US President Donald Trump has said that the protesters, who went violent in the aftermath of the death of African-American George Floyd, did not even spare the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Washington DC, describing the demonstrators as a "bunch of thugs".
George Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25 after white police officer Derek Chauvin handcuffed and pinned him to the ground, and knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes while the 46-year-old from Houston gasped for breath.
The footage, which went viral, showed Floyd pleading with the officer, saying he can't breathe. His death sparked nationwide violent protests with some protesters resorting to vandalism, looting and rioting across the country, leaving behind a trail of destruction.
"You know, they started ripping down Abraham Lincoln. When they hit Lincoln, I said wait a minute. This is the man and you can do - then they hit George Washington, Thomas Jefferson. They had everybody," Trump said at a well-attended election rally in Minnesota, a State that he lost by a little over 44,000 votes in 2016, on Friday.
He also mentioned about the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Washington DC that was vandalised by unknown protesters at the peak of the nationwide protests.
"They even had (Mahatma) Gandhi. All Gandhi wanted was one thing, peace. Right? We have peace. Rip down his statue. We don't like him. I don't think they have any idea what they're doing," President Trump said.
"I think they're just a bunch of thugs, okay, you want to know the truth. I think they're a bunch of thugs," he added.
The US President told his cheering audience that he had signed an executive order that would put such vandals in jail for 10 years.
Now, nobody even talks about taking statues down, he said.
The vandalised statue of Mahatma Gandhi was restored later by the Indian Embassy, with the help of National Park Police and the State Department.
"We had a period of time when they were ripping down all of the statues and monuments, and I said to my people four months ago, I said this is crazy. These people - and they don't even know," President Trump said.
Now that he has signed an executive order, Donald Trump said that nobody has showed up in four months to take down a statue.
"Because you know why? They look and they say I want to take on that statue. I'm going to take down that statue. That statue's coming down. And then somebody says, you know, it's 10 years in jail. They go that's too much. I'm getting out of here. It's true," he said amidst laughter.
"Ten years is not acceptable. Ten years is a lot to rip down a statue, have a little fun, especially when they have no idea what they're ripping down. But we have an idea what they're ripping down. They're ripping down, in many cases, greatness. They're ripping down our past. They're ripping down our history," he said.
"That's where these guys begin. The take away your history. You look at the Middle East. You look all over. Look what ISIS did. Look what all of them do. They go down and they go to museums and they break everything and they rip everything. They want to take away your past. They are not taking away the past of the United States of America. Not as long as I'm here," Donald Trump said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)