In the shadow of Mount Rushmore on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump decided to celebrate America’s Independence Day by launching a diatribe against liberals, cancel culture, and the “angry mobs” of protestors toppling statues of colonisers and white supremacists. While that may just sound like another Friday at this point, even by his standards this rant was pretty unhinged.
“Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children,” Trump said, one of many baseless and incendiary claims he made about on ongoing nationwide protests for racial justice. “Our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that were villains. The radical view of American history is a web of lies.”
That evening, he also signed an executive order ordering a U.S. federal task force to create a “National Garden of American Heroes” within the next 60 days to preserve “our great national story” for future generations. The park would feature statues of “the greatest Americans to ever live,” of which the shortlist includes: Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, former President Ronald Reagan, World War Two heroes Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, evangelical Christian preacher Billy Graham, and prominent Black civil rights advocates like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr., among others.
“The radical ideology attacking our country advances under the banner of social justice. But in truth, it would demolish both justice and society,” Trump said. “It would transform justice into an instrument of division and vengeance and turn our free society into a place of repression, domination and exclusion. They want to silence us, but we will not be silenced.”
In recent weeks, several statues have been vandalised and toppled amid widespread protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Protesters have primarily been targeting statues of Confederate soldiers along with monuments of Christopher Columbus and other colonizers of America. Last month, Trump signed another executive order aimed at protecting federal monuments from being defaced in such manner, something federal law already criminalizes with punishments of fines or up to 10 years in prison.
Before Trump began raving on Friday about how this “left-wing cultural revolution” is trying to erase America’s history, roughly 100 indigenous demonstrators lined the road leading to Mount Rushmore in protest of the president’s visit, according to an Associated Press report. The protestors, many of them Lakota, a tribe that considers the Black Hills sacred, held signs that read “You Are On Stolen Land” and “Protect SoDak’s First People.”
Leaders of several indigenous tribes in the region had previously voiced complaints about the event, including concerns regarding the Trump campaign’s plan to set off fireworks, which have been banned in the area for more than a decade given their potential to trigger wildfires or contaminate water in the surrounding Black Hills range. The large crowd and purported lack of health restrictions also prompted concern for possible coronavirus case spikes in local communities at a time when many Native American tribes are still fighting to receive promised federal covid-19 relief funds.
Some demonstrators took the opportunity to protest Mount Rushmore itself. The monument was built into the Black Hills after the U.S. reneged on a deal brokered with the Sioux people in 1873. More than 100 years later in 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had illegally seized the lands in South Dakota and ordered a $US105 ($151) million settlement to be paid to the Sioux nation.
“The president is putting our tribal members at risk to stage a photo op at one of our most sacred sites,” Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, told AP.
After blocking the road for three hours on Friday, the South Dakota National Guard faced off with protestors, firing close-range shells at their feet and deploying pepper spray, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Around 15 protesters were arrested after refusing to abide by a police-imposed deadline to leave, AP reports.
All in the name of clearing the way for a (not really) closeted white supremacist to take the stage and rant about how racial justice protestors are trying to “defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children” in honour of America’s independence.
Admittedly, given the nation’s unscrupulous history, I suppose it’s an apropos way to celebrate.