As protests over the horrific police killing of George Floyd devolved into the looting, vandalism, and arson across America that destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments, Cancel Culture iconoclasts have vandalized and toppled statues of Confederate generals and Union generals, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. They even vandalized statues of Mahatma Gandhi and the first black Union volunteers.
President Donald Trump, who warned of this in 2017, issued a stern warning to the vandals and statue-topplers on Tuesday: federal law will be enforced, and they will face up to 10 years in prison.
“I have 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, per the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent,” the president tweeted. “This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!”
…..This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 23, 2020
On Monday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) condemned what he termed the “1619 riots,” arguing that the iconoclastic spirit evokes The New York Times‘s “1619 Project,” which attempted to redefine American history by centering America’s founding not in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence but in 1619, with the arrival of the first black slaves. The Times ultimately had to admit that one of its core claims — that America declared independence to save slavery — was false. Even so, the 1619 Project suggests the American experiment is fundamentally racist and must be scrapped, and the Cancel Culture iconoclasm that targets every statue under the sun echoes this anti-American screed.
In condemning the riots, Cotton noted two pieces of federal legislation that the executive branch should apply against the riots, the Anti-Riot Act and the Veterans Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act. “There must be consequences for mob violence,” he declared.
The Veterans Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act penalizes any American who “wilfully injures or destroys, or attempts to injure or destroy,” any monument on public property commemorating a veteran of the U.S. armed forces. The act applies to Americans who cross state lines to commit the vandalism or who vandalize property owned by the federal government.
Whoever, in a circumstance described in subsection (b), 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 shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.(b)A circumstance described in this subsection is that—
(1)in committing the offense described in subsection (a), the defendant travels or causes another to travel in interstate or foreign commerce, or uses the mail or an instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce; or
(2)the structure, plaque, statue, or other monument described in subsection (a) is located on property owned by, or under the jurisdiction of, the Federal Government.
Rioters who cross state lines to vandalize statues or who target federal government statues violate federal law, whether law enforcement enforces that law or not. President Donald Trump sent a clear warning to the vandals, notifying them that the law will be enforced under his watch.
Law and order are critical to society. If the laws protecting property from destruction are not enforced, how can citizens expect their property and lives to be protected if the mob comes for them?
Vandals need to face real consequences for their destruction, in part because the destruction of statues and monuments heralding true American heroes like George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, and the black Union volunteers of the 54th Regiment undermines America’s civic spirit at a time when the nation appears to be unraveling.
Critics often focus on Confederate monuments, rightly noting that these figures often fought against the United States of America in a rebellion premised on slavery. This is true, but the 1619 riots have come for far more than just Confederate monuments. It now appears the mob wishes to erase all heroes from the national consciousness in a great purge. This is dangerous for America’s civic heart, not to mention its understanding and appreciation of history.
If Americans truly want to build up America and replace Confederate monuments, they should erect monuments to black American heroes like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. New monuments would herald the true heroism of black Americans with the added bonus of not violating federal law.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.