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Meet the American congressman who’s a champion of European neo-Nazis

Steve King of Iowa shows that the Republican racism problem didn’t start with Donald Trump. 

By Mehdi Hasan

Did you know that neo-Nazis have a champion in the United States Congress? Meet the eight-term Republican congressman Steve King of Iowa. In June, King retweeted self-described “Nazi sympathiser” Mark Collett, a former British National Party official, who had said: “65 per cent of Italians under the age of 35 now oppose mass immigration. Europe is waking up…” The congressman, in his retweet, added an ominous question of his own: “Europe is waking up… Will America… in time?”

King later claimed that he had been unaware of Collett’s neo-Nazi views but refused to apologise for the retweet – and has yet to delete it. Then again, why would he? The congressman has repeatedly declined to deny he is a white nationalist or white supremacist – despite being lauded both by the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, which described the Iowa representative as “King Steve”; as “basically an open white nationalist” and “our guy”.

King also has a long history of jaw-dropping remarks. In June, he told Breitbart Radio that Somali-American Muslims should be prevented from working in meat-packing plants in Iowa because, he claimed, they want pork eaters to “go to hell”. Three months earlier, he told CNN he wanted “an America that’s just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same”. And, in 2016, King told MSNBC that white people have contributed more to civilisation than “any other subgroup of people”.

These are not so much dog whistles as sirens. The modern Republican Party does not lack for xenophobes or Islamophobes, but what makes King stand out is his refusal to mask his bigotry. In recent years, the leaders of Europe’s far-right parties have been able to count on the public support of this high-profile, outspoken member of the US Congress. In September 2016, when the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party was standing in the German regional elections, King tweeted a picture of himself with then AfD leader Frauke Petry – who has called for the shooting of “illegal” immigrants – with the message: “Wishing you successful vote. Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end.” In February 2017, ahead of the French presidential election, King tweeted a picture of himself with the National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, hailing their “shared values”.

In March 2017, three days before the Dutch parliamentary elections, King endorsed the anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has called Moroccan migrants “scum”. “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” tweeted the congressman. “We can’t restore our civilisation with somebody else’s babies.”

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Somebody else’s babies? This is the narrative of white nationalism, plain and simple. It is a core component of the “white genocide” conspiracy theory popularised on far-right blogs and online forums, which says a combination of mass immigration, inter-marriage, low fertility rates and abortion are destroying the West.

So, why hasn’t King been drummed out of the Republican Party? Which other mainstream conservative political party in the West would tolerate this kind of noxious rhetoric and bigoted behaviour from one of its elected members? In July, HuffPost reporter Christopher Mathias asked the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican National Committee, the Republican governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, and the Republican senator Ted Cruz – whose presidential campaign King co-chaired in 2016 – to comment on the Iowa congressman retweeting a neo-Nazi.

Their response? Radio silence. Mathias also reminded readers of the speaker Paul Ryan’s craven statement on King’s earlier racist tweet about “somebody else’s babies” in 2017: “I’d like to think he misspoke.”

The GOP’s refusal to condemn or censure King, who chairs the House’s judiciary committee’s subcommittee on the constitution and civil justice, poses a real danger to minority communities in the US. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of US hate groups has soared by 20 per cent since 2014, with neo-Nazi groups seeing the biggest increase of all. The words of King, like Trump, encourage and embolden such groups.

Yet King, unlike Trump, has been a fixture both in the conservative movement and in national politics since his election to Congress 16 years ago. He was vice-chair of the House judiciary committee’s immigration subcommittee back when Trump was hosting beauty pageants and reality TV shows.  He is, therefore, a stark and toxic reminder that the Republican Party’s white nationalism problem did not begin with Trump. His presidency is a symptom, not a cause, of the GOP’s decades-long normalisation of racism and bigotry.

There may, however, be a bright spot on the horizon: five weeks out from the November midterms, King is facing a stiff challenge from his Democratic opponent, JD Scholten, a former professional baseball player. A recent poll showed the Republican incumbent with only a 6 point lead in a state where Trump trounced Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than 10 points.

So will Iowa Republican voters turn a blind eye to King’s far-right, neo-Nazi-aligned views and send him back to Congress for a ninth term? Will his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill continue to shrug their shoulders and allow him to continue chairing House subcommittees? If so, Steve King will be undeniable evidence that the modern Republican Party has much, much more than Donald Trump to answer for. l

Mehdi Hasan is a writer and broadcaster based in Washington, DC and a New Statesman contributing editor

This article appears in the 03 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The fury of the Far Right