Sen. Tom Cotton Says Radical Left 'Revisionist Charlatans' Pose Threat to 1620 Pilgrim Commemorations

GOP Senator Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, has reignited a dispute over the anniversary of the Pilgrims' arrival in America, claiming that "revisionist charlatans of the radical left" were to blame for what he said were fewer commemorations this year.

Cotton said "too many may have lost the civilization or self-confidence needed to celebrate the Pilgrims"—a group of settlers who arrived on the Mayflower ship at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 where they established the first permanent New England colony.

He said: "There appear to be few commemorations, parades, or festivals to celebrate the Pilgrims this year, perhaps in part because revisionist charlatans of the radical left have lately claimed the previous year as America's true founding. Nothing can be further from the truth."

Cotton was referring to a project by The New York Times to focus attention on 1619—the year the first slave ship arrived on America's shores.

He also attacked the paper for a recent retrospection on the anniversary of 1620—traditionally considered the first year of settlement—which said the "brutality" of early settlers had been "underplayed."

His speech on Wednesday was quickly criticised by his political opponents, including Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, who accused the Republican politician of lacking a sense of history "beyond your 3rd grade coloring books." She added: "Actual history terrifies you."

Other less high-profile Twitter users described his remarks as a "delusional history rant" and questioned his focus on commemorating any historical event when thousands of Americans were dying from COVID each week.

Cotton had been referring to a piece in the Times which studied the darker history around Thanksgiving. The article described the "brutality of settlers' expansion into the Great Plains and American West" as having been "drastically underplayed in popular myths about the founding and growth of the United States."

Critics say commemorating 1620 ignores the United States' painful history of slavery; while celebrating the quatercentenary without reflecting on the bloodshed that came with it fails to honor the historical suffering of Native Americans.

The issue of which date to commemorate was brought to the fore last year when the Times launched an initiative to "reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of [the United States'] national narrative."

Specifically, it aimed to focus attention on the year 1619, when a ship arrived at the British colony of Virginia with as many as 30 enslaved Africans on board. Their arrival, the paper said, marked the country's "very origin," inaugurating a "barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years."

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A painting of the Mayflower ship in Plymouth harbour by William Halsall Charles Phelps Cushing/Getty Images

But in his speech on Wednesday, Cotton said: "Just today for instance The New York Times called the [Pilgrims'] story a myth and a caricature. In the 'Food' Section, no less. Maybe the politically correct editors of the debunked 1619 Project are now responsible for pumpkin pie recipes at the Times as well."

In July, the conservative lawmaker proposed a bill seeking to ban schools from teaching the project as a part of their curriculum, claiming it wrongly sought to characterize America a "systemically racist country."

He was criticized at the time for saying that slavery was a "necessary evil" as part of a wider argument to prevent U.S. schools from teaching the project.

"We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can't understand our country. As the founding fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction," he is reported to have said.

tom cotton senate
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing for Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-TX, on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC on May 5, 2020. His remarks on the subject have caused controversy in the past. ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP/Getty Images