“I just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues – and combatting recent Criminal Violence,” the President wrote Friday. “Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!”
It’s not clear how the order differs from the existing Veterans’ Memorial Preservation Act, under which the President claimed earlier this week 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 essence, the order directs the attorney general to enforce the already-existing law. The order tells the attorney general to “prioritize within the Department of Justice the investigation and prosecution” of those who damage government-owned monuments, citing federal law that “authorizes a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for the willful injury of Federal property.”
The order also calls for “limiting federal grants for jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies that permit the desecration of monuments, memorials, or statues.” It states that “the heads of all executive departments and agencies shall examine their respective grant programs” and apply the order’s policies to the extent “appropriate and consistent with applicable law.”
The order doubles down on a perceived religious element of monument damage, asserting that “Christian figures are now in the crosshairs” and citing an unnamed “influential activist” who “declared that many existing religious depictions of Jesus and the Holy Family should be purged from our places of worship.”
CNN has reported some Trump allies had been pushing the White House to take a stance — any stance — on the racial issues fracturing the country.
While some outside advisers had advocated for an even more forceful condemnation of looting and property destruction, they concede that even a conciliatory approach that embraces the other side of the debate would better serve the President than his seeming refusal to, as one adviser put it, “pick a lane” and show leadership on the issue.
This outside adviser said the monuments executive order, which they pushed to the White House, would be a “symbolic step” toward elevating the law and order message that some feel has been undermined by the administration’s inability to stop the destruction of problematic statues and failure to cajole state and local authorities to do so in other cities.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement Friday that in signing the order, Trump “took decisive action to put an end to this lawlessness and protect American streets from vandalism and mob violence.”
“President Trump will never allow violence to control our streets, rewrite our history, or harm the American way of life,” she added.
Trump personally instructed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to restore the only Confederate statue in Washington, DC, after it was torn down last week, two people familiar with the matter told CNN.
When asked about Trump’s request to restore the Pike statue, the National Park Service said, “It is the intent of the National Park Service to mitigate any damage to any statue, monument, and memorial damaged due to any criminal activity.”
This story has been updated with additional background information and excerpts of the executive order.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Ryan Browne contributed to this report.