Several California legislators have unsuccessfully pushed to remove the statue of St. Junipero Serra from the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall.
Some of St. Junipero Serra's critics object to the forced confinement of some indigenous peoples in the missions he founded, as well as corporal punishment inflicted there, saying they are causes to dismiss the saint. Some also criticize his association with Spanish colonialism.
His defenders note St. Junipero Serra's defense of native peoples at a time when Spanish soldiers and other officials could easily abuse them. At one point, he opposed the death sentence for a man who had killed one of his fellow missionaries in an uprising.
Many native peoples attended his burial and openly wept at his death.
The vandalism of the saint's statue comes amid controversy over the fate of statues honoring leading figures of the Confederate States of America and the Reconstruction era.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, several hundred demonstrators gathered from around the country on Aug. 11 to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee from a city park. The rally drew white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members. Many waved the Confederate battle flag and at least one demonstrator waved a Nazi flag.
The demonstration was set to continue the next day, attracting many counter-protesters. Both groups skirmished with each other, leading authorities to declare the assembly unlawful and to order the crowds to disperse.
An hour later, one rally attendee, 20-year-old James Alex Fields, allegedly drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and seriously injuring several others.
The incident prompted many peaceful responses, as well as some attacks on Confederate statues and other public monuments.
A statue of St. Joan of Arc had been vandalized in New Orleans by an unknown person or persons sometime in late April or early May, with graffiti reading "tear it down." It followed controversy in the city about the removal of monuments to the Confederacy and the Reconstruction era.
In Baltimore, the oldest U.S. statue of the explorer Christopher Columbus, erected in 1792, was also vandalized this month. A video posted to YouTube claiming responsibility for the incident blamed Columbus for "a centuries-old wave of terrorism, murder, genocide, rape, slavery, ecological degradation and capitalist exploitation of labor in the Americas."
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Many such statues were set up by U.S. Catholics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to mark his role in opening the New World to Europeans, at a time when many leading Americans denigrated Catholic figures.