“For weeks violent mobs have roamed our streets destroying property, in most cases with neither resistance from police nor legal consequences,” Cotton announced. “I call upon the Department of Justice to bring charges against these mob vigilantes, prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law.”
“We cannot tolerate mob rule, and we cannot allow it to go unpunished,” Cotton said in a speech in Congress on Monday.
“There must be consequences for mob violence,” Cotton reiterated. “Because if you give the mob an inch, they will take a mile.”
The senator said that the Anti Riot Act and the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act can provide legal grounds in some cases.
He noted that over the recent days, mobs have torn down a George Washington statue in Portland, Oregon, as well as a statue of former President Ulysses S. Grant in San Francisco, California.
“When you tear down statues of Washington and Grant, it’s not about the Civil War—it’s because you hate America,” he commented. “And, indeed, these rioters hate America.”
Cotton noted that some people may “celebrate the destruction of disfavored statues and monuments,” but asked how such people may feel about other cases such as the recent destruction of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment memorial—which commemorates the first all-volunteer black regiment of the Union Army during the Civil War.
“What of the outlaws in Philadelphia, who defaced a statue of Matthias Baldwin, a devout, passionate abolitionist?” he added. “Mobs don’t discriminate between legitimate and illegitimate targets of their destruction. That’s because they are mobs.”
In an open letter to Attorney General William Barr urging the DOJ to press charges, Cotton wrote, “These criminals masquerade as protestors exercising their lawful right to peaceably assemble, but there can be no right to destroy public or private property.”
“They aren’t exactly criminal masterminds, typically filming their crimes and posting the videos on social media,” he added later in the letter.
President Donald Trump explicitly denounced the recent wave of statue-toppling at his first reelection campaign rally in months at Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20.
“This cruel campaign of censorship and exclusion violates everything we hold dear as Americans,” he said at the rally. “They want to demolish our heritage so they can impose their new oppressive regime in its place.”
Trump added that an “unhinged left-wing mob” is attempting “to vandalize our history … tear down our statues, and punish, cancel, and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control.”
“We’re not conforming,” he said.
It is unclear who has been behind each monument’s vandalism and attack. However, Barr said recently that the DOJ has evidence that Antifa and other similar groups have “hijacked” initially peaceful protests triggered by the death of George Floyd.
Bowen Xiao contributed to this report.