(CBS NEWS) – President Donald Trump signed an executive order to protect federal monuments and statues. The order instructs federal law enforcement to prosecute people who damage federal monuments, and threatens to withhold federal funding from state and local governments that fail to protect their own public monuments and statues.
“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!” Mr. Trump tweeted Friday evening.
The order comes after weeks of protests against police violence and racial injustice across the country, and after statues and monuments have been toppled nationwide. Monuments and statues of Confederate officials and other controversial historical figures have been targeted and vandalized.
The president has argued that protesters have gone too far.
“Individuals and organizations have the right to peacefully advocate for either the removal or the construction of any monument. But no individual or group has the right to damage, deface, or remove any monument by use of force,” the order says.
It says “anarchists and left-wing extremists have sought to advance a fringe ideology that paints the United States of America as fundamentally unjust and have sought to impose that ideology on Americans through violence and mob intimidation.”
The order also says “it is the policy of the United States to prosecute to the fullest extent permitted under Federal law, and as appropriate, any person or any entity that destroys, damages, vandalizes, or desecrates a monument, memorial, or statue within the United States or otherwise vandalizes government property.”
The order calls for law enforcement to “prosecute to the fullest extent” anyone who “participates in efforts to incite violence or other illegal activity in connection with the riots and acts of vandalism.”
Federal law authorizes a penalty of up to a decade in prison for the “willful injury” of federal property.
“It is the policy of the United States, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to withhold Federal support tied to public spaces from State and local governments that have failed to protect public monuments, memorials, and statues from destruction or vandalism,” the order continues.
The president said earlier this week he had “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” under the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation Act.
Protesters tried to pull down a statue of former President Andrew Jackson near the White House on Monday night before they were dispersed by police. Last weekend, protesters in Washington, D.C., toppled the district’s only outdoor statue of a Confederate general late According to CBS affiliate WUSA, protesters tore down and then set on fire a statue of Confederate Brigadier General Albert Pike, which has stood in Judiciary Square since 1901.