WASHINGTON — Protesters defaced a statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square outside the White House on Monday night as they tried to topple it, according to the Interior Department and media reports.
The Jackson statue remained on its pedestal, according to The Associated Press. Videos posted on social media showed that the protesters had climbed on the statue and tied ropes around it, then tried to pull it off its pedestal, the AP said.
When asked about reports of pepper spray being used in Lafayette Park, a National Park Service spokesperson told NBC News: “I am still gathering information, but it is accurate that pepper spray was used to disengage the protesters from the statue and clear the area.”
Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt said in a statement that he had just left the scene at Lafayette Square “where another so called ‘peaceful protest’ led to destruction tonight. Let me be clear: we will not bow to anarchists. Law and order will prevail, and justice will be served.”
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He added that the Jackson statue has been “defaced by criminals who sought to topple the statue recognizing the seventh President of the United States. Law enforcement officers ensured that this would not happen.”
The U.S. Park Police with assistance from Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department and the Secret Service tried to prevent destruction of the statue, a spokesperson for the Park Police told NBC News.
Interior Department spokesperson Nicholas Goodwin said arrests were made in Lafayette Square, but didn’t provide any further details.
President Donald Trump tweeted Monday night: “Numerous people arrested in D.C. for the disgraceful vandalism, in Lafayette Park, of the magnificent Statue of Andrew Jackson, in addition to the exterior defacing of St. John’s Church across the street. 10 years in prison under the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act. Beware!”
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 Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 23, 2020
Trump told reporters Tuesday that law enforcement stopped an attack on a “great monument” and said “numerous people are in jail and going to jail today.”
“We are looking at long-term jail sentences for these vandals and these hoodlums and these anarchists and agitators and call them whatever you want. Some people don’t like that language, but that’s what they are. They’re bad people, they don’t love our country, and they’re not taking down our monuments,” he said.
Jackson was a Tennessee slaveholder and signed a law that led to the expulsion of Native Americans east of the Mississippi River in which they were forcibly moved west by the federal government. According to the Library of Congress, about 4,000 Cherokees died on the march that became known as the “Trail of Tears.”
Trump has expressed admiration for Jackson, who was a populist, including during a 2017 visit to the Hermitage, Jackson’s plantation. According to the Hermitage, Jackson owned about 150 slaves at the time of his death.