House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) condoned lawless mobs toppling statues in the middle of the night, in the very same Thursday press conference where she declared about President Donald Trump, “No one is above the law.”
“I don’t care that much about statues,” Pelosi said.
A reporter proceeded to ask, “Respectfully, shouldn’t that be done by a commission or the city council, not a mob in the middle of the night, throwing it into the harbor?”
Pelosi waved off the distinction between the peaceful representative process on public monuments and lawless mobs vandalizing and toppling them in the middle of the night. “People will do what they do,” the speaker of the House replied.
“I do think that from a safety standpoint, it would be a good idea to have it taken down if the community doesn’t want it. I don’t know that it has to be a commission,” she suggested.
To her credit, Pelosi did defend former American presidents like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, whose monuments have faced vandalism in recent weeks. She mentioned these presidents as figures “who we respect,” even dubbing them “heroes.”
Even so, the speaker of the House clearly stated that she has no preference for a peaceful orderly removal of statues over the lawless actions of a mob. This is no theoretical issue. Lawless mobs have vandalized and toppled Confederate monuments, but they have also targeted statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. They also targeted monuments for Mahatma Gandhi, Union General Ulysses S. Grant, black Union soldiers, and freed slave Frederick Douglass. This week, vandals targeted a monument to five firefighters who lost their lives trying to save lives in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Pelosi would likely oppose these acts of vandalism, but she has shrugged off the distinction between a peaceful representative process and a destructive mob.
The distinction is important. When a city follows the peaceful process, the government hears from voters and community leaders, acting in a way that more truly represents the will of constituents. If the city removes a monument, citizens will know why, and they can express their wills on the issue.
When a mob topples a statue, however, the community has no say. Voters and taxpayers who take pride in the statue of George Washington or Frederick Douglass or 9-11 firefighters have no say in the matter. In some cases, vandals have not left any graffiti explaining why they decided to topple a statue or deface a monument. In other cases, vandals express a message with which most locals would vehemently disagree. The “process” is unrepresentative and denies the rights of voters and taxpayers.
This is one of the many reasons why state and federal laws protect statues, and why President Donald Trump has directed the Department of Justice to prosecute vandals who deface public monuments.
Furthermore, this vandalism is part of a broader lawlessness following protests over the horrific police killing of George Floyd. While some allegedly right-wing “boogaloo” agitators may also be involved, the dominant ideology pushing these riots comes from the left.
When vandals toppled a statue of George Washington in Portland, they spray-painted “1619” on the statue. When Claremont’s Charles Kesler wrote in The New York Post, “Call them the 1619 riots,” the project’s founder, Nikole Hannah-Jones, responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots and the defamation of American Founding Fathers like George Washington.
In a November 9, 1995 op-ed, the 1619 Project founder condemned Christopher Columbus as “no different” from Adolf Hitler and demonized the “white race” as the true “savages” and “bloodsuckers.” She went on to describe “white America’s dream” as “colored America’s nightmare.” Just this week, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) expressed a similar sentiment when she called for the “dismantling” of America’s “economy and political system,” in order to root out supposed racist oppression.
Yet the “1619 riots” have destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. At least 21 Americans have died in the riots, most of them black. Retired police chief David Dorn was killed by looters breaking into his pawnshop in St. Louis. Chris Beaty was shot while helping two women who were being mugged in Indianapolis. Antonio Mays Jr., a 16-year-old boy, was shot and killed outside the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) in Seattle. Secoriea Taylor — an 8-year-old girl — was fatally shot as her mother attempted to park a car near a group of protesters close to the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks had been killed by police.
Pelosi was not shoving off the deaths of these people or the destruction of the riots, but lawlessness — even against statutes, rather than people — is not something to be shrugged off. Pelosi’s willingness to condone lawless mobs attacking statues shows a dangerous blindness to the larger threat of mob rule, a threat that has caused the deaths of at least 21 people.
President Trump’s all-caps “LAW AND ORDER” tweets may seem oversimplistic and obnoxious, but America truly does need law and order right now, when it comes to statues and when it comes to lives and livelihoods. Pelosi should join Trump in condemning mob rule, rather than winking at it.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.