Trump orders new park with statues of 30 ‘American heroes’

By Rob Hotakainen | 07/06/2020 01:25 PM EDT

President Trump is seen in front of Mount Rushmore during an Independence Day fireworks celebration at the South Dakota national monument last week.

President Trump is seen in front of Mount Rushmore during an Independence Day fireworks celebration at the South Dakota national monument last week. Tom Brenner/Reuters/Newscom

President Trump signed an executive order to create a new statuary park to honor 30 "American heroes," including a wide range of honorees such as President Reagan, evangelist Billy Graham, frontiersman Daniel Boone and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Trump said his order would create the "National Garden of American Heroes," which he described as "a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans who have ever lived."

Trump said a new task force will be headed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and will have 60 days to submit a report with options for creating the national garden, including potential sites.

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The president made the announcement during a campaign-style speech Friday night at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, where he attended a fireworks display (Greenwire, July 2). In a speech, he lambasted "angry mobs" who want to "tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities."

"This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped, and it will be stopped very quickly," Trump said. "We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation’s children, end this radical assault and preserve our beloved American way of life."

Billing himself as the "law and order" president, Trump has made the preservation of statues a centerpiece of his reelection campaign in the aftermath of nationwide protests against police brutality. While many Confederate statues across the nation have been toppled by protesters, Trump wants them put back up.

The executive order said "these statues are silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal."

"For the sake of our honor, for the sake of our children, for the sake of our union, we must protect and preserve our history, our heritage and our great heroes," Trump said in his speech in front of the granite monument featuring the carved faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. "Here tonight, before the eyes of our forefathers, Americans declare again, as we did 244 years ago, that we will not be tyrannized, we will not be demeaned, and we will not be intimidated by bad, evil people. It will not happen."

Trump gave no cost estimate for his project and did not say where he wants it built, but his executive order calls for the garden to be open to the public by July 4, 2026. He wants it located "on a site of natural beauty" close to a major population center that "should not cause significant disruption to the local community."

The order said the statues "should depict historically significant Americans … who have contributed positively to America throughout our history." All of the statues must be "lifelike or realistic representations of the persons they depict, not abstract or modernist representations."

While Trump made his executive order public Friday, he waited until Saturday night at his "Salute to America" event at the White House to announce the first 30 Americans he wants to honor at the new park.

In addition to Reagan, Graham, Boone and Scalia, the president’s list also includes Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Lincoln, as well as Dolley Madison, Frederick Douglass, Betsy Ross, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Joshua Chamberlain, Clara Barton, Davy Crockett, Henry Clay, Susan B. Anthony, Booker T. Washington, Christa McAuliffe, Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright, Amelia Earhart, Jackie Robinson, George S. Patton, Douglas MacArthur, Audie Murphy and Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those are just a few of the people we’ll be naming, and things are subject to change, but once we make that decision, those great names are going to be up there, and they’re never coming down," Trump said.

Trump’s order will also create a new "Task Force for Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes," an interagency group that will be headed by Bernhardt. Members will include the administrator of General Services Administration, the chairs of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and any other federal officers or employees designated by Trump or Bernhardt.

Trump said the Interior Department will provide funding and administrative support for the task force and that Bernhardt will designate an Interior official to serve as its executive director.

Trump’s executive order is part of a hotly contested debate over removing statues and monuments that followed the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police on Memorial Day. A police officer was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter after he held his knee on Floyd’s throat for nearly nine minutes.

Trump last week called for the Justice Department to prosecute anyone who vandalizes a statue and said they should be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

Meanwhile, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced bills that would force the National Park Service to remove two statues in Washington: one of President Jackson at Lafayette Square, and the Emancipation Memorial at Lincoln Park, which depicts a freed slave kneeling at Lincoln’s feet.

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