WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hundreds of unarmed Washington D.C. National Guard troops were activated and on standby to assist law enforcement personnel with protecting some historical monuments, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, after protesters tried to tear down a statue of former President Andrew Jackson in a park near the White House.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday pledged to take a hard line on anyone destroying or vandalizing U.S. historical monuments and threatened to use force on some protesters, as political activism against racial injustice continued to sweep the country and threaten his re-election chances.
Calls for the removal of these monuments, which came on the back of massive Black Lives Matter protests earlier this month and subsequent efforts by some local governments to reform their police forces, were sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody.
Many of the statues, which pay homage to the rebel Confederacy from the nation’s Civil War era and are seen as tributes to those who perpetuated slavery, have been targeted by demonstrating crowds in recent weeks.
U.S. Marshals have been told they should prepare to help protect national monuments nationwide, the Washington Post reported, citing an email from Marshals Assistant Director Andrew Smith.
About 400 D.C. National Guard members had been activated after a request from the interior secretary, a National Guard statement said.
“They will support U.S. Park Police at key monuments to prevent any defacing or destruction,” the statement said.
It said none of the troops had been moved to the streets, but that they were on standby at the National Guard Armory.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the activation was seen as a short-term move through the first week of July that would give the Department of Justice enough time to call on law enforcement personnel.
On Wednesday afternoon, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, activated the Wisconsin National Guard to protect state property in Madison, the state capital after protesters toppled two statues, including one of a Civil War colonel who fought for the Union, and set a small fire there on Tuesday.
Late on Monday, protesters tried to topple a statue of Andrew Jackson facing the White House.
Jackson served two terms in the White House, from 1829 to 1837, espousing a populist political style that has sometimes been compared with that of Trump.
Earlier this month, about 1,200 D.C. National Guard troops and 3,900 from other states were sent to the capital to back law enforcement during demonstrations.
Reporting by Idrees Ali and Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Alistair Bell and Christopher Cushing