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President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that he wants the federal government to enforce an obscure law punishing protesters who remove statues with up to 10 years in prison.
After protesters in Washington, D.C., made an unsuccessful attempt to topple a statue of former President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, Trump tweeted that he had “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.”
In a Monday night tweet, Trump alluded to the maximum 10-year penalty for the “disgraceful vandalism” of the Jackson statue.
The law Trump is referring to is the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act, a law passed unanimously by Congress in 2003. It gives a 10-year maximum penalty to anyone who “willfully injures or destroys, or 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.”
On Monday night, protesters in Lafayette Square tore down a protective barrier around the Jackson statue, climbed its base, and tied ropes around it, but were unsuccessful in pulling it down. The Secret Service ordered press to leave the area, and police later used pepper spray on the protesters.
Jackson was the nation’s 9th president and a U.S. Army general in the War of 1812. He was a wealthy slaveowner, and both as president and as a military officer was responsible for the genocide of Indigenous people. Trump has described himself as a “fan” of Jackson, and has a portrait of him hanging in the Oval Office.
It’s unclear whether anyone has ever been convicted under the statute Trump wants to use to charge protesters. His announcement came after a call by Arizona Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) for the Department of Justice to prosecute demonstrators who tear down or vandalize statues because local authorities “seem unwilling to stand up to the mob and uphold the rule of law."
Under the statute, however, the federal government can only charge someone if they traveled across state lines or if, as with the Jackson statue, the monument is on federal property.
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) // A maintenance worker goes to remove a swastika graffitied on the base of the General Andrew Jackson Statue in Lafayette Square following protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd, in Washington on Monday, June 15, 2020. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)