Iowa’s most famous congressman, Steve King, took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday to assure the nation that, despite his long history of white nationalist statements, his loudly professed belief in white nationalist conspiracy theories and his endorsement of white nationalist political candidates, he is not a white nationalist.
“But the people who know [me], know I wouldn’t even have to make this statement, because they do know me,” King said, during his six-and-a-half minute speech.
King felt the need to try to convince people that he’s simply “an advocate for Western civilization’s values,” and not a “white nationalist or white supremacist” after some prominent national Republicans denounced statements by King included in a lengthy profile of the nine-term western Iowa congressman published by the New York Times on Thursday.
Most of the attention was focused on a particular quote from King.
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Mr. King said. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
“I will admit I am unsure who is offended by the term ‘Western civilization’ on its own, but anyone who needs ‘white nationalist’ or ‘white supremacist’ defined, described and defended does lack some pretty common knowledge,” Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in the U.S. Senate, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed responding to the Times’ King profile.
Three months ago, a white supremacist killed two black people in a parking lot in Kentucky. We are only 18 months from Charlottesville, where white nationalists killed a white woman with a car and severely beat multiple black people. Almost four years ago, a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, S.C. In 1998, white supremacists dragged James Byrd Jr., behind a pickup truck through Jasper, Tex., decapitating him in the process.
These are just a sliver of the havoc that white nationalists and white supremacists have strewn across our nation for hundreds of years. Four little girls killed in a bombing in Birmingham, Ala., thousands lynched and countless hearts and minds turned cruel and hateful.
Scott added, “King’s comments are not conservative views but separate views that should be ridiculed at every turn possible.”
King, on the other hand, claimed in his speech that his words had been misunderstood, and he was merely pondering aloud the “labels [that] have been hurled” at him and those who share his beliefs. He referenced a Sept. 12 tweet in which he dismissed terms like white nationalist as “Leftist talking points [used] because the worn out & exhausted ‘racist’ is over used & applied to everyone who lacks melanin & who fail to virtue signal at the requisite frequency & decibels.”
It was a different tweet, however, that took up the bulk of King’s floor time.
The Kiron, Iowa Republican (“I’ve lived in the same place since 1978,” King told listeners on Friday) read aloud the statement he tweeted on Thursday after the Times published its story.
My statement on the New York Times article. pic.twitter.com/IjBHgZYgRD
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) January 10, 2019
“All of my life’s work, all of my public record, all of my bills, all of my votes, all of my activities” show that he is neither a white nationalist nor a white supremacist, King said after he finished reading his statement. But as the Times showed, white nationalists enthusiastically claim King as one of their own.
The story included a 2017 quote from Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer: “Steve King is basically an open white nationalist at this point.”
Although King has been making statements any white nationalist would embrace for as long as he’s been in public life, it was only in late October that national Republicans took any action against him.
On Oct. 30, Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, announced the committee was withdrawing its support for King’s reelection. Stivers tweeted, “We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn [King’s] behavior.”
Although national Republican leaders have verbally condemned King’s statement to the Times, they have not taken any action, such as censuring King or removing him from committee assignments in the House. Still, they’ve been more proactive than Iowa’s three most prominent Republicans.
Neither Gov. Reynolds nor Sens. Grassley and Ernst have made public statements in response to the Times story or King’s subsequent comments. All three endorsed King for reelection last year. Reynolds kept King as a co-chair of her 2018 election campaign despite repeated calls for her to drop him, and even had King as a featured speaker at her final campaign event.
King is notorious for refusing to apologize for his remarks, no matter how offensive people find them, and in his speech on Friday, the closest he came was, “I regret the heartburn that has poured forth upon this Congress, this country — especially in my state and my congressional district.”