Versions of the memorial have been vandalized repeatedly in the last 75 years and the motive this time was not immediately known, but the theft was condemned Tuesday by veterans groups that support the cross and by civil libertarians that saw it as a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.
“The American Legion expects whoever is responsible for this vile act to be brought to justice,” said Clarence Hill, the group’s national commander.
Attorney Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which sued on behalf of an opponent of the cross, said the organization rejects any resort to theft or vandalism.
“We believe in the rule of law and we think the proper way to resolve to any controversy about the cross is through the courts,” he said.
The 7-foot-high metal cross vanished from its perch in the Mojave National Preserve late Sunday or early Monday, said National Park Service spokeswoman Linda Slater. Bolts holding it to the rock were cut.
Slater said possible scenarios ranged from people “with an interest in the case” to metal scavengers. The U.S. Justice Department was looking into the case.