Tom Cotton Reveals the True Threat of the '1619 Riots'

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool

On Monday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) delivered a powerful condemnation of the riots and the cancel culture iconoclasm of tearing down statues. He suggested that Americans should dub them the “1619 Riots,” and quoted two great American presidents in warning against the social menace the riots represent.


“These rioters hate America. In Portland, where they tore down the statue of Washington, they also spray-painted on him the date ‘1619’—a reference to the New York Times’s revisionist anti-American history project. Perhaps we should call them the ‘1619 Riots,'” Cotton suggested. “After all, the architect of that execrable project said, ‘it would be an honor.'”

Indeed, when Claremont’s Charles Kesler wrote in The New York Post, “Call them the 1619 riots,” the 1619 Project’s lead essayist, Nikole Hannah-Jones, responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots and the defamation of American Founding Fathers like George Washington.

Hannah-Jones said she would be “honored” by the moniker despite the fact that Kessler linked the toppling of statutes — perhaps the most direct link to the 1619 Project — with the lootingvandalism, and arson across America that destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. At least 20 Americans have died in the riots.

“America is burning,” Kessler wrote. “Rioters set fire to police stations and restaurants. Looters have ravaged shops from coast to coast. And now they’re coming for the statues — not just of Confederate generals, but the republic’s Founders, including George Washington, whose statue was torn down in Portland, Ore. Call them the 1619 riots.”


Naturally, Kessler was far from the first to tie the riots to the 1619 Project. The Stream’s John Zmirak beat him by about two weeks. Yet the “1619” on Washington’s statue and Hannah-Jones’ immediate response to Kessler’s article only confirm the idea that the toppling of Founders’ statues represents a fulfillment of the basic goal of the Times‘ project — to insist that slavery, not freedom, is the centerpiece of American exceptionalism and that the U.S. needs to be torn down from its foundations in order to fix “institutional racism.”

Cotton traced this “hatred for America” to the mob attack on the statue of Ulysses S. Grant, a Union general who helped quash the Confederacy. “That would also be President Grant, the political heir of Abraham Lincoln, a statesman who smashed the first Ku Klux Klan, signed the first major civil-rights legislation, and presided over the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. In one famous instance, President Grant sent in the troops to disperse a white mob in New Orleans that was terrorizing the city’s black and Republican residents, and had deposed the state’s lawful governor.”

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Grant would have condemned the kind of mob rule that the riots and the iconoclasts represent. Cotton quoted Grant, who said, “neither Ku Klux Klans, White Leagues, nor any other association using arms and violence to execute their unlawful purposes can be permitted in that way to govern any part of this country.”


Frederick Douglass, a former slave, eulogized Grant as “too broad for prejudice, too humane to despise the humblest, too great to be small at any point.” Yet the mob came for the great general and president.

Cotton quoted another great president, Abraham Lincoln, who warned against “the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny. Accounts of outrages committed by mobs, form the everyday news of the times.”

Cotton insisted that Lincoln’s words apply in America today. He noted that the mob toppled a statue of Confederate General Albert Pike in Washington, D.C., even though D.C.’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, had followed the lawful process for removing such a statue.

“The police stood idly by and watched as rioters toppled it and set it on fire. One can only assume they were ordered not to intervene by Washington’s left-wing mayor. But here’s the thing: steps were already underway to move that statue lawfully; Washington’s delegate in Congress had legislation to that effect. But mobs don’t care to negotiate, only to destroy,” Cotton declared. He quoted Holmes Norton: “I have no doubt I could have gotten that bill through, but the people got here before due process.”


“It’s hard to imagine a more chilling summation of mob rule,” the senator said.

This mob rule “threatens not just old statues, but the lives and livelihoods of us all. Indeed, the mob threatens civilization itself in many ways,” Cotton warned.

He noted that mobs “inevitably make mistakes and commit injustices.” For example, the Black Lives Matter mob vandalized the statue honoring the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment — the first black regiment of volunteers to fight for the Union. A mob in Philadelphia defaced the statue of Matthias Baldwin, a passionate abolitionist.

“Mobs don’t discriminate between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ targets of their destruction. That’s because they are mobs,” Cotton insisted.

“The mob doesn’t stop at statues. Rioters have already torched police precincts and low-income housing in Minneapolis. Churches and synagogues have been vandalized. Next, perhaps, the mob will target the homes of police officers. And soon enough, the mob may come for you, and your home, and your family,” the senator warned.

Indeed, the Black Lives Matter mob has come for many liberals, including New York Times op-ed editor James Bennet.

Cotton quoted Lincoln, who warned that as the mob expands, good citizens, “seeing their property destroyed; their families insulted, and their lives endangered; their persons injured; and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better; become tired of, and disgusted with, a Government that offers them no protection.”


Lincoln warned, “by operation of this mobocractic spirit, which all must admit, is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any Government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed—I mean the attachment of the People.”

As Cotton said, “The final victim of mob rule is the very spirit of civic-minded patriotism that’s necessary to preserve our republic.”

Cotton insisted that mob rule is the key threat from the “1619 Riots” and he again quoted Lincoln, “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.”

“We cannot tolerate mob rule and we cannot allow it to go unpunished,” the senator insisted.

Cotton is right, and the left’s drift toward mob rule is extremely worrisome. The anti-American ideas in the “1619 Project” are dangerous and patriots must counter them with hard truths. Yes, America had race-based slavery. No, it wasn’t the defining feature of our country: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are. Yes, those key documents promised freedoms that were too long denied to black people. No, we don’t continue to enslave black people, and our system is far more fair than it had been previously. Yes, disparities still exist. No, that doesn’t mean “white supremacy” and “institutional racism” are the defining traits of America.

The United States needs reform, not a Black Lives Matter upheaval. America has been a beacon of hope, freedom, and prosperity for the world and it should remain so. Americans should work together to hammer out solutions to deep problems, rather than tearing one another apart and erasing our history.


In order to reach that positive dialogue, Americans must reject this dangerous and destructive mob rule.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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