President Donald Trump on Friday directed Attorney General William Barr to prioritize prosecution for those who damage federal monuments as the administration pushes to protect statues and monuments from vandalism amid ongoing protests against racial inequality and police brutality.
Trump signed an executive order stating that it is U.S. policy “to prosecute to the fullest extent permitted under Federal law, and as appropriate” any person who destroys, damages, vandalizes or desecrates a monument, memorial or statue or who damages, defaces or destroys religious property.
The order also states that it is U.S. policy to withhold federal support from state and local governments who fail to protect public monuments, memorials and statues, and from public spaces tied to state and local governments who do not meet those conditions.
Trump announced that he had signed the order in a tweet earlier Friday afternoon, touting it as a “very strong” order.
I just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues – and combatting recent Criminal Violence. Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 26, 2020
Trump said earlier this week he was preparing such an order after efforts to topple a federal statue near the White House in Washington, D.C. At the time, Trump said the order would reinforce existing law.
The Veterans’ Memorial Preservation Act passed in 2003 already allows for authorities to impose fines and a prison sentence of up to a decade 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.”
Trump told reporters at a press conference Wednesday that the executive order would “consolidate various things.”
The order directs Barr to “prioritize” investigations and prosecutions of those who destroy, deface or damage monuments, incite violence in connection with riots or destroy, deface or damage religious property. It also directs Barr to work with state and local law enforcement to ensure federal officials “appropriately” provide information and assistance in connection with investigations or prosecutions related to monuments, memorials or status.
Trump’s order also instructs federal agencies to review grant programs and ensure funding is limited to entities that do not comply with the order. It additionally allows for military, homeland security and federal law enforcement personnel to be dispatched to help protect federal monuments, memorials, statues and property if requested by the secretaries of Interior or Homeland Security or the Administrator of General Services.
It is the latest move by the administration to crack down on violence amid rolling protests across the country, with Trump stressing a message of “law and order” heading into the general election.
Barr on Friday separately directed the Justice Department to form a task force dedicated to combating “anti-government extremists,” according to a memo obtained by The Washington Post.
The attorney general identified members of the anti-fascist movement known as antifa and the right-wing “Boogaloo” movement top targets for the newly formed task force.
“Among other lawless conduct, these extremists have violently attacked police officers and other government officials, destroyed public and private property, and threatened innocent people,” Barr wrote, according to the Post. “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. … Some pretend to profess a message of freedom and progress, but they are in fact forces of anarchy, destruction and coercion.”
The president this week took aim at protesters who on Monday tried to topple a statue of former President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, which is across the street from the White House. The National Guard has since been activated in D.C. to protect federal monuments.
President Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that protesters who deface or take down statues or monuments would likely face “retribution.”
Trump has also opposed efforts to rename military bases honoring Confederate leaders, the subject of renewed debate amid domestic unrest following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in police custody.