Ten Commandments Monument Destroyed At Arkansas State Capitol

Jun 28, 2017

Workers prepare to use equipment to lift broken pieces of the Ten Commandments monument from the ground Wednesday morning after the driver of a vehicle intentionally crashed into it, authorities say.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The new Ten Commandments monument at the Arkansas State Capitol was destroyed Wednesday less than 24 hours after it was unveiled. A spokesman for the Secretary of State's office says a driver intentionally sped toward the six foot tall granite tablet at about 4:45 a.m. and was immediately apprehended by Capitol Police.

A screen grab from a video on Reed's Facebook account appearing to show him accelerating toward the Ten Commandments monument early Wednesday.
Credit Facebook

The suspect, 32-year-old Michael Tate Reed of Van Buren, posted a video on Facebook  that appears to show him crashing into the monument with a view from the driver’s seat of his vehicle. “Oh my goodness,” he says before accelerating toward the monument yelling “freedom,” with a crashing sound then heard of the impact. In a separate video, Reed describes some of his thoughts in relation to the monument.

“I’m a firm believer in that part of salvation is that we not only have faith in Jesus Christ, but obey the commands of God and that we confess Jesus as Lord," he says. "But one thing that I do not support is the violation of our constitutional right to have the freedom that… guarantees us the separation of church and state, because no one religion should the government represent.” 

A State Capitol Police incident report lists Reed as “unemployed / disabled.” The arresting officer says in the report that he witnessed the vehicle ram the monument. The officer placed Reed under arrest, an ambulance was called, and the suspect was transported to St. Vincent Infirmary. Reed was cleared medically and transported to the Pulaski County Jail "without incident." He was booked at 7:34 a.m. Wednesday on preliminary charges of defacing objects of public interest, criminal trespass and first-degree criminal mischief.

32-year-old Michael Tate Reed of Van Buren.
Credit Pulaski County Sheriff's Office

Reed had previously been arrested for destroying a Ten Commandments at the Oklahoma State Capitol in October 2014, shortly before that state's high court ordered the monument removed. 

In a letter penned to the Tulsa World newspaper in 2015, Reed described how he came to suffer from a spate of psychotic episodes.

In the letter, Reed describes how voices in his head became his reality, how his family tried to get him treatment and how recovery is helping him. At the end, he apologizes.

“I am so sorry that this all happening (sic) and wished I could take it all back,” Reed said.

The letter is written in one block of text, beginning with his time as a student in August 2013 at Victory Bible College in Tulsa. Within a few months, he had a dream. He appears to pinpoint this as the start of his mental health decline.

It is common for people who are religious and in a psychotic state to have elements of their faith wrapped into their hallucinations and delusions, say mental health experts.

“It wasn’t a normal dream, and it was more vivid than any other that I have had. The main point of the dream was that Satan would be attacking me,” he wrote.

The Tulsa World says Reed, who was 29 at the time, had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. After his release from the Griffin Memorial Hospital in Norman, Oklahoma, Reed was to undergo "continued treatment, therapy and family support" under an agreement with the Oklahoma County District Attorney, according to the paper. (Read more on the paper's coverage of Reed's mental health issues here.)

About four hours after the incident at the Arkansas Capitol Wednesday, workers used heavy equipment to remove the remaining two large pieces of the monument that were face down on the ground. Secretary of State's office spokesman Chris Powell said they were being placed in storage for the time being.

Sen. Jason Rapert speaking with a reporter Wednesday at the site of the Ten Commandments monument.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The legislation that initiated the process of establishing a Ten Commandments monument on Capitol grounds, Act 1231 of 2015, was sponsored by state Sen. Jason Rapert, a Republican from Bigelow. After the remains were taken away, he told KUAR News "We will rebuild the monument. It will be put in place and hopefully protected from any future harm."

The monument was built with private funds from the American History & Heritage Foundation and Rapert said he doesn't expect any problems raising the additional funds needed for its replacement. 

