Consider this a copy of Donald Trump’s Tuesday tweet in EO form. Remember this?
…..This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 23, 2020
Late yesterday, Trump formalized it into an executive order, but added a new provision. Local and state governments that don’t act to protect federal monuments can expect to kiss some of their federal grant money goodbye — at least to the extent Trump controls those pursestrings:
President Donald Trump on Friday ordered the Justice Department to prioritize prosecution of protesters who damage federal monuments and limit federal funding for local governments that are perceived to not be adequately protecting those monuments.
The executive order also emphasized strict sentencing, with a maximum of 10 years in prison, for those found guilty of such acts, a key plank of Trump’s law and order strategy the president has repeatedly tweeted and talked about in recent weeks.
Trump’s order comes as protests across the country against systemic racism and police brutality have resulted in the toppling of monuments to Confederate leaders, slave owners and European colonists.
The order characterizes protesters as actively seeking to undermine the integrity of the United States government — referring to them “Anarchists and left-wing extremists” — and comes a day after Trump labeled demonstrators as “terrorists” who will face “retribution.”
I don’t think that’s a terribly inaccurate way to describe the mobs that seek to destroy monuments. The group gathering in DC to pull down a statue of Abraham Lincoln that commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation openly advertise it as a “revolution.” Repeated attempts to establish autonomous zones are efforts to deny sovereignty of the US, and the CHAZ in Seattle openly declared themselves as separatists. Ask the businesses and residents trapped within those areas whether they think the torching, vandalizing, and extortive behavior was terrorism.
On the issue of federal funds, it will be interesting to see what Trump has in mind (and the metrics of “adequate protection” too). Congress controls funds, at least through the appropriation process, but agencies under control of the executive branch tend to disperse them. Presumably Trump means mainly Department of Justice funds that support local law enforcement, but perhaps he’s thinking of a wider approach. If Trump wants to choke off funds through the DoJ, though, it might end up being a case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. That would cut against the “law and order” theme of his 2020 campaign.
The DoJ itself is taking it seriously:
“Some pretend to profess a message of freedom and progress, but they are in fact forces of anarchy, destruction, and coercion.” pic.twitter.com/bfyB9Sacmn
— Kerri Kupec DOJ (@KerriKupecDOJ) June 26, 2020
On Thursday, AG William Barr told Ted Cruz that over 500 investigations had begun into rioting, including attacks on monuments. Those had already produced “scores” of indictments, Barr claimed:
“When the real violence started around May 25, 26, and so forth, we started using our joint terrorist task forces around the country. And there are 35 of them around the country,” Barr said.
“And now they are starting to go full bore, cranking out investigations, indictments against the people who are involved in this violence. So we’ve had scores of indictments already for such things as arson, destruction of federal property, things like that. And we have, right now, about 500 investigations underway,” he added.
Barr told Cruz and Knowles that groups of “provocateurs and agitators” appeared to be well-coordinated and often call upon anarchist groups to carry out violent criminal activity.
“They want to tear down the country. They are different than many traditional groups, and frequently, the signs of coordination and activity are very close to the event itself,” the attorney general said. “So like the morning of or the day before, and things are very fast-moving. But we definitely see signs out on the street of communication, of organization, of preplanning, prepositioning of things. So it’s definitely organized activity.”
On the prosecution side, the EO is on firm ground, but it’s also unnecessary, except perhaps as a statement of priorities. The DoJ had authority to pursue these cases before Trump’s direction under the 2003 Veterans Memorial Preservation Act, a point Tom Cotton raised the day before. In this case, it should be relatively easy to get scores or even hundreds of indictments, because many of the idiots involved helpfully posted admissions of their crimes on social media, and sometimes video evidence of them, too. The real trick will be getting the actual organizers, who were no doubt smarter than the sheep they led to the legal slaughter.
It’s good to see, nonetheless, as a statement of priorities. We should prioritize democracy over mob rule, which means standing firm against anarchists that rule by strength of violence alone.