Climate activists charged with vandalizing US Constitution display at National Archives

A photograph obtained by CNN shows the aftermath of powder spread across the Constitution encasement.

(CNN) — Two people have been charged after they allegedly dumped a “fine red powder” over the US Constitution’s display case at the National Archives, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Donald Zepeda, 35, and Jackson Green, 27, were charged with felony destruction of government property, according to a department news release. They have both pleaded not guilty.

CNN has reached out to attorneys for Zepeda and Green for comment.

A video posted to X shows the two men standing in front of the coated encasement and giving a speech regarding climate change. Prosecutors say those two people are Green and Zepeda.

The video shows one individual shouting, “This country is founded on the conditions that all men are created equally and endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and presumed happiness.”

“We all deserve clean air, water, food and a livable climate,” the individual said.

Green and Zepeda are members of the Declare Emergency climate protest group, prosecutors say. The group has been a part of several recent high-visibility protests regarding climate change like the April 2023 vandalism of the National Gallery of Art.

This is the latest incident in a trend of vandalism targeting iconic artwork and historical documents as part of climate protests. UK activist group Just Stop Oil flung tomato soup on Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” painting in 2023. Activists also smeared red paint and glued their hands to the protective glass on “The Artist’s Garden at Giverny” in Stockholm.

The National Archives said in a statement at the time of the incident that the Constitution was “unaffected in its encasement. No damage was done to the document itself.” The attack cost over $50,000 to clean up and closed the Rotunda for four days, prosecutors say.

Green was previously charged with painting the words “HONOR THEM” in red on the Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial at the National Gallery of Art, according to court documents. As part of his conditions of release in that case, Green was ordered to “stay away from the District of Columbia and stay away from all museums or public monuments.”

But days after he was charged, prosecutors say in court filings, “Mr. Green entered the National Archives and dumped red powder on the case containing the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights.”

As a result, a federal judge ordered that Green be detained while he awaits trial because “he poses a risk of danger to the continued integrity of historical artifacts, works of art, and other government property, to the public’s right to visit and enjoy those items of historic, artistic, symbolic, and monetary value, and to the safety and wellbeing of the employees whose duty it is to preserve and protect them.”

The Constitution is located on the upper level of the Archives in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom along with the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

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