At a press conference later in the morning inside the Capitol, Rapert began by describing U.S. Supreme Court case law which he said justified the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on government property. He said the commandments were a “historical foundation of law.”

Rapert acknowledged Reed’s documented struggles with mental instability and said there was “a problem around the country with mental  illness” that has to be addressed. But he linked the suspect’s action with what he considered to be violent and divisive political rhetoric in the country.

“Is there something wrong in America when somebody will be so motivated by hatred that they will carry out an act of violence, in this case the state Capitol in our state? This could have been any issue and you know that,” Rapert said.

“I can’t say that’s the cause of what this guy did. Because he has had many instances where he has done these things. I can’t believe he was actually free,” Rapert said, referring to Reed having reportedly threatened former President Barack Obama and walking into an Oklahoma federal building to spit on pictures

Rapert said he has discussed with Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office the possibility of erecting barriers to protect a replacement granite structure in the future. He suggested that steel posts could be constructed around the site.

Rapert laid partial blame for the act on groups like the American Civil Liberties Union for filing what he said were “frivolous lawsuits;” freethinkers groups who advocate for the separation of church and state; as well as the Satanic Temple for proposing a statue to Lord Baphomet on Capitol grounds.

‘“What culpability do some of these groups have when they threaten to tear down that monument?” Rapert said. “What culpability do they have to hold their rhetoric down and not stir and foment hatred and violence that will get unstable people to get to do what’s been done here today?”

When asked if the ACLU, freethinkers and the Satanic Temple were responsible, Rapert said “I wouldn’t go that far.”

ACLU of Arkansas President Rita Sklar said in a statement via email, “We strongly condemn any illegal act of destruction or vandalism. The ACLU remains committed to seeing this unconstitutional monument struck down by the courts and safely removed through legal means.

Meanwhile, the Freedom from Religion Foundation also released a statement saying it “does not condone violating the Constitution by erecting a Ten Commandments monument on the Arkansas Capitol grounds. Nor do we condone breaking the law to remove such a display.”

“There is no need to resort to criminal behavior to uphold the Constitution. Obviously, the motivation of this disturbed individual is unknown (and perhaps even unknown to him), but is unlikely to be about upholding the separation of religion and government.

Whatever his motivation: We are a nation governed by the rule of law. That not only means vandalism will not be tolerated, but it also means that we take our disputes to court.

We are confident the facts in the Arkansas placement of a Ten Commandments monument will result in lawful removal of the bible edicts from the seat of state government.”

In his press conference, Rapert also suggested that editorial writing in the local news media has influenced violent political acts.

“I have seen writing from some of the people that’s in this room… that has not been appropriate, the language they write. I expect the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and our newspaper media in this state to deliver news. When they use their columns to berate and belittle and intimidate people in their columns, using language that isn’t appropriate, you have to understand that has the ability to foment hatred that is carried out in acts that you’ve seen here today. You can’t light a fuse and walk away and say you’re not responsible for the explosion.”

KUAR asked the editorial page editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to respond. The paper's Managing Editor David Bailey said he couldn't comment because he does not directly oversee the editorial page department.

Rapert has also in the past been accused of exhibiting threatening behavior, making inappropriate remarks, and provoking and escalating a heated argument.

Other Responses

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was bothered by the monument's toppling.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is also a former Southern Baptist minister and two-time Republican presidential candidate, found some humor in the destruction.

State Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado) is calling for any replacement to be even more prominent on the Capitol grounds.

As crews worked to clean up the remains of the monument, many people looked on. Phillip Brandt of Little Rock said he was having his car worked on when he heard about the monument being destroyed and hurried over to the Capitol. Gesturing to other monuments on the grounds, he questioned the placement of the Ten Commandments monument.

"Why would they put the Ten Commandments in the back of the Capitol? That's the dumbest thing I've ever seen. They should have put it in front of the state Capitol up on high stones the way other statues are put, high stones," Brandt said. "You don't put the word of God in the back of the people.

This report has been updated throughout the day with the latest information and clarifications as more details emerged.