ALAMOGORDO, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico group Cowboys for Trump faces criticism after members brought iconic gypsum sands from White Sands National Monument to Washington for the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree lighting ceremony — a possible violation of federal law.
Otero County Commission Chairman and Cowboys for Trump co-founder Couy Griffin said the group brought four “big plastic bins” of the extremely fine, pure white sand for the ceremony Wednesday, the Alamogordo Daily News reported.
“We’re bringing Washington, D.C., some of the most beautiful treasure out of New Mexico,” Griffin said in a video posted to the Cowboys for Trump Facebook page Nov. 30.
The sand was given as a gift to New Mexico’s congressional delegation so it could be “showcased” with the tree, the group said without providing more details on how it was used. The tree itself is a large blue spruce, from the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico.
But removing natural resources from a U.S. national parks unit, including national monuments, is illegal without permission.
“Federal laws and policies prohibit the taking of sand and any resource from within the national monument,” White Sands National Monument tweeted from its official account after Griffin posted his video. “The illegal taking of resources from within the national monument is a Class B misdemeanor punishable with a $5,000 fine or six months in jail.”
The monument cannot sell natural material found in White Sands National Monument or items made from the sand in its gift shop, White Sands National Monument Superintendent Marie Sauter told the newspaper.
Griffin said in a phone interview he had permission to take the sand, though he did not say which person or agency granted it.
In an interview with Albuquerque-based KOB-TV in Washington on Wednesday after the tree was lit, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham mentioned the sand while talking about the ornaments and other tokens that represented New Mexico. Her office said Friday that she would not have approved of taking the sand if proper protocols were not followed.
New Mexico’s Democratic state auditor is investigating an Otero County travel reimbursement with taxpayer money issued to Griffin in connection with Cowboys for Trump activities.
Griffin traveled to Washington in part to attend a Sept. 12 conference with representatives from western states. A travel voucher listed a meeting with President Donald Trump as the reason for the expense.