South Dakota Republican calls BS on GOP's histrionic Mount Rushmore fundraising
The busts of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln tower over the Black Hills at Mount Rushmore National Monument on July 1, 2020, in Keystone, South Dakota. Scott Olson/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Republican political fundraising messages are equally urgent and doomsdayist, describing an imminent threat to one of the United States’ most beloved memorials.

“Mount Rushmore DESTROYED,” blares the campaign committee of Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) in a recent email to supporters. “Radical Democrats are ramming ahead with their attempts to dismantle our landmarks and history — starting with destroying Mount Rushmore!”

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) similarly warned that “we are running out of time to save Mt. Rushmore” because it could be “RIPPED DOWN” soon.

“SAVE MOUNT RUSHMORE,” shouted an email from the National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP’s U.S. House re-election arm that Emmer led from 2019 until early this year. “Don’t allow this incredible monument to be ruined for future generations of American patriots.”

Part of a campaign fundraising message from House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), sent to supporters on January 30, 2023. Screenshot

Just one problem: there’s no such threat.

That’s according to Sen. Mike Rounds, a fellow Republican and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who represents South Dakota, where Mount Rushmore is located.

“No,” Rounds told Raw Story while walking the halls of the U.S. Capitol, noting he hadn't seen the fundraising emails. “Mount Rushmore is solid as a rock.”

Representatives for Scalise, Emmer and the NRCC did not respond to email and phone messages seeking comment about their fundraising messages.

The National Park Service, a federal government agency that administers the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, likewise did not respond to questions about the installation’s security and future accessibility.

But the Biden administration has offered no indication — official or otherwise — of any changes to the status of Mount Rushmore, which more than 2 million people visit annually, according to the National Park Service.

For example, COVID-19 transmission, fireworks and winter weather conditions are listed as items of concern on the National Park Services’ Mount Rushmore “alerts” page, as of March 8.

Not on the list: political threats, potential closure or imminent demolition.

According to the National Park Service’s website: “Over the decades, Mount Rushmore has grown in fame as a symbol of America-a symbol of freedom and hope for people from all cultures and backgrounds.”

It continues: “All the cultures that make up the fabric of this country are represented by the memorial and surrounding Black Hills. One of the most important gifts we can give our visitors at Mount Rushmore National Memorial is an understanding and love for our nation's history and cultures and an appreciation of the importance of caring for that legacy.”

Battle for Mount Rushmore begins

Fodder for Republicans’ hyperbolic political fundraising messages is in large part traceable to then-President Donald Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore on July 4, 2020.

Native American protesters and supporters gather at the Black Hills, now the site of Mount Rushmore, on July 3, 2020 in Keystone, South Dakota. Micah Garen/Getty Images

Some Native Americans have long considered Mount Rushmore an abomination — a tribute to American presidents atop sacred land stolen from them by the U.S. government. And prior to Trump’s visit, the chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe called for Mount Rushmore to be removed.

“The United States of America wishes for all of us to be citizens and a family of their republic yet when they get bored of looking at those faces we are left looking at our molesters,” Frazier wrote.

On the same day, the Democratic Party’s official Twitter account tweeted — then deleted — a statement that said “Trump has disrespected Native communities time and again. He’s attempted to limit their voting rights and blocked critical pandemic relief. Now he’s holding a rally glorifying white supremacy at Mount Rushmore — a region once sacred to tribal communities.”

Trump pounced.

During his Independence Day speech, Trump declared that Mount Rushmore, which features the faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt chiseled into a granite rock wall, “will never be defaced” and the depicted presidents’ legacy “will never, ever be destroyed, their achievements will never be forgotten.”

Continued Trump: “Mount Rushmore will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom.”

Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD), along with several co-sponsors, introduced federal legislation mandating that “no federal funds shall be used to alter, change, destroy, or remove, in whole or in part, any name, face, or other feature on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.” The bill was referred to a U.S. House subcommittee on July 23, 2020, and it died there without a vote.

In August 2022, citing former NBA player Jalen Rose’s call for Mount Rushmore to be “retired immediately,” Johnson reintroduced his bill, which again fizzled in committee.

On January 18, Johnson tried for a third time, earning headlines from conservative news outlets that coincided with the beginning of Republican lawmakers’ Mount Rushmore-themed fundraising pitches.

But even with Republicans controlling the U.S. House this congressional session, Congress has taken no action to date on Johnson’s bill, which remains parked in the Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Federal Lands, according to federal records.

“We are building some momentum and I’m hopeful we can get some progress yet this year,” Johnson told South Dakota news outlet KELOLAND.

Like Scalise and Emmer, Trump, too, is using Mount Rushmore to raise money — for his 2024 presidential campaign.

But instead of fearmongering about the monument’s destruction, Trump envisions an addition to Mount Rushmore.

Spoiler: it's not the face of President Ronald Reagan.

Political fundraising message from former President Donald Trump, sent to supporters on February 20, 2023. Screenshot

“”While we’ve had many presidents over the years, only a select few great ones have risen to the occasion to overcome the unique challenges of their time and leave behind a lasting legacy,” Trump wrote in a February fundraising email featuring an image of his face alongside those of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. “We had one of the ‘greats’ 4 years ago. Now, you have the chance to re-elect him.”