WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal judge shut down the Justice Department’s request on Monday to ban a student, charged with trying to tear down a statue of Andrew Jackson, from all federal monuments in the nation’s capital.
“Just wondering logistically, you’re asking for stay away from all federal monuments?” U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather asked.
Connor Matthew Judd, a 20-year-old student at George Washington University arrested Friday for alleged destruction of federal property, faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
The government claims he was caught on video attempting to topple the monument of Jackson, the seventh American president, that stands prominently outside the White House in the historic Lafayette Square on June 22.
Cries for racial justice and police reform set off by the killing of George Floyd have led to the removal of Confederate monuments nationwide. Anti-racist activists have turned attention in recent weeks to the anti-abolitionist views Jackson held, as well as his role in the displacement and killings of thousands of Native Americans.
But President Donald Trump, who openly reveres Jackson, signed an executive order on Friday calling for “anarchists and left-wing extremists” to be prosecuted under federal law for damaging monuments.
“My administration will not allow violent mobs incited by a radical fringe to become the arbiters of the aspects of our history that can be celebrated in public spaces. State and local public officials’ abdication of their law enforcement responsibilities in deference to this violent assault must end,” the order states.
From the White House on Monday, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the charges brought against Judd are part of a larger “law and order” push by the president that includes the arrest of over 100 “anarchists” for rioting and destruction of federal property.
McEnany said Trump “stands on the side of preserving our history.”
The complaint unsealed in Washington on Saturday claims Judd tried to pull down the statue of Jackson, along with three co-defendants allegedly seen pulling on a yellow strap swung around the horse-mounted president, attempting to pry the statue off its base with a wooden board and breaking off wheels of cannons located at the base of the monument.
Responding to concerns from the judge about the feasibility of the request to keep Judd far from all government-owned monuments, the pretrial services officer said: “It’s not something we can monitor.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gilead Light backed down in part, offering to designate just 13 monuments under the stay-away order while Judd awaits trial.
“We are still asking for GPS monitoring in light of the climate of today and the activities that continue to go on,” the prosecutor said.
But Meriweather rejected both requests and ordered the defendant be released under general supervision.
Three other defendants — Lee Michael Cantrell, 47, of Virginia; Ryan Lane, 37, of Maryland; and Graham Lloyd, 37, of Maine — also face charges, but have not been apprehended.
Police clashed with protesters the night of June 22. Clad in riot gear, officers used pepper spray and batons to clear the demonstration in the same park located across Pennsylvania Avenue where law enforcement used violent force to disperse a peaceful crowd three weeks earlier so Trump could take a photo outside St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Acting U.S. Attorney Michael R. Sherwin said Saturday that the government respects the right to peacefully protest but will not allow the desecration of monuments.
James A. Dawson, special agent in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division, added in a statement Saturday: “The FBI respects the peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights, but we will not allow opportunists to hijack peaceful protests to incite violence and destruction of property.”