Speaking at the Young America’s Foundation on Monday, former senator and current CNN pundit Rick Santorum raised eyebrows when he appeared to denigrate Native Americans by suggesting the United States had been terra nullius when white English colonists established the country as a Judeo-Christian religious republic. “We birthed a nation from nothing,” he said. “I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture. It was born of the people that came here.” As, should be obvious, there were Native cultures from one end of the Americas to the other prior to the colonial era. The myth of an empty continent peopled only with savages was always a bit of European propaganda used to justify colonization and conquest.
While I don’t fully endorse the claim (supported by a 1988 Senate resolution) that the U.S. Constitution was inspired by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy—its specifics were more directly the Roman Republic and various European systems—it is nevertheless true that the colonial generation did look to Native groups as examples of alternatives to European-style monarchy in actual living practice.
Santorum’s remarks are on the surface obviously wrong, but also the same myth that white Americans have bought into since the colonial era. As I documented in my book The Mound Builder Myth (University of Oklahoma, 2020), the myth of savage, uncultured Native Americans served to justify white Americans’ oppression of Native peoples and the destruction of their cultures, eventually leading to the Trail of Tears and the Indian Wars. Andrew Jackson made it quite plain when he told Congress in 1830 that he dreamed of filling the land with “a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters.” Santorum continues a very old myth, almost entirely ignorant of its origins or consequences.
Jackson’s description of America as a largely unoccupied wilderness came with a corollary. He believed that a lost white race has once lived on the continent, before Native Americans killed them all in a white genocide thus justifying their own extinction: “In the monuments and fortresses of an unknown people, spread over the extensive regions of the west, we behold the memorials of a once powerful race, which was exterminated, or has disappeared, to make room for the existing savage tribes.” Like Santorum, he extolled white civilization’s dominance over primitive Natives:
Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the condition in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages, to our extensive republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms; embellished with all the improvements which art can devise, or industry execute; occupied by more than twelve millions of happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion!
The hunt for the lost white race would seemingly be confined to myth after archaeologists proved that the monuments of ancient America were the work of Native peoples. But no such lucky break prevents fake history from repeating.
In The Mound Builder Myth I describe how a New York talk radio personality, now podcaster, called Frank from Queens, who was once described as “racist” in New York Magazine, has embraced the myth that America had been populated by a lost white race of ancient Iberians, the Solutreans, who were massacred by Native Americans, whom he derisively calls “Beringians.” (The scientific hypothesis of Solutrean contract with ancient America is not supported by most scientists and does not involve white people since the real Solutreans lived before white skin evolved.)
Well, Frank discovered The Mound Builder Myth and discussed it in the April 23 episode of his rightwing podcast, TRP Show, which labeled my book a “piece of Neo-Bolsheviki trash.” Frank called my book a “vicious attack” on him (he was in a paragraph of a 300-page book) and claimed that as a member of the “radical Left” I am somehow attacking his “God-given right” to speak his mind. “Don’t attack me because I posit the Solutrean hypothesis,” he said. “I guess that’s a crime with the Left,” he added, citing Immanuel Velikovsky, the catastrophist speculator of the 1950s, as his model. He used words like “vile” to describe me before railing against the “Bolshevist scumbags” who taught him when he was in college half a century ago and going on a McCarthyite rant about communism, and it was all rather much, especially since the podcast went on for four hours. You’ll forgive me if I didn’t listen to all four hours.
Frank developed his own white nationalist holiday, World Solutrean Day, to coincide with Hitler’s birthday. This episode was timed to the holiday. Frank previously awarded the History Channel’s Scott Wolter the “Solutrean Man of the Year” award, which Wolter accepted on a previous World Solutrean Day broadcast. “Scott Wolter… real nice guy!” Frank said this week. “He’s stuck on the Templars. Everything comes back to the Templars with him.”
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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