After nearly two years of promoting the 1619 Project’s claim that the United States’ founding began when the British imported African slaves, CNN’s Don Lemon said on Monday night that Europeans actually “had nothing to do with the founding of this country.”
The idea that British colonists founded the U.S. is dangerous, potentially incites violence, and explains “why you have an insurrection,” he said.
Lemon got into a low-level spat with fellow CNN host Chris Cuomo during the 10 p.m. hand-off between their shows, as Lemon commented on Cuomo’s interview with former Senator Rick Santorum.
Cuomo invited Santorum on “Cuomo Prime Time” to discuss Liz Cheney’s future in the GOP, but he abruptly changed the subject to Santorum’s viral remarks at a youth event last month.
America’s Founding Fathers “birthed a nation from nothing,” Santorum told Young America’s Foundation in April. “Yes, we have Native Americans, but candidly, there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”
He added that the U.S. was “settled predominantly by people who were coming to practice their faith.” They “came here, mostly from Europe, and they set up a country that was based on Judeo-Christian principles.”
"I wanted to give you a chance to explain yourself, because that's what this show is about."
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 4, 2021
After Cuomo accused Santorum of “trying to erase diversity in the interest of some white Christian Right,” Santorum said that he “misspoke” about the impact that American Indian tribes had on U.S. culture, and that he was specifically discussing “the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
An exasperated Lemon said the interview made him “furious.”
“I cannot believe the first words out of his mouth weren’t, ‘I’m sorry. I said something ignorant. I need to learn about the history of this country,’” said Lemon.
“Europeans did not found this country,” he said. “The Native Americans had this country before the Europeans came. Yes, the Europeans conquered the country — they colonized it. But they … had nothing to do with the founding of this country, and [Santorum] should recognize that.”
Lemon implied Santorum’s remarks somehow sparked violence like the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
“That’s why you have an insurrection,” Lemon said. “You have an insurrection, because people believe that America was founded in the image of white people, and … therefore, the election should go their way.”
Lemon defined Santorum’s remarks as “so egregious and insulting and [opposed to] everything that we talked about, about the founding of this country.”
However, Lemon’s remarks appear to contradict his own previous statements endorsing the 1619 Project’s claim that the United States was founded by European slaveholders, who injected systemic racism into the country’s structure.
He also maintained the idea that European slavers represented the DNA of the United States until his most recent remarks.
“America really needs to grapple with how foundational slavery was to our country,” Lemon told the creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, on July 27, 2020.
A year earlier, Lemon praised the project as “groundbreaking,” telling CNN viewers, “You’ve gotta read it.” He then recited the 1619 Project’s original introduction, which said it “aims to reframe the country’s history [by] understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
Later, The New York Times quietly deleted the report’s attempt to substitute “1619 as our true founding” from its website. After profound backlash, including by some scholars associated with the Pulitzer Prize-winning undertaking, Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote that “the 1619 Project has failed.”
Either Europeans founded the United States as a systemically racist nation based on expropriating the wealth of Native Americans and exploiting slave labor, or they had nothing to do with the founding. Both statements cannot be true.
It’s true that the United States removed and retained aspects of Native American culture, and no one should minimize what Lemon called “the suffering that Native Americans have had to deal with in this country.” But such suffering predated Christopher Columbus, let alone the Mayflower.
“Contra leftist anthropologists who celebrate the noble savage, quantitative body counts — such as the proportion of prehistoric skeletons with ax marks and embedded arrowheads or the proportion of men in a contemporary foraging tribe who die at the hands of other men — suggest that” the pre-Columbian tribal societies “were far more violent than our own,” wrote Harvard scholar Steven Pinker. “In tribal violence, the clashes are more frequent, the percentage of men in the population who fight is greater, and the rates of death per battle are higher.”
Intertribal warfare sometimes even consummated in acts of cannibalism. Evidence of tribal cannibalism stretches back as far as 1150 A.D. “As many as 40 [tribal] sites scattered across the Southwest contain human bones that show distinctive evidence of having been butchered and cooked,” reported the Los Angeles Times in 2000. The Iroquois also engaged in acts of ritual cannibalism.
In addition, tribes inflicted suffering on their fellow Americans, as some major tribes enslaved black Americans and sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. In 1860, Cherokees owned 2,511 slaves; Choctaws owned 2,349 slaves; and members of the Creek and Chickasaw tribes owned thousands more.
“The Five Civilized Tribes were deeply committed to slavery, established their own racialized black codes, immediately reestablished slavery when they arrived in Indian territory, rebuilt their nations with slave labor, crushed slave rebellions, and enthusiastically sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War,” Paul Chaat Smith, the curator of the National Museum of the American Indian, told Smithsonian Magazine.
While tribes fought on both sides of the Civil War, the last Confederate leader to surrender to Union forces was Cherokee General Stand Watie on June 23, 1865 — more than two months after Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House.
Lemon, however, said Santorum’s defense of the U.S. founding in 1776 should disqualify him from speaking on the air. “If he’s going to be on television representing us and talking about it, he should be doing it from the right perspective,” Lemon said.
But the jumbled contradictions necessary for Lemon to maintain his narrative that the U.S. Constitution is the fount of all evils in American history has his viewers confused about what that “right perspective” is.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.