President Donald Trump signed a "very strong" executive order on Friday that calls for protesters who target monuments and statues to be imprisoned.
"I just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues — and combatting recent Criminal Violence," the president wrote in a tweet on Friday night. "Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!"
Trump had been hinting that he would take action earlier this week after protesters attempted to pull down a statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park in Washington DC.
He later tweeted an FBI poster showing pictures of the alleged protesters who attempted to take down the statue, writing: "MANY people in custody, with many others being sought for Vandalization of Federal Property in Lafayette Park. 10-year prison sentences!"
—Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 26, 2020
The order is to "reinforce" the existing Veterans' Memorial Preservation Act, which criminalizes the destruction of federal monuments.
It also stated: "Christian figures are now in the crosshairs, too. Recently, an influential activist for one movement that has been prominent in setting the agenda for demonstrations in recent weeks declared that many existing religious depictions of Jesus and the Holy Family should be purged from our places of worship."
The act, which was passed in 2003 in response to the vandalism of veteran cemeteries, imposes a fine of up to 10 years in prison on anyone who defaces a monument, according to NBC.
"Individuals and organizations have the right to peacefully advocate for either the removal or the construction of any monument," the order states. "But no individual or group has the right to damage, deface, or remove any monument by use of force."
The order also threatens to withhold federal funding from local jurisdictions and police departments that surrender to "mob rule" and "fail to protect monuments, memorials, and statues."
"In the midst of these attacks, many State and local governments appear to have lost the ability to distinguish between the lawful exercise of rights to free speech and assembly and unvarnished vandalism," the order states.
Several Confederate monuments and statues have been toppled since demonstrations against racism and police brutality erupted across the US, following the killing of George Floyd in May.
During the Juneteenth holiday, Black Lives Matters protesters also pulled down and burned the statue of Confederate General Albert Pike in Washington, D.C.
Trump was reportedly furious about the incident and criticized the police for not arresting the protesters. "The D.C. Police are not doing their job as they watch a statue be ripped down & burn. These people should be immediately arrested. A disgrace to our Country! @MayorBowser," he tweeted.
He later called on Interior Sec. Bernhardt to resurrect the statue, according to NBC.
Previously, the Trump administration also asked tech companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Snapchat, to take action against posts that encouraged the toppling of statues, describing them as "criminal activity."
Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf sent a letter seen by Business Insider, which says social media sites have enabled "burglary, arson, aggravated assault, rioting, looting, and defacing public property."
In a statement released on Friday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that in signing the order, Trump "took decisive action to put an end to this lawlessness and protect American streets from vandalism and mob violence."
"President Trump will never allow violence to control our streets, rewrite our history, or harm the American way of life," she added, according to CNN.