WASHINGTON (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - Four men have been charged for attempting to remove a statue of former President Andrew Jackson from outside the White House as part of anti-racism protests in the United States, authorities said on Saturday (June 27).
President Donald Trump, who is trying to position himself as a standard-bearer for law and order with less than five months to go before November’s presidential election, tweeted calls by police on Saturday to identify more than a dozen other demonstrators who took part in the action.
Trump posted photos of 15 people the US Park Police said it is attempting to identify "who are responsible for vandalising property" in a park in front of the White House. A black man in one of the photos is wearing a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt, and a white man in another has a shirt with the slogan "I Can't Breathe."
The President on Friday circulated an FBI wanted poster with the images of the 15 people to his 82.5 million Twitter followers. On Saturday, individual tweets were sent for each person, mostly in a three-minute burst shortly after 6pm.
The striking social media posts come as Trump intensified his verbal attacks on protesters demonstrating against police brutality that erupted following the May death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
On Monday evening (June 22), a group of protesters attacked the statue of former President Jackson, a slaveowner who led the United States from 1829 to 1837, which stands in Lafayette Park next to the White House.
They wrapped ropes around the monument and tried to knock it down.
Based on video footage, four were identified tying or pulling the ropes, or passing a hammer to another demonstrator.
Aged between 20 and 47, they were charged on Friday with “destruction of federal property,” a charge punishable by one to 10 years in prison.
One of them was arrested on Friday and presented to a judge on Saturday, while the other three were named but have not yet been apprehended, the Washington prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
“These charges should serve as a warning to those who choose to desecrate the statues and monuments that adorn our nation’s capital: your violent behavior and criminal conduct will not be tolerated,” wrote Acting US Attorney Michael R. Sherwin.
Since the death of George Floyd, an African-American killed by a white police officer on May 25, Americans have faced a critical reckoning on the country’s racism problem.
Floyd’s death ignited mass civil unrest across the country. On the sidelines of those protests, several statues, including of Confederate generals and pro-slavery leaders, have been targeted or pulled down.
Trump, who is running for a second term, on Friday signed an executive order pledging to enforce prosecution for protesters who vandalise public memorials.
The Republican president “will never allow violence to control our streets, rewrite our history, or harm the American way of life,” the White House said at the time.
The President in public remarks has increasingly stressed his law and order message, rather than focus on outreach or police reform, as he seeks to energise his conservative supporters at a moment when he trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the polls.
Trump also lashed out at the Black Lives Matter movement in an interview published on Saturday, saying its agenda was "extremist" and criticising New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio for floating the idea of painting the slogan on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, near Trump Tower.
"You see their leaders on TV saying 'give us what we want, or we'll burn down this system and replace it.' That's almost terrorism," Trump told The Federalist, a conservative online publication.
The comments were an apparent reference to a Fox News interview with Hawk Newsome that first aired on Wednesday, and has been replayed many times since. The network identified Newsome, who had 1,996 Twitter followers as of Saturday evening, as the "chair" of Black Lives Matter for greater New York. The movement is known to lack a formal leadership structure.
Some demonstrators' attempts to tear down statues, mostly of Confederate generals and leaders, have also angered Trump.
Trump announced on Friday on Twitter that he scrapped a planned weekend trip to his private golf club in New Jersey in order to stay in Washington "to make sure LAW & ORDER is enforced." On Saturday morning, the President played a round of golf at his club in nearby Northern Virginia.