Trump complains about threat of Columbus statues being torn down

President Donald Trump waded into a new statue controversy on Tuesday night when he called out people who want to tear down statues of Christopher Columbus.

"We believe we should preserve our history, not tear it down," Trump said in remarks he delivered Tuesday night at the Heritage Foundation's annual President's Club gathering. "Now they are even trying to destroy statues of Christopher Columbus. What's next? Has to be stopped, it's heritage."

Calls for Columbus statues to be torn down have flared up around the country in the wake of similar calls for Confederate statues to be removed. The threat of the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia incited riots between supporters and protesters and left one woman dead in August.

The Columbus controversy has been most prominent in New York City, where a 76-foot tall statue of the Italian explorer rises over Columbus Circle at the southwest corner of Central Park. The monument, designed by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo, was officially unveiled in October 1892.

In the wake of the Charlottesville incident, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio commissioned a 90-day review of all the statues in the city.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called on the city to include the iconic Columbus statue in that review, telling New York ABC station WABC, "There are still to this day conversations happening because of the monuments, other Columbus statues, being talked about. I would want the commission to look at that statue as well."

Columbus has drawn criticism for starting the European colonization of the Americas, his brutal treatment of native people and beginning the transatlantic slave trade.

De Blasio has been mum on whether he would tear down the Columbus statue, saying he will wait until the review is finished to comment, but even that has drawn ire from Italian-American groups in the city. Organizers of the Bronx Columbus Day parade said the mayor was not welcome at the march, according to WABC, but de Blasio did march in the larger Columbus Day parade in Manhattan.

The debate over Columbus was also interjected into the New York City mayoral race, with de Blasio's Republican opponent Nicole Malliotakis calling on the statue to remain in Columbus Circle.

ABC News has reached out to the White House to clarify Trump's comments and ask for what incident he was specifically referring to Tuesday.

Several statutes of Columbus have been vandalized recently, including ones in Pittsburgh, Providence and St. Louis.

ABC News' Jordyn Phelps contributed to this report.

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