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.
RPBMedia via Getty Images 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.
2020 will mark the 56th year since Leif Erickson Day was created by a congressional resolution and has been proclaimed by presidents ever since
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) October 8, 2020
White supremacist says what https://t.co/BUuK0q5Kyu
— Catherynne M. Valente (@catvalente) October 9, 2020
How about he can celebrate Leif Erikson Day and Nordic Americans by acknowledging the importance of universal healthcare, paid parental leave, environmental protections, diplomacy, a woman's right to choose, female heads of state, gun control, and automatic voter registration? https://t.co/e6sjvgtngq
— Kreidy Giantsbane (@kreidy_b) October 9, 2020
Hmmmm…as a descendant of Leif Erikson, I'm much more interested in getting out the vote for Biden and doing off every tRump sign/flag I see. (My nordic contribution) https://t.co/oAElstG0Kh
— BearHugger (@whitbit06) October 9, 2020
Presidents have been proclaiming Leif Erikson Day since 1964; it’s just another part of the job, like pardoning the turkey or letting kids run around the lawn looking for Easter eggs. But one suspects it’s among the few parts of the job Trump works up genuine enthusiasm for. https://t.co/w3198F7pN0
— Ron Hogan (@RonHogan) October 9, 2020
Lief Erikson day has apparently been around for like fifty years — never heard of it — but we should ABSOLUTELY be on guard for the weird dog-whistle that is "nordic" contributions to America from our white-supremacist-in-chief#medievaltwitter https://t.co/juiaVs7qcG
— Chris 👻 tHe JoB mArKeT 👻 Halsted (@HalstedMedieval) October 8, 2020
I’m Scandinavian American, born in America. I celebrate my ancestry proudly. And one way I do is by taking Valhalla back from those who would use it in the name of hate… mostly impostors. Today would be a good day for the one in the White House to resign.
— Candy England (@Izziebettz2) October 9, 2020
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.
It's Leif Erikson day.Good time to remind everyone that white people didn't "discover" North America, people already lived here.
— Lils but Spooky (@AnarchistAuthor) October 9, 2020
Leif Erikson is great & I'm a second generation descendent of Norwegian immigrants myself so I'm down to hear about the Vinland saga, but enough with this "discovery" bullshit.Nobody from Europe "discovered" North America. Indigenous Americans already lived here for millenia. https://t.co/f0xIUO2ntQ
— Dr. Angela Rasmussen (@angie_rasmussen) October 9, 2020 RELATED… Vinland, or the Guy Who Pipped Columbus at the Post: Canadian Odyssey on the Looney Front – Part 7 White House Refuses Direct Answer On Whether Trump Condemns White Supremacy Man In Militia Plot To Kidnap Michigan Governor Shared Stage With Extremist Sheriff Download Calling all HuffPost superfans! Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter Join HuffPost