When did being a “white supremacist” or "white nationalist" become a bad thing? That’s what Rep. Steve King, the sitting GOP congressman from Iowa, wants to know.
King has won re-election every year since 2003 in Iowa’s red-leaning 4th District but has long fended off accusations that he harbors white supremacist or white nationalist beliefs. And his recent interview with the New York Times hasn’t helped his defense.
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King asked the Times. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
Following an outcry over his comments, King released a statement on Twitter rejecting attempts to label him a white supremacist. “The New York Times is suggesting I am an advocate for white nationalism and white supremacy,” King said. “I want to make one thing abundantly clear; I reject those labels and the evil ideology they define.”
But, King added, there’s nothing wrong with being a nationalist. “It’s true that, like the Founding Fathers, I am an advocate for Western Civilization’s values, and I profoundly believe that America is the greatest tangible expression of these ideals the world has ever seen,” King said. “Under any fair political definition, I am simply a nationalist.”
It’s a similar admission to the one President Donald Trump made at a rally in Houston last October.
“Really, we’re not supposed to use that word,” Trump said. “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word.” The president, however, bristled at the insinuation that what he really meant was white nationalist.
In the weeks leading up to the November midterm elections, King found himself on the ropes as decades of simmering allegations of racism finally came to a head. For example, King traveled to Austria last summer on a trip funded by a Holocaust memorial group and met with a members of a Nazi-linked, far-right political party party. During that same trip, King gave an interview to a far-right publication, the Huffington Post reported, in which he bemoaned the threats to “Western civilization” as a result of Latino and Arab immigration, falling birth rates, and European superiority.
After that, several corporate brands pulled their financial support for him, and he encountered protesters at his events. The National Republican Congressional Committee also pulled support for King over his alleged support for white nationalists. King endorsed Faith Goldy, the white nationalist poster girl who ran for mayor of Toronto; retweeted a well known neo-Nazi; and wrote on Twitter in 2017 that “we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.”
But King still eked out a victory in Iowa in November, with just 50.4 percent of the vote. (He took home 61 percent of the vote in 2016.). With the midterms barely behind him, he’s already got a primary challenge from Republican state Sen. Randy Feenstra.
“Today, Iowa’s 4th District doesn’t have a voice in Washington,” Feenstra said in a statement to local media, adding, “because our current representative’s caustic nature has left us without a seat at the table.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, suggested in an interview with WHO-TV on Wednesday that she wouldn’t back King over Feenstra, noting that “people weren’t happy” about his re-election.
King has also lost the support of prominent conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who suggested that the GOP should censure the congressman. Shapiro added a note on Thursday to a a long defense of King published in March 2017 that, in light of his recent statements, it wasn’t so implausible that King harbors white nationalist views after all.
Cover image: Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, looks for his ride after the final votes of the week on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)