Theodore Roosevelt Statue Defaced in Protest vs. “Genocide, Dispossession, Displacement, Enslavement, and State Terror”

October 27, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


As reported by the arts website, a new activist group calling themselves the Monument Removal Brigade (MRB) took responsibility for splashing red paint on a statue of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on Thursday, October 26. In a statement available online, the MRB described their action as a “work of public art and an act of applied art criticism”—a “counter-monumental gesture that does symbolic damage to the values [the statue] represents: genocide, dispossession, displacement, enslavement, and state terror.”

Theodore Roosevelt was U.S. president in the early years of the 20th century, when the U.S. was rising as an imperialist power. Before becoming president, Roosevelt led a regiment with the U.S. forces that defeated the former Spanish colonialists in Cuba and then proceeded to occupy the island, beginning decades of U.S. domination and plunder. And as president, among other things, Roosevelt claimed the U.S. “right” to act as an “international police power” in the Caribbean—in order to grab control of the region from the European powers.

The MRB statement points out that in the monument in front of the museum, “Roosevelt is pictured on horseback, reaching for his pistol as he gazes onto the horizon. He is flanked subserviently by a shirtless Black man and an ‘Indian chief.’ They are both holding rifles, willing foot soldiers in the expansion of American Empire. A former NYC Police Commissioner and proud descendent of Dutch settler-colonists who first expropriated Manhattan from the Lenape, Roosevelt rose to fame for his role in the Spanish American war, which involved the colonization of Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, and Cuba. Roosevelt was also a staunch endorser of Eugenics, the pseudo-scientific movement whose calls for sterilization, population control, and racial purification would directly inspire the Nazis. Roosevelt was an open white supremacist and imperialist who is still lionized by the museum and the city plaza standing in front of it.”

The MRB goes on to say: “The monument not only embodies the violent historical foundation of the United States, but also the underlying dynamics of oppression in our contemporary world. In highlighting the bloody foundations of the monument, we salute those movements struggling against the values epitomized by Roosevelt: past, present, and future. From the uprisings of Ferguson and Standing Rock, to popular self-defense at the frontiers of gentrification in the Bronx, in the ground zero of climate crisis in Puerto Rico, or in the crosshairs of ICE raids terrorizing immigrant communities. We also salute the history of artistic actions undertaken against the monument, especially the six Indigenous activists who temporarily marked it [in] 1971 in solidarity with the occupation of Alcatraz Island by The American Indian Movement (AIM). On the base of the monument they inscribed: ‘Return Alcatraz’ and ‘Fascist Killer.’ Decolonization and Anti-Fascism remain the horizons of our time.”


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