President Donald Trump recognized Oct. 9 as Leif Erikson Day — a celebration of the Norse explorer who set foot on the North American continent about 500 years before Christopher Columbus — and it wasn’t long before critics took to social media Friday to blast the acknowledgment.
A White House news release described Eirkson as the “first European to discover the New World” and praised him as an exemplar of Nordic immigration to America.
“Accomplished in the face of daunting danger and carried out in service of Judeo-Christian values, Leif Erikson’s story reflects the fundamental truths about the American character,” the release, signed by Trump, said.
“On a mission to evangelize Greenland, Leif Erikson and his crew were blown off course. They had to brave the cold waters of the northern Atlantic to find safe harbor on the North American coastline. In surviving this ordeal, these hardened Vikings tested the limits of human exploration in a way that continues to inspire us today.”
Leif Erikson Day is not a new holiday. States with prominent Nordic American populations have celebrated the day, and presidents have noted it since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
Canada and Iceland, Erikson’s birthplace, also commemorate his travels and the establishment of a Norse settlement in Vinland — now thought to be somewhere near Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
A statue of Leif Erikson in the center of Reykjavik, Iceland.
But Twitter critics seized on the language of Trump’s news release, particularly its emphasis on “Judeo-Christian values” and “Nordic Americans whose firm faith and resolve are woven into the fabric of our Nation.”
Some commentators of Nordic descent voiced their support of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Others opined that Trump should look at the universal health care systems of Nordic countries as an example for the U.S.
Still others argued that the Trump administration’s language was aimed at white supremacists, whom the president failed to outright condemn during his first presidential debate last week.
Many white supremacist organizations have co-opted Nordic imagery for their own purposes, and neo-Nazi groups such as the Vinlanders Social Club promote “a racist, pagan religion known as Odinism once practiced by Vikings,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Twitter critics were also keen to point out that Erikson may have been the first European to venture upon North American shores, but praising him for any “discovery” overlooked the Indigenous people who already lived there for many centuries.
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