President Trump says the FBI is investigating “hundreds” of protesters for defacing federal property including statues — and that they face 10 years in prison for having “fun one night.”
Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden on Wednesday that a law already allows stiff penalties and that he will sign a “very strong executive order” this week.
“The FBI is investigating hundreds of people throughout the country for what they’ve done to monuments, statues and even buildings,” Trump said at a press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
“We have a law that’s 10 years — it’s 10 years, that’s a long time to have fun one night,” Trump said.
On Friday, activists protesting the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police toppled DC’s only statute of a Confederate leader, Albert Pike, near the city police headquarters a mile east of the White House. On Monday, protesters unsuccessfully tried to topple a statue of President Andrew Jackson facing the White House.
The incidents angered Trump, who tweeted that DC police were “not doing their job” when they allowed Pike’s statue to be torn down. He called the assault on Jackson’s statue, which was lassoed with ropes, a “sneak attack.” National Guard troops reportedly were activated this week to protect DC monuments.
“I think many of the people that are knocking down these statues don’t even have any idea what the statue is, what it means, who it is,” Trump said Wednesday, citing the toppling of a statue of Union general and President Ulysses Grant in San Francisco.
“Now they’re looking at Jesus Christ. They’re looking at George Washington, they’re looking at Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Jefferson. Not gonna happen. Not gonna happen, not as long as I’m here,” Trump said. “As far as Democrats are concerned, I think they could care less whether or not it happens. And I think the American people get it.”
Trump’s mention of Jesus statues was a likely reference to a call by activist Shaun King to remove statues that make Jesus appear to be white.
Duda said Polish officials were particularly upset by the vandalism of a monument to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish volunteer during the American Revolution, in Lafayette Park near the White House.
“For completely incomprehensible reasons for us, that monument was devastated,” Duda said through a translator.
An increasingly diverse set of statues have been targeted by protests that began in late May over Floyd’s death.
This week, the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan decided to remove a statue of President Theodore Roosevelt. In Wisconsin, a crowd on Tuesday night toppled, decapitated, and threw into a lake a statue of abolitionist Hans Christian Heg, who led an anti-slave catcher militia and died fighting for the Union in 1863.