“The President said very clearly to these state and local leaders, some of whom have made a determination to let these things happen, that it is not a free lunch,” Bernhardt said in an interview on Fox News. “We are going to examine all of our funding mechanisms to these communities and to the extent that we have the authority, we will take into account their failure to protect these monuments.”
Nationwide protests over the recent deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police and racial injustice in America have led to a re-examination of Confederate symbols and monuments in the US today. Protesters in some states have defaced or attempted to tear down statues, arguing that they are racist symbols of America’s legacy of slavery, as the Trump administration has moved to preserve them.
Trump has previously described national monuments as part of the country’s heritage, and he personally instructed Bernhardt to restore a statue of Confederate Gen. Albert Pike — the only Confederate statue in Washington, DC — after it was torn down last week, two people familiar with the matter previously told CNN.
“Most of these monuments were placed with acts of Congress, with deliberation, with careful thought placed in them by artists and great commemorations to establish them,” Bernhardt said on Fox News Saturday. “And they are not just simply torn down because some person thinks that that would be a good idea, to try and rip out our history. We’re not going to allow it.”
Bernhardt said that National Park Service is required by law to “conserve these monuments for future generations.”
On Twitter Friday, Trump announced that he had signed an executive order to protect monuments, which in essence directs the attorney general to enforce the already-existing Veterans’ Memorial Preservation Act. The 2003 act made vandalism or destruction of any monument, statue or other such federal property punishable up to 10 years in prison.
Trump’s executive order calls for “limiting federal grants for jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies that permit the desecration of monuments, memorials, or statues.”
It states that “the heads of all executive departments and agencies shall examine their respective grant programs” and apply the order’s policies to the extent “appropriate and consistent with applicable law.”
“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 states.
It goes on to accuse some “misguided public officials” of accepting the violence and preventing police from “enforcing the law and protecting public monuments, memorials, and statues from the mob’s ropes and graffiti.”
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