Yesterday I mentioned white supremacists and their efforts to recast fringe history claims about prehistoric Old World contact with America as evidence of a global Caucasian master race. Today I’d like to look at one specific aspect of that: the embrace by white supremacists of the Solutrean Hypothesis for the peopling of the Americas, which suggests that Europeans from Spain traveled to America at least 14,000 years ago and gave rise to the Clovis culture. To do so, we’ll need to explore the porous boundary between fact and fiction and the way “entertainment” is used as a vehicle for delivering political and historical claims while avoiding mainstream scrutiny.
The Solutrean Hypothesis emerged in the 1930s when archaeologist Frank Hibben noted that the style of stone points used by the newly-discovered Clovis culture, then the oldest known in the Americas, bore what seemed to him to be a striking similarity to stone points made by the Solutreans, a Stone Age people occupying Spain and France around 25,000 years ago. He suggested that the Solutreans had crossed the Atlantic and peopled the Americas, thus explaining why the Solutreans were replaced in Europe by the Magdaleneans, whose tools were less sophisticated.
The hypothesis did not gain traction for several reasons still true today: Solutrean points were different in shape from Clovis points (diamond-shaped and non-fluted vs. concave bottoms and fluting), the Solutreans were not known to have boats capable of an ocean crossing, and thousands of years separated the end of the Solutrean and the start of Clovis.
In 1999, the Smithsonian’s Dennis Stanford and his colleague Bruce Bradley resurrected Hibben’s Solutrean hypothesis and added that pre-Clovis sites like Monte Verde in Chile represented a transitional stage between the Solutrean and Clovis—at the tip of South America! Stanford and Bradley denied that Paleoindians had developed their own stone working tradition independent of outside influences, specifically citing the lack of Clovis-style stone-working in northeast Asia as proof. Independent invention was for these scholars unlikely.
I wrote about this for Skeptic magazine several years ago, with more detail on the issues involved.
White supremacists, however, seized upon Stanford and Bradley’s claim that “the earliest origin of people in North America may have been from south-western Europe” as evidence that the first Americans had been Europeans and therefore white. But a good chunk of the discussion recently has focused not on the facts but about a piece of fiction that takes the hypothesis to a racist extreme by combining it with nineteenth century lost race theories.
One of the key texts for this is a novel by Kyle Bristow, now 27, who has come under scrutiny from the Southern Poverty Law Center for running a hate group and for sponsoring events like Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day and for calling gays “disgusting” and “degenerates” against whom America needed protection. He says he adopted his views after reading Ann Coulter’s Treason.
His novel was called White Apocalypse (2010), and the self-published thriller laid out a stark and bleak vision of prehistory in which the noble and virtuous white Solutreans traveled to America, peopled the continent, and were killed off by savage hordes of red-skinned “Beringians,” the future Native Americans. The similarity between this narrative and that of the early Mormons and of nineteenth century “lost race” theorists, all of whom accused Native Americans of killing off the original white inhabitants of America, is not coincidental.
In the novel, after a mass grave of these white heroes is uncovered, a conspiracy of Native Americans and liberals try to suppress the truth in order to advance minority rights. One of these liberals’ ancestors, Bristow wrote, “for 40,000 years were all white and he hated who he was so very much that he put an end to that tradition by becoming romantically involved with a nonwhite individual — as many white liberals are predisposed to doing these days.” The novel then depicts the heroic assassination of a minority activist in order to get the truth about the original white inhabitants of America released to the public.
Bristow dedicated the book to “the real Native Americans,” white people.
Like other fringe writers, Bristow denies being a racist. “I am by no means racist,” he told the Toledo Blade in 2011. However, while this is only a novel, it quickly became fodder for self-described “pro-white” groups. Just as the Da Vinci Code spawned debate over the truth of its claims, so too did activists attempt to promote an underlying truth to Bristow’s White Apocalypse narrative.
The Southern Poverty Law Center declared the novel “hate fiction” and accused Bristow of modeling the assassinated activist on an SPLC official. (Bristow denies the charge.) But the white nationalist radio host James Edwards declared that the book was “glowing with white pride and sorely needed these days, for European Americans are subjected to nonstop insult, abuse, and bashing.” Edwards regularly features white supremacist guests on his Memphis-based radio program, called The Political Cesspool, which airs on the Liberty News Radio Network and affiliated Christian radio stations. He has accused the Jews of working to undermine white America because of a hatred of Christianity and believes liberals use claims of racism to suppress the power of the white racial majority.
According to Anti-Racist Canada, Canadian white supremacist activist and radio host Paul Fromm also declared the novel an important piece of propaganda in the ongoing war to deprive Native Americans (First Nations) of their status as indigenous and reassign the Americas as a “white” homeland. He called the novel “a soaring inspirational dramatization of our people taking our continent back from the Third World invaders,” and he described as “cathartic” a scene in which a white person murdered Hispanics.
According to Anti-Racist Canada, white supremacists Bill Roper of White Resistance and Kevin Alfred Storm of National Vanguard praised Bristow not just for his writing talent but also for the “scholarship” that went into his depiction of prehistoric white culture. “Right Perspective” online radio host Frank from Queens was quoted by Anti-Racist Canada as saying: “The reason that the incredibly savage Meso-Amerikan (sic) Maya pressed and elongated the skull of the royalty was because of the race memory of the Great White Gods who we now know to be our Great White Solutrean Ancestors!” He went on to declare America the “true” Atlantis and Eden, an all-white paradise until the “Beringians” came and despoiled the land.
Remember: The “white” gods of Mesoamerica are a key element of Graham Hancock’s lost civilization, Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis, David Childress’s prehistoric race war, and many other fringe theories. While Hancock and Childress aren’t racists themselves, their arguments have become evidence for racist claims, as, unfortunately, has the faulty Solutrean hypothesis.
The Toledo Blade asked Dennis Stanford for comment. He told the Blade that there were in fact several east coast sites featuring evidence of prehistoric European visitors and that such visitors likely intermarried with Native people rather than were killed by them. He did, however, reject the white supremacist claim that America’s original white inhabitants had been exterminated by Native Americans. In his view, thanks to intermarriage, they live on in the genomes of Native peoples, something recent genetic work fails to confirm.
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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