Peter King looking rather dazed and confused. Photo via Flickr user Azi Paybarah
Smart people can argue about whether former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor or a whistleblower or whatever. Maybe you despise the mass surveillance regime he revealed last year by leaking huge troves of classified data to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and respect the man's courage for sticking his neck out. Or you might see him as the worst kind of self-righteous iconoclast, a misguided computer geek carelessly revealing state secrets to bolster his activist bona fides.
What cannot be disputed, however, is that Peter King, a Republican congressman from Long Island, New York—who responded with outrage on Monday to the announcement that the reporting on Snowden's leaks had won the Washington Post and Guardian a Pulitzer Prize—is a hypocritical asshole who should be cast out of public life as soon as possible.
Taking to Twitter (as well as speaking to the Associated Press), the blowhard—who, by the way, leads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence—immediately called the awarding of the prize to the reporters who broke the biggest story of 2013 a "disgrace." Keep in mind, this is the same guy who called for legal action against Greenwald last June when the leaks first began to emerge, just one of many ominous signs from American officials that ultimately made the journalist's return to the US from Brazil this week such a dramatic event.
Fortunately for the rule of law, the Obama administration did not attempt to arrest or abduct Greenwald. But if King—who hopes to chair the House Intelligence Committee and has also sort-of promised to run for (ha!) president of the United States in 2016—had his way, Greenwald would presumably be on his way to Guantanamo Bay at this very moment.
As Barack Obama would say, let me be clear: This is far from the only time King has said something that makes it sound like he pines for a more authoritarian country since first being elected to Congress back in 1992. King routinely cites the horrific specter of 9/11 to justify the creeping national security state; in his reality, if the PRISM program had been fully operational back in the fall of 2001, disaster might have been averted. (Students of history will recall that the US intelligence apparatus had all the information it needed—George Bush just didn't really care to pay attention.)
King also insisted on holding a series of hearings about Muslim radicalization in 2011 and 2012 despite evidence that home-grown domestic terrorists (that is, crazy white guys with guns like the bigoted old man who went on an anti-Semitic rampage at two Jewish centers in Kansas City on Sunday) are the greater threat. For a sense of just how fringe this man can be, even John Yoo—the notorious Bush administation legal lackey who authored the memos used to justify torture—has (so far, at least) declined to savage the Pulitzer committee as King has.
But perhaps the most confusing part of King's political beliefs is that he's a longtime supporter of the Irish Republican Army—the car-bomb-loving group that has committed many acts of terrorism in the name of winning independence from the British.
"My problem with him is the hypocrisy," Tom Parker, a counterterrorism specialist who was injured by an IRA bomb in 1990, told the Washington Post in 2011. "If you say that terrorist violence is acceptable in one setting because you happen to agree with the cause, then you lose the authority to condemn it in another setting."
I actually hope King does run for president, if only because it might provide an opening for someone else to claim his congressional seat and thereby boot the guy off the TV airwaves (at least until Fox News or some other outlet that peddles right-wing fantasies snatches him up). His campaign, from what I can tell, would be an extended rant about how we need to go to war with more countries more often and crack down on investigative journalism. The one redeeming element to his biography is that King has occasionally called out some of the loons in his own party for their ideological extremism—which is awfully rich coming from him. (Even when he broke with his GOP allies, that was only in hopes of securing federal funding for his constituents and thus his own re-election.)
So while the verdict is still out on exactly what kind of person Snowden is—the Pulitzer committee recognized the journalism based on his disclosures, not the act of leaking itself—the ongoing NSA scandal has already accomplished another lofty goal: reminding us that Peter King has got to go.
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