WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a White House-hosted dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan Monday evening, President Obama, flanked by select cabinet members, announced he has signed into law an executive order banning the manufacturing, distribution, and possession of Confederate flags and other memorabilia.
“When our values are threatened, we come together as one nation,” Mr. Obama said. “As Americans, we insist that nobody should be targeted because of who they are, or what they look like, who they love, how they worship. We stand united against these hateful acts.”
The executive order is the 209th issued by President Obama since taking office and is being hailed as a major victory against racism. Based largely on Germany’s anti-Nazi laws, the order, which officially goes into effect on June 18th, makes it illegal to possess “any item or symbol bearing the sign of the Confederacy.” President Obama, calling the Confederate flag a “symbol of hatred,” compared its history to that off the Third Reich, saying, “You don’t see government buildings in Germany flying the Nazi flag, we shouldn’t have to see the Confederate flag here.”
Also included in the executive order is an amendment to 18 U.S. Code 249, allowing for any “individual or entity found to be in violation of the law” to be prosecuted under the federal hate crimes statute. Under federal law, the punishment carries a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years. “In light of recent events, I’m inclined to believe a ten-year sentence is far too lenient,” Al Sharpton told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer today. Blitzer, who agreed with Sharpton, said many in Washington have echoed similar sentiment.
Under orders from the White House, the Department of Justice, while working in conjunction with local and state law enforcement agencies, will, in the coming weeks, launch a nationwide operation to halt manufacturing and distribution of the soon-to-be-illegal contraband. According to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the brunt of the operation, spearheaded by the FBI, will focus on the deep south and Midwestern regions of the U.S., “However, state and local agencies across the country are being asked to conduct their own seizures.”
In light of the new law, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, ordered the immediate removal of a Confederate flag from the grounds of the capital building in Columbia today. “In order to stay in compliance with federal law, I have instructed officials at all local and state facilities throughout South Carolina to remove and destroy this contraband, effective immediately,” the governor said.