Greenpeace took a break from assaulting whaling ships and oil rigs Wednesday to deface the faces of former presidents with a message about global warming.
Using existing park service rock anchors a group of radical environmentalists scaled the national monument at Mount Rushmore and unfurled a banner along President Abraham Lincoln's face challenging America's leaders to stop global warming.
Eleven people were charged Wednesday with trespassing and the misdemeanor crime of climbing on Mount Rushmore National Monument, U.S. Attorney Marty Jackley said. They pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement that three of its members hung the banner on Mount Rushmore while other activists blocked access to the site. Greenpeace said the climbers, using existing rock anchors that the park service uses for occasional cleanings, went up the back of the monument, then rappelled down its face to unfurl a 65-by-35-foot banner reading, "America honors leaders not politicians: Stop Global Warming."
Jackley said he could not confirm Greenpeace's account.
Mount Rushmore Ranger Nav Singh said security warnings and tourists alerted officials when the banner was unrolled. The banner was removed about an hour after it was unfurled.
"You can't create any security system that's 100 percent fail-safe. There's just not enough resources for that," Singh said. "Determined individuals that are properly equipped and willing to do damage to government property can do this sort of thing."
Twelve people were taken away in handcuffs and foot chains. The 12th person taken into custody was released without being charged, Jackley said. He would not say why.
The National Park Service said in a statement that its staff and security detected the activists early and responded "within minutes." Visitors were not in danger, authorities said.
Park service staff remained at the mountain Wednesday to assess damage to the sculpture and security systems. When asked about possible damage, Jackley said the activists had not been charged with property damage, but he noted that the investigation was ongoing.
The 60-foot-high faces of four U.S. presidents — Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt — are carved into the granite on the southeast face of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Together, the faces extend 185 feet.
A number of demonstrations have taken place at Mount Rushmore over the years. In the early 1970s, American Indian Movement members tried several times to occupy and deface the monument. In August 1970, AIM members hung a banner with the words "Sioux Indian Power" on the monument.
In October 1987, Greenpeace activists tried unsuccessfully to unfurl a banner shaped like a gas mask over George Washington's face. That banner said, "We the People Say No to Acid Rain."
Security measures were beefed up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The 11 activists charged Wednesday were released on their own recognizance after the court hearing. A trespassing conviction carries up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine, prosecutors said.