President Donald Trump will kick off Independence Day weekend with an event at Mount Rushmore, which has prompted some local leaders to call for the removal of one of the nation’s most iconic monuments.
Several groups led by Native American activists are planning protests for Trump’s July 3 visit. The event is slated to include fighter jets thundering over the 79-year-old stone monument in South Dakota’s Black Hills and the first fireworks display at the site since 2009.
“Mount Rushmore is a symbol of white supremacy, of structural racism that’s still alive and well in society today,” said Nick Tilsen, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and the president of a local activist organization called NDN Collective. “It’s an injustice to actively steal Indigenous people’s land, then carve the white faces of the colonizers who committed genocide.”
Like Tilsen, Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner believes Mount Rushmore should be “removed but not blown up.”
“I don’t believe it should be blown up, because it would cause more damage to the land,” Bear Runner told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader this week. “To me, it’s a great sign of disrespect.”
In a statement released Friday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said she has partnered with the federal government and is “offering the resources of South Dakota to make sure that proper security measures are in place.”
“Now we’re seeing threats to Mount Rushmore. To those who would threaten America’s Shrine of Democracy, I have one simple message for you: Not on my watch,” said Noem. “We will do everything in our power to make sure that Mount Rushmore remains as majestic and inspiring as it is today.”
Noem called it an “honor” to have the president “visit South Dakota, especially to celebrate America’s birthday.”
“Security measures will be in full force for the event, but we know that threats to Mount Rushmore may continue after the President leaves. We’ll stay diligent about protecting it,” she said.
She concluded her statement by acknowledging that the men “honored on Mount Rushmore weren’t perfect,” but said “they all had tremendous virtues as well.”
“Today, America is the greatest nation in the history of the world, and that is in no small part thanks to each president memorialized on Mount Rushmore,” said Noem. “We can learn from their successes, and we can also learn from their mistakes. And in doing so, we must continue to fight for the American ideal that each of them spent their lives striving for.”
In an interview this week on Fox News, Noem called the destruction of monuments across the country “a radical rewriting of our history.”
“In South Dakota, we won’t stand for it. This is a national monument,” she said. “I think it should fire up every single American that loves this country. This whole conversation has changed. It’s gone away from equality.”
President Trump announced on Twitter Friday evening that he signed a “very strong executive order protecting American monuments, memorials and statues – and combating recent criminal violence.”
“Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our great country,” he said.
I just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues – and combatting recent Criminal Violence. Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 26, 2020
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun and The Ohio Star. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Associated Press reporter Stephen Groves contributed to this report.