In attacking Columbus, Antifa tries to finish what the Klan started
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In an effort to fight the hateful rhetoric of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan in the wake of the violent protests in Charlottesville earlier this month, many protesters and government officials have called for the removal of Confederate monuments throughout the country. But for some, Confederate monuments represent just the tip of the iceberg — and they are actually doing the very thing the KKK worked for a century ago.

Christopher Columbus is also on the growing list of targeted historical figures. There are calls to remove statues of Columbus in several cities — even Columbus, Ohio — as well as petitions to Columbus Day celebrations. And in a move rich with tragic irony, vandals — dressed in the now familiar dark hooded garments worn by Antifa and its allies — defaced the oldest monument in the country dedicated to Christopher Columbus in Baltimore on Sunday night.

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In doing so, those in the dark hoods inadvertently did the bidding of those in white hoods, who for years sought to expunge statues and celebrations of the Italian Catholic explorer who sailed under Spain’s banner, precisely because he was Italian and Catholic.

In the 1920s, from coast to coast, members of the Ku Klux Klan opposed Columbus. In Richmond, they tried to stop the erection of a Columbus monument. In Pennsylvania, they burned fiery crosses to threaten those celebrating Columbus. The Klan newspaper, The American Standard, attacked honoring Columbus — on the basis that a holiday for him was some sort of papal plot.

The Klan was no fan of Columbus. He stood athwart their nativist desire for a country pure in its Anglo-Saxon and Protestant origins.

What Americans have forgotten is that white supremacy has historically sought not only the denigration of African-Americans and Jews but also of Catholics — and among them Hispanics — ascribing to the latter all manner of harmful stereotypes as brutal criminals and sexual predators. This narrative is known throughout the Spanish-speaking world and in academic circles as the “Black Legend.”

Historian Philip Wayne Powell wrote of this smear campaign: “The basic premise of the Black Legend is that Spaniards have shown themselves, historically, to be uniquely cruel, bigoted, tyrannical, obscurantist, lazy, fanatical, greedy, and treacherous; that is, that they differ so much from other peoples in these traits that Spaniards and Spanish history must be viewed and understood in terms not ordinarily used in describing and interpreting other peoples.”

It began as a tool of Anglo supremacy over its Iberian foes during the competition for territory on this continent, but as Powell notes, it was “extended to form part of a larger picture of English moral, racial and religious superiority over the Spaniard” — and we might well add, those who sailed for Spain.

This slander was picked up again by the American propagandists during the Spanish-American War and echoes of it continue in the dim and prejudiced view some hold of Hispanics generally to this day.

In the rush to judge and deface, few remember that it was Spain that forbade slavery of most Native Americans and made them Spanish citizens. Fewer still remember that Columbus seems to have faced arrest by his fellow explorers for punishing — even executing — those who had abused Native Americans.  And almost no one recalls that it was not Columbus but the exaggerating zealot Bartolome De Las Casas), who is most often cited in smearing Spanish exploration and with it Columbus, who was the one who proposed African slavery for the New World.

In a world that had no knowledge of microbes or carcinogens, Columbus cannot be blamed for the diseases that his men brought to these shores any more than the Native Americans can be blamed for introducing tobacco to the Europeans.

While Columbus is blamed for much that went wrong in the New World after his arrival, Dr. Carol Delaney, a professor emerita at Stanford University and a visiting scholar at Brown University, describes his relations with the Natives Americans as generally “benign,” and his intentions as generally good.

This is not to suggest that Columbus was a perfect man, or that he — or any 15th century European or indigenous person — would fit comfortably in our modern world. But he is certainly not the sinister villain that he’s been made out to be, and was himself a target of white supremacists. Our modern iconoclasts would do well to think before they smash, and to realize that when the black hoods follow the dictates of the white hoods, it is the Klan that wins and history that loses.

J.P. McCusker is president of the National Christopher Columbus Association (NCCA) and Patrick Korten serves on its board of directors. The NCCA seeks to honor not only the memory of Columbus and his historic achievement in linking the old world and the new but also the higher values that motivated and sustained him in his efforts.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.