Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) is in the national spotlight once again after a New York Times report published on Thursday quoted him seemingly defending white nationalism and white supremacy. During an interview with the New York Times reporter King asks, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

The article notes King during the interview said that he is not racist and that he supports legal immigration. He released a statement after the article published disavowing white nationalism and white supremacy, and stood by his defense of Western Civilization.

Today, the New York Times is suggesting that I am an advocate for white nationalism and white supremacy. I want to make one thing abundantly clear; I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define. Further, I condemn anyone that supports this evil and bigoted ideology which saw in its ultimate expression the systematic murder of 6 million innocent Jewish lives.

It’s true that like the Founding Fathers I am an advocate for Western Civilization’s values, and that I profoundly believe that America is the greatest tangible expression of these ideals the World has ever seen. Under any fair political definition, I am simply a Nationalist. America’s values are expressed in our founding documents, they are attainable by everyone and we take pride that people of all races, religions, and creeds from around the globe aspire to achieve them. I am dedicated to keeping America this way. 

This conviction does not make me a white nationalist or a white supremacist. Once again, I reject those labels and the ideology that they define. As I told the New York Times, ‘it’s not about race; it’s never been about race.’ One of my most strongly held beliefs is that we are all created in God’s image and that human life is sacred in all its forms.

On Friday, King gave a floor speech where he said he made a “freshman mistake” speaking with the New York Times reporter for 56 minutes without a tape. He said, “That resulted in a long article and in that article were snippets of that 56-minute interview. Part of that inquiry was about the history of the immigration policy in this country for over the last 18 or so years of which I have been a significant part, especially in Iowa.”

“One phrase in that long article has created an unnecessary controversy. That was my mistake, Mr. Speaker. And so I want to start this out with some context of that discussion. And that is this: If you can control the language, you can control the policy. Labels have been hurled in this country at people like we have never seen in this history of America,” King added.

He gave the example of a tweet he sent last fall:

“That’s the foundation for that discussion with, at least part of that discussion with the New York Times reporter Mr. Speaker. And in that was discussion of other terms that have been used almost always unjustly labeling otherwise innocent people,” King explained.

“The word racist, the word Nazi, the word racist, the phrase white nationalist, the phrase white supremacist, they are even derogatory toward Western Civilization which is the foundation for the American civilization and we are today the flagship,” he added.

He said the title of the article, “Before Trump, Steve King Set the Agenda for the Wall and Anti-Immigrant Policies” was prejorative. “I have never been anti-immigrant, I have been anti-illegal immigrant, and I remain that way,” King stated.

Referring to his quote in the New York Times that has garnered negative attention. “I look at that and say, ‘What was that conversation?’ It was about how those words got plugged into our dialogue. Not when the words became offensive, which is what the technical interpretation of this is how did that language become offensive? It is how did that offensive language get injected into our political dialogue? Who does that? How does it get done? How do they get by with laying labels like this on people? And I asked the question, ‘why did I sit in class teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?’ That response was strictly for why did I sit in Western Civilization classes to hear about the merits of our history. I’ve never sat in class at any time and heard any merits about any of those other names,” he explained.

“But Western Civilization has merit and I will remain a defender,” King added.

“One of my most strongly held beliefs is that we are all created in God’s image, and that human life is sacred in all of its forms. And all of my life’s work, all of my public record, all of my bills, all of my votes, and all of my activities support that statement: that human life is sacred in all of its forms, and we are created in God’s image,” King said.

“So Mr. Speaker, I regret the heartburn that has poured forth upon this Congress, this country, and especially in my state and my congressional district, but the people who know me know I wouldn’t even have to make this statement because they do know me. They know my life, they know my history, they know I’ve lived in the same place since 1978. They know there is nothing about my family or my history or my neighborhood that would suggest that these false allegations would be supported any activity whatsoever. I reject that ideology. I defend American civilization which is an essential component of Western Civilization,” King concluded.

Watch his entire speech:

Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) who yielded time so King could speak spoke out on his behalf. “I thank my friend from Iowa. I have traveled with him, been to different parts of the country and different parts of the world with my friend, Mr. King from Iowa. I’ve seen him deal with different races and nationalities around the world, and I’ve had a lot of private conversations. I’ve never seen anything that indicated anything but condemnation for white supremacists. But he is a proud American. He’s an American, he’s very proud of it, and he is proud to carry the moniker of being an American in any situation, and I would contend that’s not a bad thing,” he said.

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