Congressman Steve King is making the case for reinstating his committee assignments, which were revoked after his comments in support of white supremacy. Liam Glen writes on why King is as noxious as ever.
In early 2019, controversial Republican Congressman Steve King from Iowa’s 4th district was interviewed by the New York Times, where among other comments he said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
This was the last straw for Republican House leaders, who responded by removing him from all Congressional committees. This, in essence, rendered him a lame duck with little ability to influence legislation.
But that does not mean that the party has completely disowned him. Later that year, a group of House Republicans allowed him to join their protest against the impeachment inquiries against President Donald Trump. Now, King is saying that he has made a deal with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to regain his committee assignments.
However, Politico reports that McCarthy “only agreed to allow King to pitch the GOP steering committee on the idea,” meaning that his return to power is far from guaranteed.
Any move to reinstate him would show a shocking level of tolerance for clearly intolerant views. King represents the worst aspects of American politics, and forgiving him would set a disturbing precedent for what is acceptable conduct in Congress.
King insists that he is not a white supremacist and that he was misquoted in the New York Times. In the same interview, he said that the “culture of America” is more important than race, insisting that he is a mere cultural chauvinist rather than a biological racist. In either case, his actions leading up to that point reveal a troubling pattern of behavior.
He has most often gotten himself in trouble through his support for far-right movements abroad. He praised the Netherlands’ chief Islamophobe Geert Wilders with comments like “Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end” and “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” then signaled his approval of anti-immigrant Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán by tweeting “Diversity is not our strength.”
In October 2018, he endorsed Faith Goldy as mayor of Toronto, Canada, saying that she was “Pro Western Civilization and a fighter for our values.” Goldy is a far-right activist who at that point had long fallen into the neo-Nazi rabbit hole, notably having praised the Unite the Right Charlottesville protesters’ “well thought-out ideas” about topics ranging “from race to the JQ [Jewish question].” In that election, she won 3.4 percent of the vote.
The very same month, King went on a trip to Europe funded by the Holocaust memorial nonprofit From the Depths, but then detoured to speak with the far-right Austrian publication Unzensuriert. During that interview, he discussed white supremacist ideas like the Great Replacement, a conspiracy theory born out of paranoia of increasing non-white populations in Western countries.
The full list of everything abhorrent that King has said or done would go on too long, but his views on Muslim immigration (“you might call that a peaceful invasion, but that’s the nicest thing you can call it. They’re not assimilating.”) and birth control (“Preventing babies from being born is not medicine. That’s not — that’s not constructive to our culture and our civilization. If we let our birth rate get down below replacement rate we’re a dying civilization.”) are particularly noteworthy.
One or two of these incidents may have been a misstatement or the result of getting bad information from aides, but put together they are impossible to waive away.
They go even beyond the simple, ignorant form of bigotry rooted in fear and hatred of things that are different. King’s references to concepts like the Great Replacement indicate that he is literate in the strange, intricate, and much more insidious world of far-right conspiracy theories that has spread widely through the internet in recent years.
If Steve King was a fictional character, one would say that he is a crude caricature of American conservatism. There is no way that someone like him could be elected to nine terms in the House of Representatives. Yet, somehow he has endured, and there is a chance that he will be able to make it through yet again.
It would be difficult to measure whether racial and religious hatred in the United States has grown worse over the past few years, but it has certainly become more visible and high-profile.
In the week following the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush responded to growing Islamophobia by saying “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”
In 2016, meanwhile, Donald Trump was elected to the office despite earlier calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”
Giving Steve King a chance at rehabilitation would be a particularly bizarre move while he is facing strong primary challengers that have received support from groups like the GOP’s Defending Main Street PAC and the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Meanwhile, rather than distracting from the issue, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a boon for white supremacist groups. With so many people feeling aggrieved and spending more of their time online, it has become easier to suck them into the same far-right conspiracy world that King promotes so heavily.
Already, the degrees of separation between the rulers of the nation and literal neo-Nazis are growing distressingly few.
For instance, Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller is an avid reader of white nationalist publications like VDARE (which has published articles claiming that “The vast majority of Americans live under the comfortable illusion that theirs is a free country… the Jewish Establishment will strongly resist any discussion of Jewish influence or dual loyalty in any area of public policy”) and American Renaissance (which holds annual conferences featuring people like former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and Stormfront operator Don Black).
Meanwhile, Trump’s former campaign chief executive Steve Bannon (who is now trying to regain the president’s favor) spent a large part of the 2016 election season partnering with his protégé Milo Yiannopoulos to team up with avowed white nationalists to build their “alt-right” movement.
Less than a decade ago, this type of open white supremacy could always be roundly condemned across the political spectrum. Now, a small, but still dangerously large, section of American pundits and politicians are willing to flirt with it. Any exoneration of Steve King will set a worrying message for how far this is allowed to go.
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