In the dead of night, an anonymous man took a sledgehammer to the base of what is widely perceived to be the nation's oldest monument to explorer Christopher Columbus in Baltimore, Maryland.
The act of vandalism, which authorities are investigating, follows a heated national conversation about which historical figures Americans choose to celebrate following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12.
On Aug. 21, at least two men defaced a Columbus statue fixed in Herring Run Park, Baltimore. The men filmed the incident and shared it on YouTube, with their words indicating that their vandalism was motivated by racial tensions, The Baltimore Sun reports.
While one man took a sledgehammer to the bust that the Columbus statue stood atop, destroying the lettering of the monument, another man held a sign that stated, "Racism, tear it down."
The monument, first erected in 1792 by a French aristocrat, is widely believed to be the oldest statue of Columbus in the U.S. The explorer's likeness itself was not damaged.
Baltimore Police Department spokesperson T.J. Smith disclosed that law enforcement is working to determine the identities of the two men and whoever was filming them.
"We want to inform people it is a crime to destroy property," Smith said. "And if the person is identified who is responsible for this, they will be prosecuted."
Columbus' legacy has been controversial for decades, but national tensions over monuments honoring polarizing historical figures has intensified following a white nationalist rally that proved lethal.
On Aug. 11, white nationalists gathered at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate monument. The group marched across the college town with tiki torches while shouting slogans heavily associated with neo-Nazism. On Aug. 12, more white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville to stage an alt-right rally, clashing with counter protesters, The Washington Post reports.
The fraught demonstration turned tragic when alt-right member James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly plowed his vehicle through a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.
Following the high-profile rally, communities across the country have called for the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces. Columbus, whose celebrated status in American society has been heavily criticized by Native Americans, is also the subject of intense debate following Charlottesville.
"This is happening everywhere," said Sons of Italy's Commission for Social Justice president Kevin Caira. "He's been the target of people claiming he caused all of the ills of the world, that he caused genocide and slavery. It's just not true."
Not everyone shares Caira's view of the 15th century explorer. Dr. Leo Killsback of Arizona State University, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, asserted that Columbus committed genocide and has called for the national holiday named after him to be renamed Indigenous People's Day.
"One of the biggest misconceptions about Columbus is that he was righteous," Killsback told CNN in October 2016. "The truth is that he was wicked and responsible for the rape and murder of innocent indigenous people."