Over the past week, congressional Republicans have been scrambling to distance themselves from their white nationalist colleague, Rep. Steve King (R-IA).
After King asked the New York Times in a recent interview why terms like “white supremacy,” “white nationalism,” and “Western civilization” should be considered offensive, prompting sustained outrage, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) removed him from the Judiciary and Agricultural Committees. House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) said King should “find another line of work.” King is also facing a bipartisan censure motion, and on Tuesday, the House voted 424-1 to condemn white nationalism — a direct response to his New York Times interview.
King, however, still has Republican allies. Chief among them is Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX).
In a Wednesday interview with the Tyler Morning Telegraph, Gohmert did his utmost to defend King. “He was talking about Western civilization, that ‘When did Western civilization become a negative?’” Gohmert claimed. “That’s a fair question. When did Western civilization become a negative?”
“They started piling on with the innuendo and it was just grossly unfair,” Gohmert continued. “He was not given due process.”
While King might have gotten the headlines for his support of white nationalism, Gohmert, who sat on the Judiciary Committee with King, shares plenty of the same ideas. He’s said that George Soros, a frequent boogeyman for far-right anti-Semites, is to blame for the migrant caravan, and accused Soros of stealing property from other Jews.
Gohmert also backed down on his promises to give away campaign contributions from Earl Holt, president of the racist Council of Conservative Citizens, whose website Dylann Roof directly cited as inspiration for killing nine African American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.
Gohmert’s immigration rhetoric sounds a lot like President Donald Trump’s — and King’s for that matter. In 2010, Gohmert gave a speech in the House warning that the U.S. needed to enforce the border because it was being infiltrated with “terror babies” whose mothers would cross the border, give birth to them, and then send them off to be trained as terrorists. On Wednesday, Gohmert echoed Trump’s fear-mongering claim that the border is being “controlled” by violent Mexican drug cartels, which ignores the fact that immigrants have been consistently found to commit crimes at a far lower rate then native-born Americans.
Gohmert also used the term “southern border,” which NYU professor and authoritarianism expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat previously told ThinkProgress helps to normalize the idea that the U.S. is facing a security crisis from Hispanics and Latin America.
“The term ‘Southern Border’ was not a term used before until the Trump administration made it a thing,” Ben-Ghiat said. “Now everyone uses it. This is an internalization of a security crisis and an example of how we unwittingly get roped into this. You want to create the idea of the threat.”
King has also helped to directly inspire Trump’s hardline immigration stance. King pitched the idea of a border wall over a decade before Trump’s presidential campaign. During the New York Times interview that sparked the latest controversy, King bragged that he told Trump, “I market-tested your immigration policy for 14 years, and that ought to be worth something.”
“Let’s get the government reopened because we agree to do something to stop the death, the human carnage, the rape, all of these horrendous things brought about by drug cartels controlling our southern border. Let’s stop it.” https://t.co/Ku3jUauI8s
— Louie Gohmert (@replouiegohmert) January 17, 2019
King’s white nationalist comments are the latest in a long list of racist statements over the past several years. He’s referred to immigrants as “dirt,” retweeted a British neo-Nazi, and said that we “can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies.” In 2005, early in his congressional career, he made headlines by suing the Iowa secretary of state for posting voting information in languages other than English.
During this time, other prominent Republicans had no problem with King’s virulent racism. On Sunday, for instance, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) condemned King’s comments as “stupid,” “hurtful,” and “wrong,” but failed to mention that King had been his campaign’s national co-chair in 2016. On Monday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said that King should resign over his comments, but Romney endorsed King during his 2012 presidential run. “I’m looking here at Steve King… He needs to be your congressman again,” Romney said during a 2012 rally in Iowa. “I want him as my partner in Washington!”
Similarly, McCarthy did nothing to punish King in 2013, when McCarthy was majority whip, after King said that for every immigrant “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
As if to further emphasize the GOP’s comfort with white supremacy, on Thursday, Reps. Andy Harris (R-MA) and Phil Roe (R-TN) were spotted meeting Chuck Johnson, a far-right activist and grifter who has repeatedly claimed that Muslims and African Americans have “genetic differences” making them more likely to commit violence. In a statement released by Roe on Facebook, he explained that “at a request of another member” he’d met “to discuss DNA sequencing” and claimed to be completely unaware of Johnson’s views.