Emails suggest Walz admin quickly decided against restoring Columbus statue

“We can't say right now it won't go back up.”

A statue of Christopher Columbus is toppled outside the Minnesota Capitol. (Facebook screenshot)

Emails obtained by the Star Tribune indicate that Gov. Tim Walz’s administration decided not to reinstall a Christopher Columbus statue the same day it was toppled over by a group of protesters.

The statue, which stood outside the State Capitol building, was torn down in broad daylight by a group of vandals affiliated with the American Indian Movement (AIM). Mike Forcia, chairman of AIM, said he alerted Walz’s office of his plans prior to the June 10 incident.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan welcomed the statue’s removal in a statement issued shortly after it was pulled down.

“I can’t say I’m sad the statue of Christopher Columbus is gone. I’m not,” she said. “The arrival of Christopher Columbus to what is now the Americas set in motion centuries of violence and genocide against the Indigenous people who already lived here.”

According to internal emails obtained by the Star Tribune, Flanagan’s statement originally concluded with a declaration that the state government would “not put the statue back up.”

“Can we get rid of the last sentence?” a person identified as a press aide by the Star Tribune replied to the statement. “Obviously we’re not putting it back up but we should have a democratic process about what takes its place.”

“We can’t say right now it won’t go back up,” another aide said.

A recent report from a Minnesota Senate joint committee claims that the Walz administration knew protesters were coming to the Capitol building “five hours and 33 minutes before Capitol property was destroyed.”

“Minnesota state troopers arrived one hour and 19 minutes before the destruction of Capitol property, but only one state trooper was present when the destruction occurred,” the report states.

The Department of Public Safety’s tribal liaison was sent out to meet with the agitators in order to address “community and cultural concerns,” according to the report.

“The commissioner of Public Safety admitted that in retrospect he would have sent out more than one trooper to meet with rioters. Rather he would have sent out a team to provide an additional barrier between troopers and rioters. The ‘complex environment we are living in today’ was part of the reasoning behind the lack of the use of force to protect State Capitol property,” the report continues.

“The Commissioner of Public Safety admitted if they could do it over again, they would make different tactical decisions but given the ‘climate they were under’ they made the decisions they made,” it says.

Forcia has been charged with felony first-degree property damage for his involvement in the incident, but he likely won’t face any jail time. Instead, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office will pursue a “restorative process.”

Forcia’s actions resulted in more than $150,000 in damage to the Capitol grounds, the Senate report said.

Image credit: Twitter via @thauserkstp

Lt. Gov. Flanagan recently announced the formation of two task forces to help decide the fate of the Columbus statue and other Capitol artwork. The task forces will provide recommendations to the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board (CAAPB) on a variety of issues.

“The Minnesota State Capitol should be a place where all Minnesotans are seen, heard, and valued,” said Flanagan, who serves as chair of the CAAPB. “These task forces will inform the CAAPB so that our work can be more inclusive, engaged, and reflective of what it means to build a Capitol that is truly the People’s House.”

A vote from the 12-member CAAPB will ultimately decide if the Columbus statue is returned to the Capitol.