Kicking off a long Fourth of July weekend, the Trump administration released an executive order on Thursday evening calling for the formation of a Secretary of the Interior–chaired task force that, among other things, will oversee the creation of a new statuary park to be populated with the “lifelike or realistic” representations of “historically significant Americans” from various periods of history. (“Abstract or modernist” likenesses, not surprisingly, will be strictly verboten.) Per the executive order, the park, which is to be opened in time for the 250th anniversary of the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence in 2026, is to be called the National Garden of American Heroes.
The list of requested statues for the park is a jarringly disparate one—the Washington Post referred to the selection as a “grab bag”—that covers a vast amount of territory. While the composition of the list is arbitrary, there is a discernible preference for contemporary conservative figures including Ronald Reagan, evangelist Billy Graham, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia over modern-day progressive figures or historic Democrat politicians.
Other statues would include frontiersman Davy Crocket, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, color line-breaking baseball legend Jackie Robinson, and Christa McAuliffe, a teacher and one of seven crew members who perished in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. In addition to Reagan, statues of presidents to be included are strictly of the Founding Fathers variety: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and James Madison (along with first lady Dolley Madison.) Somewhat lesser-known names include Joshua Lawrence Chamberlin, a Medal of Honor recipient for his role in the Battle of Gettysburg; decorated World War II combat soldier Audie Murphy; 19th-century Kentucky statesman Henry Clay, and United States Army General Douglas MacArthur. Rounding out the list is Susan B. Anthony, Daniel Boone, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Betsy Ross, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, and the Wright Brothers.
No American architects appear on the list, save for Thomas Jefferson.
And while five Black Americans—Robinson, who died in 1972, being the most contemporary—are included on the list, absent are notable Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and LGBTQ Americans.
“It’s just so random. It’s like they threw a bunch of stuff on the wall and just went with whatever stuck,” said Karen Cox, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told the Post. “Nothing about this suggests it’s thoughtful.”
Other statues will be considered for inclusion including historical figures who were not American by birth but “who made substantive historical contributions to the discovery, development, or independence of the future United States.” States and municipalities are encouraged to donate statuary to the proposed garden.
James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, also noted to the Post that the choices range from “odd to probably inappropriate to provocative.” He added that the move “seems like a pretty naked attempt to seize on a cultural conflict to distract from other issues.”
That cultural conflict mentioned by Grossman is, of course, the ongoing mass felling of Jim Crowe era Confederate monuments across the country as part of a larger historic movement against racial injustice and police brutality. Some of these monuments, which were mostly erected decades after the Civil War ended to lord over public spaces and menace Black Americans, have been ferried away by city officials as part of deliberate removal efforts while others have been toppled by protestors. Numerous statues of Christopher Columbus and other problematic historical figures have also been vandalized and/or brought down, some in dramatic fashion, in recent weeks in addition to monuments of Confederate leaders who fought—and failed—to maintain slavery and a divided United States.
President Trump has publicly lashed out against the removal of these statues in recent days and weeks. “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities,” Trump said in his divisive July 3 speech given at Mount Rushmore. “This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped.”
To that end, the executive order, in addition to the creation of a National Garden of American Heroes, calls for the newly created task force to rebuild these “silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal,” a provision that likely applies to the dozens of Confederate monuments and other statues that have been removed or vandalized in recent weeks. The Department of Justice has also brought felony charges against four activists who attempted to dismantle an equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square near the White House.
The newly formed task force has 60 days to present the White House with a plan and location for the proposed sculpture garden.