It takes a special kind of politician to add a weird and possibly racist element to a spectacular natural event like a total eclipse, but Rep. Steve King did it. On Monday, the Iowa Republican, who was in east Africa, published a bizarre tweet about the eclipse, which was not visible anywhere in Africa.
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) August 21, 2017
The image appears to be using the Harambe meme. Harambe, a gorilla killed in a May 2016 incident at the Cincinnati Zoo, was one of last year’s most popular internet memes. Although it was widely used, the meme became particularly popular with the alt right, who used it to update old racist tropes likening black people to gorillas.
It’s unclear what King meant by his tweet, but as Raw Story noted, many people were quick to assume the joke was playing off the racist tropes the alt right embraced. It’s not surprising people would assume King was being racist. In March, a story on King in The Atlantic began: “Steve King has always made a habit of speaking his mind, and quite frequently his mind has been controversial, blatantly false, or outright racist.”
Little Village emailed questions about the tweet to King’s Washington D.C. office, but has not yet received a reply.
The Republican congressman, who was elected to his eighth term representing western Iowa in 2016, was in Tanzania as part of an escort group returning three children to the country after they received medical treatment in Sioux City. The three children were survivors of bus crash in May that killed 32 children and three adults. The children were flown to Iowa for medical care by the Siouxland Tanzania Educational Medical Ministries (STEMM), a nonprofit that provides medical and educational services in Tanzania. STEMM dubbed the children the Tanzania Miracle Children, a name repeated in media accounts.
King included the hashtag #TanzaniaMiracleChildren in his eclipse tweet. As several people who responded to the tweet pointed out, that means King’s tweet will likely be the first thing anyone searching Twitter for news for the children will see.