” arrest of a group of people who pulled down a statue of Confederate general Albert Pike in the nation’s capital.

The president has also been criticised for his militarised response to demonstrations during the nation’s coronavirus crisis as several states see dramatic surges in cases and hospitalisations.

“I wish he cared more about living Americans instead of dead Confederates,” Washington governor and frequent Trump critic Jay Inslee told CNN following the president’s latest order.

California congresswoman Maxine Waters also condemned the president’s threats this week, saying that ”one would hope that the president of the United States would rise to the level of leadership that our country needs in confronting the deadly uptick in coronavirus cases in America.”

“Instead, we are left with Donald Trump, an incompetent and heartless man who is more focused on saving statues of slaveholders, Confederate generals, and racists than protecting the health of living and breathing Americans,” she said.

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