He said the police chased him away, but it was too late. He said he had already been tidying up around the memorial and the Reflecting Pool for the past few days, because nobody else is.
He drew rapid media attention — social and conventional — as well as a crowd of amused foreign tourists as he stood on the plaza of the memorial Wednesday afternoon and declared his purpose.
“I figured out that I could play a . . . valuable role as a janitor, if you will,” he said. “So I started cleaning up the overflowing trash cans. I bought a blower and I’ve been blowing all of the trails, and today I cut the grass out here.”
“I didn’t find it a nuisance to be here,” he said as he stood in a red T-shirt and jeans, holding a bright blue South Carolina state flag. “I found it my duty to be here.”
He said he does not have a political position on the shutdown. “I’m not here to point fingers,” he said. “I only want to inspire people to come out and make a difference.
“The building behind me serves as a moral compass, not only for our country but for the world. And over my dead body are we going to find trash pouring out of these trash cans,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are the stewards of these buildings that are memorials.”
“I want to encourage my friends and fellow Americans to go to their parks and show up with a trash bag and a rake,” he said. “Show up with a good attitude and firm handshake for the U.S. Park Service.”
Cox, who said he was in town “in a holding pattern” and for an art show, said he also used his chain saw to cut up a huge tree branch that had fallen across one of the Reflecting Pool walkways.
He said he moved it out of the way. He said he mowed the lawn at the memorial for quite a while before he was stopped.
“I’m not going to apologize for it,” he said.
The U.S. Park Police could not be reached for comment. A National Park Service spokesman, Mike Litterst, said he had heard about the lawn mowing but was unaware of Cox’s other work.