On Friday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order cracking down on the destruction of statues and monuments by protesters. The order adds new enforcements to existing laws prohibiting vandalism of government property, allowing the federal government to withhold support from state and local governments of places where monuments have been defaced, according to a report by Fox News. Trump posted proudly about this executive order on Twitter, while many critics railed against it.
Trump's tweet said that there could be "long prison terms" for those who destroy or deface public statues, which he termed "lawless acts against our Great Country!" Trump's executive order allows him to withhold federal support for public spaces where statues have been defaced, while also providing assistance specifically for protecting statues on federally-owned property. At the same time, Attorney General Bill Barr oversaw the creation of a new task force on Friday night designed to counter "anti-government extremists," including those who identify as "Antifa" and the far-right movement "boogaloo."
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 26, 2020
Barr's task force was not related to Trump's executive order, though from the sound of it that was what his tweet was referring to. The task force will be led by U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Craig Carpenito and U.S. Attorney for the district of Northern Texas Erin Nealy Cox. It will be made up of personnel from various U.S. Attorneys' Offices, members of the FBI and other relevant departments.
The task force will reportedly focus on identifying anti-government extremists and sharing the information gathered with state and local law enforcement, according to an internal memo from the Justice Department. This action lines up with the teasers Trump has been dropping all week, hinting at intense action against protesters and property destruction.
Some cities have tried to get ahead of protesters by removing public statues and monuments — particularly those of Confederate leaders. In Jacksonville, Florida, a massive monument to Confederate soldiers was taken down on the day before a massive protest. However, some of the memorials targeted by protesters have included less controversial figures like a statue of Union general and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant in San Francisco, California, for example.
On Friday, protesters in Lincoln Park tried to tear down a statue of President Abraham Lincoln holding the Emancipation Proclamation. Demonstrators reportedly argued that the statue did not accurately depict the role that slaves themselves played in securing their freedom.