President Donald Trump has said he will issue an executive order to protect monuments that are coming under new scrutiny as the US wrestles with racism during the unrest sparked by the police killing of George Floyd.
Mr Trump has been clear that he opposes the removal of monuments of leaders of the Confederacy or other distasteful aspects of US history.
Commenting as he departed the White House for a trip to Arizona, Mr Trump said: “I will have an executive order very shortly, and all it’s really going to do is reinforce what’s already there, but in a more uniform way.”
At a time of nationwide protests over racial injustice and inequality, Mr Trump has aligned himself squarely on the side of those who argue that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of eliminating reminders of hated aspects of American history.
Mr Trump had tweeted late on Monday that those who tried to topple a statue of former president Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House faced 10 years in prison under the Veterans Memorial Preservation Act.
“Beware,” he tweeted.
Mr Jackson is one of Mr Trump’s favourite presidents.
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 Veteranâs Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 23, 2020
.....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
The federal statute Mr Trump cites subjects anyone who wilfully 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 to fines, up to 10 years imprisonment or both.
WUSA-TV in Washington reported on Monday night that police used pepper spray to move protesters out of Lafayette Square, where the Jackson statue is located.
Videos posted on social media showed that the protesters had climbed onto the statue and tied ropes around it, before trying to pull it off its pedestal.
The statue shows Jackson in military uniform, riding a horse that is rearing up on its hind legs.
The 19th century president’s ruthless treatment of Native Americans has made his statue a target for demonstrators protesting against the United States’ legacy of racial injustice.
The Jackson statue remained on its pedestal.