Utahn among two charged for pouring red powder over case holding U.S. Constitution

Activists’ “stunt” was intended to draw attention to climate change, prosecutors say

Sarah Stauderman, deputy director of preservation programs at National Archives in Washington, takes a video of a portion of a display case that still has red power on it on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. The National Archives building and galleries were evacuated on Feb. 14 after two protesters dumped powder on the protective casing around the U.S. Constitution.(AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)

Two climate activists who dumped red powder over the display case that contains the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives Museum last month were charged Thursday with destruction of government property, prosecutors said.

The activists, Donald Zepeda, 35, of Maryland, and Jackson Green, 27, of Utah, poured the powder over the display case in the rotunda of the building on Feb. 14 as part of a “stunt, which was intended to draw attention to climate change,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said in a statement Friday.

During the episode, which officials said was captured on video by supporters of Green, the two men also poured red powder over themselves and then stood before the Constitution as they called for solutions to climate change.

The Constitution was not damaged, according to the National Archives Museum, which said that the powder was found to be a combination of pigment and cornstarch.

“Fortunately, the four pages of the Constitution on display were not at risk for damage by this incident,” said Stephanie Hornbeck, a national preservation program officer.

The rotunda was closed after the episode, which cost more than $50,000 to clean up, prosecutors said.

According to the museum, about 30 people were involved in the cleanup in a process that avoided wetting the powder and turning it into paint.

“The cases in the Rotunda were cleaned with a variety of tested tools that are compatible with the various surfaces (e.g., metal, stone, caulk),” the museum said. “The dry-methods cleaning protocol used was designed to effectively remove the pigment powder and stains so they would not be visible, to use methods safe for people and the marble, and to address the large affected surface areas as time efficiently as possible.”

Zepeda was arrested Wednesday and released on bond the next day, according to court documents. Prosecutors said that when Zepeda was arrested, he had been on his way to Raleigh, North Carolina, to meet another environmental protester.

Green, who is linked to a group called Declare Emergency, according to court records, had previously been charged in a separate case of vandalism at the National Gallery of Art in November 2023.

In that case, he wrote “HONOR THEM” in red paint on a mural of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, according to court documents.

After that episode, he was ordered by a judge to stay away from Washington and its museums and public monuments, prosecutors said. Because Green violated the terms of his release by entering the National Archives Museum last month, a judge ordered on Feb. 22 that he be held in jail.

If convicted, the men could face a fine of up to $250,000, 10 years in prison, or both.

Lawyers for Zepeda and Green did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

The museum declined to comment about the charges Friday. In a statement on Feb. 15, it said “the incident is deplorable.”

“The archivist of the United States has established a task force to conduct an examination of the incident and our security protocols, systems and personnel to identify lessons learned and implement changes swiftly,” the museum said in the statement.

The episode at the National Archives Museum was one of many provocative actions that activists have used as a form of protest to call attention to the effects of climate change.

In January, two environmental protesters threw soup on the Mona Lisa at the Louvre museum in Paris. At the U.S. Open in September, a women’s semifinal match was delayed by environmental protesters, one of whom glued his bare feet to the ground inside Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens.