U.S. Rep. Jim Banks announced Wednesday he will introduce legislation that would make the desecration of memorials to American presidents and founders a federal crime.
Banks, R-3rd, said his Defending America's Heritage and Culture Act would amend the Veterans' Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003 to include public memorials to former U.S. presidents and the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Violations of the law, which currently applies to U.S. military veterans, carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
“Attacks on our national heroes denigrate what makes us American and aim to destroy what binds us as Americans. They're serious crimes that deserve serious punishment,” Banks said in a statement.
Many statues and memorials, most of them commemorating the Confederacy or its leaders, have been damaged or vandalized during racial injustice protests since the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African American man killed while being restrained by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Memorials to at least four U.S. presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Ulysses Grant – also have been damaged.
President Donald Trump invoked the Veterans' Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act in a tweet Tuesday after protesters tried to topple a statue of Jackson near the White House the previous night.
“I have authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S. with up to 10 years in prison, per the Veteran's Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent,” Trump tweeted.
Jackson was an Army general in the War of 1812; his forces defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, the last major battle of the war. As president, he signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which authorized him to trade unsettled lands west of the Mississippi River for Native American lands within state borders at that time.