A 30-year-old man has been accused of pulling down a Ten Commandments courthouse monument in Montana by attaching a chain to his pickup truck and dragging the monument into the streets, according to multiple reports.
Anthony Weimer of Columbia Falls was arrested Saturday and charged with a felony criminal mischief following the incident that same day in Kalispell, a city in the northwest of Montana.
He is currently being held at the Flathead County Detention Center, police said. Online records show Weimer has a court appearance on Monday. It is unclear if he has an attorney.
Authorities responded to a call at approximately 3:45 p.m. about a man who had been seen hooking a chain from his vehicle around the religious monument on the Flathead County Courthouse grounds, the Kalispell Police Department wrote in a news release (pdf).
After hooking the chain, Weimer reportedly pulled the granite monument from the ground and dragged it into the southbound lane of Main street in Kalispell. He then reportedly removed the chain, got back into the truck, and fled the scene.
“Officers from the Kalispell Police Department quickly located the suspect vehicle and identified the driver,” the department said. It is not clear at the time why the suspect allegedly took down the monument and what provoked the act of vandalism.
A video of the scene was posted by a local on Facebook, showing the aftermath of the vandalized courthouse. In another video, workers can be seen lifting the religious monument from the street to return it to its original place.
The Kalispell City Council was asked in 2011 to take possession of the monument along with six others because they displayed some historical text from the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, The Associated Press reported. All the monuments together form a “cornerstone of law” display.
The council declined the proposal out of fear of a lawsuit on First Amendment separation of church and state grounds, according to the report.
The Associated Press reported at the time the Fraternal Order of the Eagles had given the Ten Commandments statue to Flathead County in 1950. At that time it was placed in front of the courthouse.
Recently, President Donald Trump announced he authorized the federal government to arrest any person who vandalizes or destroys a monument or other federal property.
“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!” Trump wrote on Twitter. The wrongdoers will face up to 10 years in prison, Trump said in a statement.
Vandals have torn down statues during protests in recent weeks, including memorials to Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Trump singled out the defacement of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, a nonviolent Indian activist, and the takedown of a statue of Ulysses S. Grant, who played a major role in defeating the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Prosecutors can use the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act or other pertinent laws. The act, passed in 2003, says that people who willfully try or successfully injure or destroy any structure, plaque, statue, or other monument on public property commemorating service in the armed forces of the United States shall be fined, imprisoned up to 10 years, or both.
“This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!” the president said.
“Numerous people are in jail, or are going to jail today,” Trump told reporters outside the White House Tuesday morning before leaving for Arizona.
“Remember, some of this is great artwork. This is magnificent artwork, as good as there is anywhere in the world, as good as you see in France, as good as you see anywhere. It’s a disgrace. Most of these people don’t even know what they’re taking down,” Trump said.
A number of polls in 2017 also indicated more of the American public oppose taking down Confederate statues than leaving them up. No surveys have asked people about statues of the Founding Fathers or other less controversial figures.
Zachary Stieber and The Associated Press contributed to this report.