Updated: Oct 4, 2021
Major media outlets and figures criticized President Trump in 2017 for saying statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson could be torn down by protesters. Three years later, however, his prediction is proving true.
In response to a growing number of calls to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Trump said that Founding Fathers Jefferson and Washington could be next on the list for removal.
"This week, it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? ... You really do have to ask yourself, 'Where does it stop?'" Trump said at a press conference that year.
The president was mocked (VIDEO below) and shut down by "comedian" John Oliver and some in the media for the statement. "I'll tell you where it stops,” Oliver said in response to Trump. "Somewhere! Any time someone asks, where does it stop, the answer is always f---ing somewhere. You might let your kid have Twizzlers, but not inject black tar heroin. You don't just go, 'Well, after the Twizzlers, where does it stop?'"
“Historians: No, Mr. President, Washington and Jefferson are not the same as Confederate generals,” read a Washington Post headline.
The New York Times ran a story reporting: “There is a crucial difference between leaders like Washington and Jefferson, imperfect men who helped create the United States, [historian] Ms. [Annette] Gordon-Reed said, and Confederate generals like Jackson and Lee, whose main historical significance is that they took up arms against it. The comparison, she added, also ‘misapprehends the moral problem with the Confederacy.’”
Slate’s former chief political correspondent, Jamelle Bouie, responded to Trump’s comments, saying: “So Trump’s comparison there is dumb. It doesn’t really even make any sense. And the notion that there’s some slippery slope is dumb.”
NBC News published the headline, “Statues of Washington, Jefferson Aren't 'Next,' But It's Complicated, Historians Say.”
But in 2020, statues of Jefferson and Washington have been torn down, vandalized, or are facing calls for removal.
A statue of Jefferson was torn down in Portland, Oregon, by people protesting police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death. “We’re taking this city back. One school at a time. One racist statue at a time,” the protest’s organizer said.
Portland was also the scene of a Washington statue being toppled. Vandals covered the statue’s head with an American flag, lit it on fire, then knocked it down.
A statue of Washington was vandalized over Father’s Day weekend in Baltimore with Black Lives Matter graffiti.
In New York City, Chirlane McCray, wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio, will examine whether to keep statues of Jefferson and Washington in place through her work on the “Commission on Racial Justice and Reconciliation.”
“This is exactly the kind of thing that this new commission needs to examine,” de Blasio told reporters regarding potentially removing the statues. “I think it is the time to evaluate the entire look and feel of this city, and a commission that’s focused on justice and reconciliation can really think about a bigger approach.”Jefferson and Washington aren’t alone amid the calls to remove tributes to figures deemed racially insensitive.
Christopher Columbus statues have sparked the ire of vandals and protesters across the country. Police found a statue of Columbus beheaded in Boston. Another Columbus statue in St. Paul, Minnesota, was destroyed, and another in Richmond, Virginia, was also pulled down.
The Museum of Natural History in New York City announced Sunday that it would remove a statue of President Theodore Roosevelt that was installed in 1940 amid calls for racial equality. Roosevelt is flanked by statues depicting a Native American man and an African man, according to the New York Times.
“Over the last few weeks, our museum community has been profoundly moved by the ever-widening movement for racial justice that has emerged after the killing of George Floyd,” the museum’s president, Ellen Futter, said.
Vandals in Philadelphia also defaced the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution in Washington Square.
The National Park Service said it had to hire professional conservators to clean the monument due to its porous, limestone exterior. The graffiti read, “Committed GENOCIDE,” on the tomb of a Revolutionary War soldier who fought to overthrow British control of the colonies.
The president addressed the vandalism and statue removals during his first campaign rally in months over the weekend.
“The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments — our beautiful monuments — tear down our statues, and punish, cancel, and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control. We’re not conforming,” Trump said at the rally.