Mark Robinson, lieutenant governor of North Carolina, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on Saturday, March 4, 2023.
CNN  — 

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor and the GOP front-runner for the 2024 gubernatorial race, repeatedly lambasted the “so-called” 1960s Civil Rights Movement, lamenting that “so many freedoms were lost during the civil rights movement.”

In a CNN KFile review of his media appearances over the last five years, Robinson baselessly claimed that the Civil Rights Movement was a communist plot to “subvert capitalism” and used “to subvert free choice and where you go to school and things like that.”

“So many things were lost during the Civil Rights Movement. So many freedoms were lost during the Civil Rights Movement. They shouldn’t have been lost,” Robinson said in a March 2018 podcast episode.

Robinson made many of the comments on the podcast “Politics and Prophecy” with host Chris Levels on Freedomizer Radio, a station whose slogan says “Freedomists Freedomizing Freedom.” Levels is a conspiracy theorist who has shared 9/11 truther posts on Facebook, called the Olympics an illuminati event from Satan and shared posts saying Jews control nearly everything in society.

Robinson’s previously unreported comments criticizing the Civil Rights Movement starkly contrast the rhetoric he recently espoused highlighting his hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, as “an epicenter of the Civil Rights’ Movement.” Greensboro was home to the Woolworth lunch counter sit-in protests in 1960 started by four Black students. Robinson befriended one of the later participants of the protest – Clarence Henderson – after launching his political career.

Robinson is currently seen as the GOP favorite for North Carolina’s gubernatorial race, where he will likely face Democrat Josh Stein, the state’s attorney general. The current Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, is term-limited.

After publication, Robinson published a video with Henderson, a civil rights icon, saying that he “couldn’t be more proud” of Henderson’s work in the Civil Rights Movement and now. Robinson ended the video by saying, “I’ll tell you what. You made history in this state once before. I’m gonna make history again.”

Prior to his political career, Robinson frequently referred to the civil rights’ era as the “so-called Civil Rights Movement” and criticized the Greensboro lunch counter protests as a “ridiculous premise” designed to pull “the rug out from underneath capitalism and free choice and the free market.”

“You talk about the sit-in movement. We’re in a free market system. So we’ve got a place called Woolworth in Greensboro that won’t serve Blacks at the lunch counter. What do you do? You go down there and you sit at the lunch counter and you demand for these people to take your money. How crazy is that?” said Robinson in March 2018. “That’s not what you do in a free market system. What you do in a free market system is you just say, ‘Hey guys, these guys don’t treat people fair. Do not eat here.’”

“A place where everybody can eat and let’s see who does the best. That’s what you do in a free market system. You don’t force these guys to take your – sit there and you know, ‘You’re gonna take my money. You’re gonna take my money. I’m gonna enrich you whether you like it or not,’” he said, adopting a silly voice. “That’s a ridiculous premise. You know, and I’ve always argued that. But it goes hand-in-hand with that whole thing of, uh, communists and socialists slowly pulling the rug out from underneath capitalism and free choice and the free market.”

But in a story Robinson relayed on a podcast in June 2022, during his first term as lieutenant governor, he recalled sitting at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s as a child and not appreciating the history of the place.

“I used to sit at that counter and eat that hot, eat, eat my food. My feet wouldn’t even touch the floor when I sat on the stool ‘cause I was so small. And I sat at that counter and when I think back on it now, I think I had no idea what happened there as a kid. I had no idea the cost that people had to pay for me to be able to come in there and sit at that counter. And that’s just always been something that’s been very striking,” said Robinson.

In other comments, Robinson blamed the movement for destroying “hundreds of very well-run Black schools” and black businesses.

“The Civil Rights Movement destroyed hundreds of very well-run Black schools. They destroyed Black businesses across the nation. Once businesses became integrated right here in Greensboro, once Woolworth became integrated and the other cafeterias, white cafeterias became integrated, Black folks stopped going to the Black businesses. And they went out of business.”

“And they went out of business because we start [sic] giving our dollars to people who didn’t want them to begin with or want them on their terms. If we had not listened to those communists and had put our dollars in our pockets and built up our society, we could have drawn well-meaning Whites to our side and run Woolworth out of business instead of the other way around,” said Robinson.

This was not the first time Robinson made unpopular comments on historical figures. In another episode of Politics and Prophecy from November 2018, Robinson said that former President Lydon B. Johnson’s “Great Society,” a series of policy initiatives to reform social welfare, were a way to keep Black Americans on a “de facto plantation” and keep “negroes” in their place.

“I believe that was the intention of Lyndon Johnson and all of his, uh, all of his cronies was to create a system that would keep Black folks in their place, keep them on a de facto plantation where they could not branch out and steadily ratchet up the pressure on them. Steadily bring the walls in on ‘em. And it has been a concentrated effort ever since to make sure that Negroes stay in their place,” he said.

And in a Facebook Live post from January 2019, Robinson praised Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a Republican politician known for claiming that “card-carrying” communists had infiltrated the federal government, Hollywood and universities in order to subvert the United States.

“Folks laughed at [Joseph] McCarthy back in the fifties when he was talking about communism invading these shores. But those folks were telling the truth. And now because people ignored that truth, those things have come back in spades,” he said. “Folks didn’t believe [Joseph] McCarthy when he said our government was covered up with communists. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders is proof of that.”

Neither Ocasio-Cortez nor Sanders are communists; they are self-declared democratic socialists.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to accurately reflect Clarence Henderson’s participation in the Woolworth lunch counter sit-in protests in Greensboro, North Carolina.