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Homeland Security sets up task force to protect monuments, statues

The Trump administration's push to protect statues comes as thousands of Americans protest police brutality against Black people and systemic racism.

WASHINGTON — A task force has been created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protect the country's historic monuments, memorials, statues, and federal facilities.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad F. Wolf, announced Wednesday the creation of the DHS Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT).

The task force is assigned to "conduct ongoing assessments of potential civil unrest or destruction and allocate resources to protect people and property," according to a DHS release. 

The Trump administration's push to protect statues comes as thousands of Americans protest police brutality against Black people and systemic racism in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. Around the world, a movement to pull down Confederate monuments has extended to statues of former slaveholders, imperialists, conquerors and explorers including Christopher Columbus, Cecil Rhodes and Belgium’s King Leopold II. 

After protesters in the nation's capital tried to pull down a statue of President Andrew Jackson near the White House, President Donald Trump threatened that those vandalizing or destroying statues would face up to 10 years in prison.  

“DHS is answering the President’s call to use our law enforcement personnel across the country to protect our historic landmarks,” DHS Acting Secretary Wolf said in a press release. “We won’t stand idly by while violent anarchists and rioters seek not only to vandalize and destroy the symbols of our nation, but to disrupt law and order and sow chaos in our communities.”

On Friday, Trump issued an executive order to ensure that the monuments and statues were protected. The order, “Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Activity,” directs DHS, within its statutory authority, to provide personnel to assist with the protection of federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.

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DHS said it has deployed teams ahead of the fourth of July holiday to "respond to potential threats to facilities and properties." 

Credit: AP
Barriers are erected around the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, which depicts a freed slave kneeling at the feet of President Abraham Lincoln, Thursday, June 25, 2020. Calls are intensifying for the removal of the statue as the nation confronts racial injustice. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Trump tweeted last week that vandalizing or destroying any monument or statue on federal property would be punishable with up to 10 years through the Veterans Memorial Preservation Act. One part of the 2003 law states that whoever destroys or attempts to destroy a plaque, monument or statue "commemorating the service" of any persons in the armed forces will be fined and/or imprisoned for up to 10 years.

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