President Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday he has "authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S."
The president said the punishment is up to 10 years in prison, per the Veteran's Memorial Preservation act "or such other laws that may be pertinent." In a second tweet, he said the action "is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused."
It is unclear, however, what Mr. Trump's "authorization" means. The Veterans' Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act was enacted in 2003, making attempts to damage or destroy statues or monuments that commemorate the service of those in the armed forced punishable by up to a decade in prison.
Mr. Trump's tweets come after monuments across the country, many of them of statues of Confederate soldiers, have been vandalized or toppled in recent weeks.
In one of the latest cases, protesters tried to pull down a statue of former President Andrew Jackson near the White House on Monday night before they were dispersed by police.
Over the weekend, Mr. Trump criticized police in Washington, D.C., after protesters toppled the district's only outdoor statue of a Confederate general late. According to CBS affiliate WUSA, protesters tore down and set fire to a statue of Confederate Brigadier General Albert Pike, which had been standing since 1901.
"The D.C. Police are not doing their job as they watch a statue be ripped down & burn," he tweeted. "These people should be immediately arrested. A disgrace to our Country!"=
The sweeping movement to remove statues of people including slave owners and colonizers, as well as to remove Confederate symbols, swelled this month following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and nationwide protests against police violence and racial injustice.