Even as Democrats paint President Donald Trump’s crackdown on the destruction of monuments as being about supporting racist symbols, vandals are tearing down statues ranging from a Wisconsin abolitionist to an elk in Oregon.
A statue of Frederick Douglass, a black 19th-century writer and orator who campaigned against slavery after escaping a plantation himself, joined the casualty list on July 5. It was pulled down and destroyed at a park in Rochester, New York, on the 168th anniversary of Douglass’ most celebrated anti-slavery speech.
As ironic as it was for a statue of one of the most respected black Americans in history to be felled amid a wave of anti-racism protests, it was only the latest in a string of perplexing attacks on monuments. While leaders of the Confederacy, such as General Robert E. Lee, have been targeted, so have those who defeated the South, including President Abraham Lincoln and General U.S. Grant.
Anti-racism protesters in Madison, Wisconsin, also tore down a statue of abolitionist Hans Christian Heg, who died fighting the South. The range of other statues destroyed in recent weeks is diverse, ranging from Christopher Columbus to an elk in downtown Portland that had to be removed after being burned by protesters.
Trump has made protecting symbols of American heritage a plank in his re-election campaign, and he issued an executive order on June 26 directing US prosecutors to seek 10-year prison sentences for those convicted of vandalizing federally owned statues. On Friday, the president issued an order calling for the creation of a new collection of statues called the “National Garden of American Heroes.”
In a July 3 speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Trump said America’s heritage was under attack by radical leftists. Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois who is among the candidates to become Joe Biden’s vice-presidential running mate, reacted in a CNN interview by saying that Trump spent his time “talking about dead traitors” rather than focusing on such priorities as punishing Russia for allegedly offering bounties for Taliban-linked militants to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan.
None of the four presidents honored in the sculpture at Mount Rushmore was part of the Confederacy. Duckworth indicated she was open to removing statues of at least one of the four – Revolutionary War hero and first US President George Washington. A number of Washington memorials have been targeted due to his slave-owning past.
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