While Trump signs an executive order threatening protesters with up to ten years in prison for vandalizing statues, his administration relentlessly pursues resource extraction and other industrial development on a different class of National Monuments at Grand Escalante Staircase, Giant Sequoia and Bears Ears, where the National Resources Defense Council reports, “As of June 9, 2020, briefing on the summary judgment motions is complete and we are awaiting the court’s decision. While the cases are pending, there is a real risk of harm to the lands excised from Bears Ears. The court has therefore ordered the federal government to provide plaintiffs with timely notice before beginning a range of potentially harmful developments within these now-vulnerable lands….”
All this as Trump, citing the Veterans Memorial Preservation Act of 2003, warned protesters who tried to pull down the statue of Andrew Jackson that neighbors the White House in Lafayette Park that they face fines and/or ten years imprisonment for anyone who “willfully injures or destroys, or attempts to injure or destroy, any structure, plaque, statue or other monument on public property commemorating the service of any person or persons in the armed forces of the United States.” It remains to be seen if that preservation will now extend to those who took up arms against the United States.
Trump began his term as thousands of protesters, including indigenous activists and their supporters, camped near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in southern North Dakota in 2016 and 2017, protesting construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project. “The protests resulted in 761 arrests over a six-month span,” straddling the Obama and Trump administrations, the Associated Press reported.
In December of 2016, President Barack Obama’s outgoing administration oversaw the blocking of a federal easement needed to allow construction of the pipeline beneath Lake Oahe in North Dakota, which Standing Rock Sioux leaders say threatens the reservation’s water supply. The pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois remains over 70 percent complete. Only the week following his inaugural festivities, President Trump signed executive actions approving both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines while numerous lawsuits filed against North Dakota Law Enforcement agencies by Standing Rock protesters remain pending. One plaintiff, Navajo tribal member Marcus Mitchell of New Mexico, argues that officers in January, 2017 fired shotgun beanbag rounds at unarmed protesters and injured his eye, “with strands of the round protruding out of his left eye socket.”
Later that summer, an organized collection of so-called “alt-Right” fascist white supremacists held their Unite The Right demonstration protesting the City of Charlottesville, Virginia’s decision to remove symbols of its Confederate past, including a statue of General Robert E. Lee. The violent weekend of protests ended with the death of Heather Heyer and scores of injuries, followed by President Trump infamously refusing to specifically condemn the white supremacists and insisting there were “very fine people, on both sides.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s executive orders allowing development of National Monuments to ranching and energy resource extraction industries by lifting legal protections from nearly two million acres of federal public lands that, according to the National Resources Defense Council, a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration policy, “hold incomparable archaeological, paleontological, cultural, and natural significance.”
When the president tweets during protests against state-level stay-home policies based on the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus pandemic response, stage whispering to armed right wing militants demonstrating at state capitols to “LIBERATE” Democratic led states like Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, the pattern emerges wherein the Trump White House routinely encourages armed right wing protesters on one hand, while defending violent measures against unarmed leftish protesters against ongoing incidents of often fatal police brutality and the violation of indigenous treaty rights for the sake of oil pipeline construction on the other.
The inconsistency of the policies advanced by the Trump White House and its Republican allies at the federal, state and local levels is instructive about their priorities. Things that live — from people, animals and plants to entire ecosystems — are much lower on their proverbial totem pole than the investors and fortunes of private industry and the graven images of the Confederacy and other icons of dynamic American historical narratives now cast in iron or having their names affixed to military and other civil institutions.