“I just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues—and combatting recent Criminal Violence. Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!” the president announced on Twitter.
A text of the order says the federal government will prosecute “to the fullest extent under the law” anyone who incites violence and illegal activity, which includes the damaging of monuments, memorials, or statues.
The Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003 authorizes a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment for destroying or attempting to destroy monuments commemorating those who served in the U.S. armed forces.
“President Trump will not tolerate the rampant violence and destruction that has occurred over the last five weeks,” a White House statement announcing the executive order reads.
“Left-wing extremists are rioting, looting, and calling for the destruction of the United States system of government,” the statement continues. “Through mob intimidation, these violent extremists are attempting to impose their ideology on the law-abiding citizens of this country. Some state and local governments are failing their citizens by not distinguishing between peaceful protest and violent chaos.”
The executive order says that federal support may be withdrawn from state and local law enforcement agencies that fail to protect monuments, memorials, and statues.
Rioters have toppled and vandalized dozens of statues and monuments across the nation, including those that represent Confederate soldiers and generals.
The White House in its announcement noted that rioters have torn down and defaced statues representing other notable figures, including statues of founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in Portland, a statue of Ulysses S. Grant in San Francisco, and a statue of Hans Christian Heg, who died fighting for the Union Army during the civil war, in Wisconsin.
“These monuments memorialize the history we all share as Americans, and they deserve to be defended for future generations,” reads the White House statement.
Earlier on Friday, Trump called for the arrest of protesters involved in an attempt to pull down the statue of Andrew Jackson from a park directly in front of the White House on June 22.
“MANY people in custody, with many others being sought for Vandalization of Federal Property in Lafayette Park. 10 year prison sentences!” Trump wrote in a Twitter post where he shared an FBI-wanted poster of 15 rioters wanted for vandalization of federal property.
Hundreds of unarmed Washington, D.C., National Guard troops are on standby to assist law enforcement personnel with protecting monuments following the Andrew Jackson statue-toppling attempt.
At his first reelection campaign rally in months at Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20, Trump explicitly denounced the recent wave of statue-toppling.
“This cruel campaign of censorship and exclusion violates everything we hold dear as Americans,” he said at the rally. “They want to demolish our heritage so they can impose their new oppressive regime in its place.”
Trump added that an “unhinged left-wing mob” is attempting “to vandalize our history … tear down our statues, and punish, cancel, and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control.”
“We’re not conforming,” he said.
It is unclear who has been behind each monument’s vandalism and attack. However, Attorney General William Barr said recently that the Department of Justice has evidence that Antifa and other similar groups have “hijacked” initially peaceful protests.
Trump said on Thursday at a Fox News town hall that statues can come down but the removal process should be done legally, as opposed to the vandalism seen in Washington and other cities.
“We can take things down, too. I can understand certain things being taken down, but they ought to go through a process legally,” he said.
Government officials in a number of states, including the Carolinas, have removed statues of slaveowners with plans to place them in museums or educational institutions.
Zachary Stieber, Bowen Xiao, and Reuters contributed to this report.