President Trump on Wednesday vowed to protect statues as some activists are calling for the toppling of monuments to former presidents, controversial historical figures and even Jesus Christ – after initially just targeting those of Confederate figures.
Trump, who earlier in the day promised to sign an executive order by the end of the week to protect public statues and federal monuments, said that any continuation of the toppling of monuments “is not going to happen.”
“They’re looking at Jesus Christ, they’re looking at George Washington, they’re looking at Abraham Lincoln, they’re looking at Thomas Jefferson,” Trump said during a news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda in the White House’s Rose Garden. “It’s not going to happen.”
The president did not make a specific reference to who was calling on the statues to be taken down, but liberal activist Shaun King tweeted Monday that “the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down.”
“Yes I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down. They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been,” King tweeted. “In the Bible, when the family of Jesus wanted to hide, and blend in, guess where they went? EGYPT! Not Demark. Tear them down.”
While groups for years have been calling for the removal of monuments to the Confederacy and other historical figures who espoused racist or xenophobic ideas, the movement to tear them down has gained new impetus following the death last month of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and the protests that followed.
On Monday, an attempt was made to take down a statue of Andrew Jackson in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square near the White House. There was also a second incident targeting the nearby St. John’s Church, and prior vandalism of the Lincoln Memorial and World War II Memorial. Some people have also vowed to tear down a statue of Abraham Lincoln this week in Lincoln Park on federal park property on Capitol Hill.
The initial statues under fire were those of Confederate soldiers and generals largely in the South, but the anger has spread to monuments beyond that historical period.
On Thursday, demonstrators in Portland, Ore., toppled a statue of former President George Washington. Friday, protesters in San Francisco defaced and toppled the statue of former President Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union Army during the Civil War.
Andrew Jackson, who has faced ire in the present day for his severe treatment of Native Americans, was the latest historical figure targeted by protesters demanding monuments and memorials to those with racist pasts be taken down. Reuters reported that while protesters failed to take down the Jackson statue, it was defaced Monday night with “killer scum” written on the pedestal.
Sources told Fox News Wednesday that the text of Trump’s executive order is still being finalized. But the president said in a tweet earlier this week that people who deface, damage or destroy federal monuments and statues should get "up to 10 years in prison."
It is unclear, at this point, if the executive order would go further than that, but the president said Tuesday that it would simply “reinforce what’s already there, but in a more uniform way.”
“I have authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statute or other such Federal property in the U.S. with up to 10 years in prison, per the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.
“This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused,” he added. “There will be no exceptions!
Fox News’ John Roberts and Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.