As Americans marked a muted 4th of July Independence Day amidst the coronavirus pandemic and a range of social issues dividing the country, President Donald Trump chose to come out fighting in his typical outspoken way.
The President decided to speak at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. This was in itself highly controversial, given that the memorial is located on land taken from the Lakota Sioux tribe in the 19th century.
In addition, two of the four former presidents whose faces are carved on the side of the mountain – George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – were owners of slaves.
President hits out at demonstrators targeting monuments
But none of this seemed to ruffle the President as he spoke out strongly against those who are removing or defacing monuments during the ongoing Black Lives Matter and other protests.
He denounced what he called “angry mobs” who were wanting to vandalise “our most sacred memorials”.
“We will not be silenced,” Trump said as he attacked protestors for “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children”.
According to a BBC report, masks and social distancing were not mandatory at the Mount Rushmore event, despite warnings by health officials.
Mount Rushmore will ‘stand forever as a tribute’, Trump said
Discussing Mount Rushmore itself, a massive sculpture carved into the mountain over a period of 14 years, the President said the landmark would “stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom”.
“This monument will never be desecrated [and] these heroes will never be defaced,” he told the large crowd.
He added that those who targeted “symbols of national heritage” would be subjected to “the fullest extent of the law”, pointing to a recent executive order that he signed which provides for up to 10 years in prison for anyone who damages federal property.
The order also warned that local jurisdictions which failed to protect such monuments could have certain federal funding withheld.
Native American groups criticise the visit and its significance
Meanwhile, Native American groups criticised the President for posing a health risk with his visit and for celebrating Independence Day in an area that is sacred to Native Americans.
Many Native Americans do not celebrate the occasion because of its association with colonisation, widespread ill-treatment and the loss of their lands.