The U.S. Marshals Service—a federal law enforcement agency within the Department of Justice—has reportedly been told to prepare to protect national monuments across the United States, after President Donald Trump denounced the recent forceful toppling of several statues of American historical figures nationwide.
Marshals Service Assistant Director Andrew C. Smith said the service was “asked to immediately prepare to provide federal law enforcement support to protect national monuments (throughout the country),” according to an email obtained by the Washington Post.
“This is a challenging assignment due to the breadth of possible targets for criminal activity,” Smith wrote in the email directive.
The email’s subject line named the request an “Attorney General Assignment,” suggesting the order came from Attorney General William Barr.
It comes after the president, who has explicitly denounced the toppling of statues in recent weeks, warned that he would issue “a very strong executive order” to protect statues by the end of this week.
Memorials to Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and George Washington have been torn down by vandals during protests in recent weeks. Trump singled out the defacement of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, a nonviolent Indian activist, and the takedown of a statue of Ulysses S. Grant, who played a major role in defeating the Confederacy during the Civil War.
On Monday night, protestors attempted to topple a statue of former U.S. President Andrew Jackson near the White House before they were dispersed by police.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 23, 2020
To coordinate the assignment, the U.S. Marshals Incident Management Team will set up a joint operations center in Virginia, Smith said. The email stated that all deputies in the Special Operations Group would be available for the assignment as soon as Thursday.
According to the news outlet, Smith asked several divisions and districts to identify individuals who may be able to assist with the assignment over the next two weeks.
The Department of Justice has declined to comment on the situation.
Trump on Tuesday announced that he has authorized the federal government to arrest any person who vandalizes or destroys a monument or other federal property.
The wrongdoers will face up to 10 years in prison, Trump said in a social media statement.
“This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!” the president said.
Prosecutors can use the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act or other pertinent laws. The act, passed in 2003, says that people who wilfully try or successfully injure or destroy any structure, plaque, statue, or other monument on public property commemorating service in the armed forces of the United States shall be fined, imprisoned up to 10 years, or both.
“Numerous people are in jail, or are going to jail today,” Trump told reporters outside the White House Tuesday morning before leaving for Arizona.
“We’re looking at long-term jail sentences for these vandals and these hoodlums and these anarchists and agitators. 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.”
The president told reporters Wednesday in the Rose garden that the FBI is investigating “hundreds” of people for defacing federal property including statues.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.