Trump admin prepares major effort to protect monuments with federal officers

Nation/world

The Trump administration is preparing a major effort to protect national monuments that President Donald Trump has described as part of the country’s heritage, including assigning US Marshals to oversee them and signing an executive order meant to protect them, people familiar with the plan say.

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. Trump raged at the sight of the statue being burned and torn down on June 19, tweeting, “The D.C. Police are not doing their job as they watch a statue be ripped down & burn.” He later instructed Bernhardt to put the statue of Confederate Gen. Albert Pike back up, as first reported by NBC.

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.”

Meanwhile, the White House expects US Marshals to help protect national monuments as early as this week, officials said, after Trump publicly stated he would take steps to ensure monuments aren’t torn down and those who do suffer long jail sentences. The marshals are expected to begin their work before the end of the week. The Washington Post first reported the marshals’ expected involvement.

The marshals’ help in protecting monuments thought to be racist or problematic is a stark contrast to when marshals protected James Meredith, the first black man to attend the University of Mississippi, at the direction of President John F. Kennedy. That moment in 1962 is thought to be one of the proudest in US Marshals history.

“The US Marshals Service does not confirm or deny any potential enforcement activities,” the agency said in response to a request for comment.

The pedestal where a statue of Confederate Gen. Albert Pike once stood remains empty after it was toppled by protesters in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 2020. (Alex Wroblewski / Getty Images)
The pedestal where a statue of Confederate Gen. Albert Pike once stood remains empty after it was toppled by protesters in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 2020. (Alex Wroblewski / Getty Images)

And Trump plans to sign an executive order in the next few days protecting national statues and monuments, he said on Wednesday. The substance of the order wasn’t immediately clear and officials said they were still drafting it.

The efforts amount to a concerted push by Trump’s administration to protect and maintain monuments and statues, even those tied to the country’s racist past, that mimics his efforts earlier this month to crackdown on protests.

Trump on Wednesday characterized attempts to remove racist or problematic monuments as going to an extreme.

“I think many of the people that are knocking down the statues don’t even have any idea what the statue is, what it means, who it is when they knocked down,” Trump said, citing the toppling of a bust of Union general and former President Ulysses S. Grant as an example.

“Now they are looking at Jesus Christ, they are looking at George Washington, they’re looking at Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson. Not going to happen, not going to happen while I’m here,” Trump said.

There have not been widespread reports of activists tearing down statues of Jesus.

Some have called for a statue of Lincoln in Washington’s Capitol Hill neighborhood to be removed because its depiction of the sixteenth President standing over a freed slave is considered problematic.

While Trump listed names like Washington, Lincoln and Jesus, his bid to preserve monuments originated against attempts to remove statues of Confederate generals and soldiers. Trump has said they should not be removed.

He did not mention Confederate statues on Wednesday, and claimed Democrats “could care less whether or not it happens.”

“I think the American people get it. So we are going to have a very strong executive order. It will happen very quickly before the end of the week,” Trump said.

In a recent Quinnipiac University survey, 52% of Americans said they supported removing Confederate statues.

CNN reported earlier on Wednesday that the DC National Guard will provide unarmed guard members to assist with securing monuments in Washington.

“The District of Columbia National Guard is responding to a request to support law enforcement officials and has dispatched unarmed personnel, with others on stand-by,” National Guard spokesman Major Robert Perino said in a statement to CNN. “Activated Guardsmen are expected to provide security for local monuments and critical infrastructure.”

A defense official said Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy signed the memo Tuesday authorizing the activation of the DC National Guard forces, after the National Park Police made a request for the assistance.

The official strongly emphasized that no Guard forces have yet been sent onto the streets and so far have all stayed inside their barracks. There are currently about 100 troops in the immediate Washington, DC, area. The activation could grow to 400 in total to rotate troops if needed. The Pentagon expects the guard forces to be used as a stopgap measure until the Justice Department can muster additional federal law enforcement personnel to take over the mission, the defense official said. Nonetheless it is expected the guard units will remain in the DC area through July 4.

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