“Let it burn,” someone said before the group set it on fire.
D.C. police looked on but did not intervene in the effort, lasting about an hour, to bring down the statue.
That caught the attention of President Trump, who tweeted shortly after the statue fell: “The D.C. police are not doing their job as they watch a statue be ripped down & burn. These people should be immediately arrested. A disgrace to our Country!”
D.C. police said on Saturday that the statue is under federal jurisdiction and protected by law enforcement agencies the Trump administration oversees.
“The statue in question sits in a federal park and therefore is within the jurisdiction of National Park Service and the United States Park Police,” D.C. police said in a statement. The department did not respond to further questions.
A spokesman for the U.S. Park Police referred questions to the National Park Service.
“The fallen Albert Pike statue has been removed to ensure public safety at the site,” said Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Park Service. “We will work to determine next steps in the near future.”
Alexandra M. Picavet, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, said D.C. police had called U.S. Park Police dispatch to ask about jurisdiction. The park service said in an email that when Park Police officers arrived, “the statue was already down and on fire.” The toppling of the statue is under investigation, and the park service did not address whether the Park Service thinks D.C. police should have intervened.
The effort to fell the statue came after a day of peaceful protests and Juneteenth celebrations throughout the city that brought thousands of people to District streets in largely peaceful demonstrations.
But shortly after 10 p.m., several protesters climbed the statue. They had come prepared with rope and chains, tying them to the statue for the crowd to pull it down.
Dozens of others cheered the effort, though many said they did not know whom the statue represented.
The statue of Pike was erected in 1901. He was a transplanted Yankee who supported the Confederacy and was made a brigadier general in its army. Pike rewrote the lyrics to “Dixie” so they were more likely to inspire Confederate soldiers.
“Southrons, hear your country call you!” Pike’s version begins. “Up, lest worse than death befall you!”
Later, in Washington, Pike was involved in the Freemasons and served as grand commander of the Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction. Pike’s critics contend that he also was instrumental in the formation of the Ku Klux Klan. Masons insist evidence does not support that, but he was known to oppose racially integrating Masonic lodges.
District officials have been trying to get the statue removed for several years. The D.C. Council petitioned the federal government to remove the statue in 1992. Early Saturday morning, the council tweeted that lawmakers had “unanimously renewed our call to Congress to remove it in 2017.”
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the city’s nonvoting member of Congress, filed legislation that year seeking congressional approval for the statue’s removal. The chair of a congressional committee that would have to approve its removal — Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) — agreed with Norton.
But, The Washington Post reported at the time, nobody wanted to take it, not even the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, the fraternal organization that commissioned the statue.
On Friday night, the protesters tried again and again to pull down the statue. A couple dozen people spent more than two minutes tugging in unison on a rope.
“One, two; one, two,” they said. But the statue did not appear to budge. “Throw it over the head,” someone said, suggesting others tie the rope around the head of the statue. “Tie it around the armpit,” another person said.
“I don’t think it’s coming down,” one man said quietly to a friend. As 11 p.m. closed in, the group continued its effort.
John Henry Williams, 23, said he didn’t know who Albert Pike was before Friday and had no idea that protesters would seek to take down his statue. But learning that Pike had been a Confederate general was enough for him.
Williams, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement — an environmental group — had seen a tweet advertising the march and joined. He stood on the side of the statue with a megaphone, helping to lead the group in chants as protesters struggled to bring it down.
“I’m fighting for a future I can believe in and want to live in,” Williams said. “We always kick the can down the road for someone else to get arrested, for someone else to do something, and we eventually have to shoulder the burden.”
Finally, around 11:15, the statue fell.
“This was our mission,” a leader said. “Now let’s march together.” And they went into the street.
The D.C. fire department later said it received a report of an outside fire and sent a single engine to the scene Friday. A spokesman said the fire was “out on arrival.”
Buoyed by their success with the statue, protesters marched through the city, chanting and lighting fireworks. Some people spray-painted “BLM” and “Defund MPD” on boarded-up windows and bus stops.
“Whose streets? Our streets!” they chanted.
At one point, protesters used a megaphone to read out Trump’s recent tweet about the toppling of Pike’s statue.
The group of more than 100 roared with laughter and cheered.
An earlier version of this article said the statue of Albert Pike was the only Confederate statue in the District. It was the only outdoor statue depicting a Confederate general. This story has also been updated to provide correct attribution to a spokeswoman from the National Park Service.