The anger over the death of George Floyd has rightly led all Americans to call for justice for his family. People of goodwill expect, and rightly demand, that America fulfill its fundamental principles of equal protection and the rule of law.
But violence against people and property has no place as a means to fulfill these goals.
In recent weeks, a vanguard of violent, left-wing activists has roamed the streets vandalizing and tearing down statues and national monuments to American heroes. They have destroyed private and public property. Facing rhetoric from state and city leaders that demeans law enforcement, police are hesitant to intervene. Perpetrators have faced no legal consequences.
A statue of George Washington, the father of our country, was vandalized and toppled in Portland, Oregon on June 18. The mob draped it in an American flag, lit it on fire and then tore it down.
A statue of Ulysses S. Grant was defaced and pulled down in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California on June 19. This is the same Grant who, as leader of the Union Army, was unrelenting in his demand of “unconditional surrender” from the Confederacy.
It is also the same Grant who, as President of the United States and heir to Abraham Lincoln’s legacy, aggressively prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan, signed the first major civil rights legislation and presided over the ratification of the 15th Amendment. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass memorialized him as “too broad for prejudice, too humane to despise the humblest, too great to be small at any point.” Yet the lawless mob still came for him last week.
The mob also came for statues of Saint Junipero Serra, a Catholic missionary who founded the first Spanish missions in California. Serra was ahead of his time in defending the rights of indigenous people. He was canonized in 2015 when Pope Francis visited Washington, D.C. Praying before his statue and celebrating his canonization were Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. Saint Serra’s statue was destroyed in Pelosi’s hometown. The Spanish embassy quickly condemned this destruction, but Speaker Pelosi has said nothing.
By flaunting its lawlessness, the left-wing mob is showing that it rejects America’s core values of freedom, equality and the rule of law. Their objectives are not peace or public persuasion, but mayhem and revolution.
If you are asking “where will they draw the line,” it has become clear they won’t. That’s because they are mobs. They aim to upend society, not reform it. As history shows, tearing down statues is a symbol of revolution in all countries.
And they won’t stop at statues. They already torched police precincts, destroyed low-income housing and terrorized the homeless population in Minneapolis. They desecrated churches in Washington D.C and New York City. They even established lawless zones in Seattle, which unsurprisingly led to more violence.
The line is only drawn by civil society, through our representative democracy. That line is the rule of law, and we must enforce it against lawlessness at all levels of government. We can’t encourage mob rule by letting it go unpunished. Unfortunately, local authorities are unwilling or unable to stand against these vigilantes. That is why the Federal Government must take concrete and aggressive action to restore order and protect life and property.
First, we must prosecute the mob to the fullest extent of the law. I urge the Justice Department to bring charges against rioters who vandalize, tear down or otherwise destroy statues on Federal and public property. Laws such as the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act (which passed the House and Senate with zero dissent) could provide the legal grounds in some cases, the Anti-Riot Act in others.
Second, we must hold local governments who cave to the left-wing mob accountable. If mayors and governors refuse to establish civic order and keep these monuments and public institutions safe from destruction, Congress should consider legislation to withhold federal funding for those cities and states until they begin arresting and prosecuting the criminals responsible for desecrating public property. Statues are often constructed at public expense, for public benefit. Why should Federal taxpayers subsidize, let alone tolerate, such tacit or intentional approval of lawlessness? The power of the purse should be used to protect statues and, if necessary, rebuild them.
Mob rule presents a serious threat to the American way of life. There is a reason that our Constitution protects due process, equal protection and the pursuit of lawful society. The lack of consequences for lawlessness encourages escalation and erodes the confidence of law-abiding citizens in their government. As a young Abraham Lincoln said, mob rule breaks down and destroys “the attachment of the People,” which he called the “strongest bulwark of any government.”
It is past time to restore law and order in our civil and democratic society, starting with the protection of our statues and national monuments and resolute action against those committing these crimes.
Kevin McCarthy is the Republican representative for California’s 23rd congressional district and the current House Minority Leader.