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Federal Law Enforcement Agencies To Protect Statues And Monuments This July 4th


Another story now. This federal weekend - this holiday weekend, federal law enforcement agencies are protecting some statues and monuments. That is because the Trump administration is concerned they might be pulled down or vandalized by protesters. It's an unaccustomed role for these agencies which are usually guarding courthouses and the nation's borders. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The protection plan was outlined by acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who told Fox News this week it comes at the direction of President Trump.


CHAD WOLF: What the department's doing is we're - as we go into this July 4 holiday, we want to make sure that federal properties, federal facilities, buildings, statues, monuments that the Department of Homeland Security protects, we want to make sure that we have the personnel there and ready. So we've pre-deployed - we are pre-deploying teams to certain areas, and we'll continue to make sure that we have personnel ready to go.

NAYLOR: Wolf tweeted earlier in the week that personnel will include members of Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service and even the TSA. The Justice Department is involved as well, reportedly including U.S. marshals as well as the Interior Department's Park Police. Wolf said the law enforcement is aimed at stopping, in his words, violent anarchists and rioters.


WOLF: We're not going to let these individuals who clearly hate this country continue to terrorize and go after the destruction of federal property, federal monuments. We're here to stop them.

NAYLOR: The stepped up law enforcement comes after President Trump issued an executive order threatening long prison sentences for protesters who attempt to tear down statues. Trump tweeted a picture of a statue of George Washington in New York that had red paint splashed on it and railed against those who attempted to take down a statue of Andrew Jackson across the street from the White House. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany explained the president's concern.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY: As President Trump has tweeted, these statues, quote, "are great works of art, but all represent our history and heritage both the good and the bad. It is important for us to understand and remember even in turbulent and difficult times and to learn from them."

NAYLOR: But by calling in federal law enforcement agencies to stand guard over statuary, critics say Trump is trying to inflame the culture wars and misusing the agencies. Columbia University history professor Karl Jacoby points to Customs and Border Protection, which with some 60,000 personnel is the nation's largest law enforcement agency.

KARL JACOBY: There has been the creation of this incredibly large branch of the Federal Police. And then the question is, how can it be used? And I think we've tolerated it because it's been used along the border. But one of the things that you're seeing in light of all of the recent protests is that this actually can be applied in what most of us would consider to be the interior of the homeland as well.

NAYLOR: CBP is allowed to operate not just at the border but within 100 miles of any boundary or a coastline, which gives it authority in many of the nation's largest cities. CBP admitted to flying the surveillance drone over Minneapolis, well away from the border, during protests last month after the death of George Floyd. It's also an agency, Jacoby says, that has been particularly supportive of the president.

JACOBY: I think it's one that is already demonstrating, if you look at the sort of press releases that were put out by the head of the Customs and Border Patrol around a lot of the Black Lives Matter protests in D.C., were very, very supportive of Trump.

NAYLOR: The American Civil Liberties Union is also critical of the deployment. In a statement, Andrea Flores, deputy director of immigration policy, said the Department of Homeland Security has, quote, "proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted to protect human life. The fact that they are now being dealt dies to protect property shows exactly where the administration's priorities are." Brian Naylor, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.