Hundreds of members of the Washington, DC, National Guard have been deployed to protect monuments in the nation’s capital.
The move comes after protesters toppled a monument to Confederate commander Albert Pike near DC’s police headquarters last Friday. On Monday, demonstrators also attempted to take down a memorial to Andrew Jackson, the former president who ordered the displacement of 60,000 Native Americans from the southeastern US in the mid-1800s, but were unsuccessful.
President Trump has denounced these efforts, saying in a press conference on Tuesday that a “very strong executive order” was coming this week to punish those who vandalize monuments. “We are looking at long-term jail sentences for these vandals and these hoodlums and these anarchists and agitators,” he told reporters.
Following the episode, the White House tweeted that the tearing down of “America’s cultural heritage” will not happen on “President Trump’s watch.” Trump himself wrote on Twitter that he has “authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue, or other such Federal property in the US with up to 10 years in prison, per the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act.”
“The District of Columbia National Guard is responding to a request to support law enforcement officials and has dispatched unarmed personnel, with others on standby,” a spokesman for the National Guard spokesman said in a statement to CNN. “Activated Guardsmen are expected to provide security for local monuments and critical infrastructure.”
The news outlet also reports that the under secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, a Trump appointee, authorized the activation of troops following a request made by the National Park Police, which oversees the national monuments. The guard members will not be armed.
As of yesterday, there were 100 guard members in the DC area, but none have been dispatched to the streets yet. As many as 400 will be activated, and will remain in the area through the July 4th holiday.
The Washington, DC, National Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month, 5,000 National Guard members were activated in Washington, D.C. to patrol the protests that erupted following the murder of George Floyd. Troops helped local police violently remove protestors from Lafayette Square on June 1 for a President Trump photo op at the nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church that drew instant comparisons to fascist iconography.
Following the incident, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a letter to the president urging him to remove “all extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence” from the city. The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
House Democrats will vote tomorrow to make the District of Columbia the 51st state. The bill is expected to pass the House of Representatives and be struck down by the Republican-controlled Senate.