The New York Times reported earlier this week that Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn recently met with Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of a far-right Austrian political party with Nazi roots called the Freedom Party.
Iowa Congressman Steve King, too, recently met with Strache, according to the Vienna newspaper Die Presse, which reported that during a trip to the US from Oct. 30 to Nov. 6 Strache met with Staten Island council member Joseph Borelli, a co-chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign; North Carolina Congressman Robert Pittenger; and King. (In an interview with the Village Voice, Borelli denied meeting Strache. The Informer has reached out to King’s office about the report; this post will be updated if we hear back.)
King has also met with recent Freedom Party presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, whose narrow defeat in Austria’s Dec. 5 election was seen as a welcome relief from the tide of far-right nationalism sweeping Europe and, with Trump’s election, the US, driven by anti-immigrant sentiment exacerbated by the Syrian civil war’s refugee crisis and the specter of terrorism. After Hofer’s loss, King tweeted a sympathetic message referring to their “friendship”:
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) December 5, 2016
According to a report in Österreich, another Vienna-based newspaper, Hofer described King as a “partner” in the defense of Western civilization after the two met in early October in Austria’s capital city. “The Austria Press Agency says U.S. Rep. Steve King spoke Tuesday in Vienna,” the Associated Press reported Oct. 4. “In comments translated into German, APA cites King as saying after meeting Norbert Hofer that Western civilization has to be defended and that Hofer speaks moderately but very clearly on this issue.”
Hofer, who rose to prominence in the Freedom Party as an adviser to Strache, portrayed himself as a moderate and has been described in the European press as the doe-eyed “friendly face of the FPÖ [Freedom Party].” But an ally of the late Jörg Haider, who led the Freedom Party in the ’90s, warned Hofer was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and a “ticking timebomb” with views too extreme for Haider, who made efforts to soften the party’s nationalistic rhetoric.
In 2011, Hofer helped rewrite the party’s manifesto, bringing back the sort of rhetoric from which Haider had shied away, including a “commitment to a German people and cultural community” and the term Volksgemeinschaft, which was used by Adolf Hitler as a propaganda device to describe the racially unified nationalism the genocidal leader sought to impose on Austria and across Europe.
The Freedom Party was founded in 1956 by former Nazis. Its first leader was Anton Reinthaller, a former officer in the SS, Hitler’s paramilitary force that operated Auschwitz and other extermination camps during World War II. The party is sometimes referred to as a neo-Nazi party and was described by the New Statesman in 2013 as an “infamous far-right party,” under Strache, “preaching aggressively populist nationalism and reactionary rhetoric which often encompasses racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.”
Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser who reportedly met with Strache, has flirted with anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on Twitter, where he has retweeted an anti-Semitic commentator’s link to a video clip of a former Muslim who equated all of Islam with ISIS and where Flynn himself tweeted “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” encouraging his followers to watch a conspiratorial anti-Islam video.
The incoming Trump administration has been friendly with Europe’s far right, supporting among other causes Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, and, in Russia, with Vladimir Putin, whose ruling party recently signed a cooperation agreement with Strache.
King’s meetings with Freedom Party leaders weren’t the congressman’s first flirtations with Europe’s far right. In September, he retweeted a Montana writer who called him a white nationalist in response to a photo King tweeted of himself posing with Geert Wilders, who leads the Netherlands’ anti-Islam Party for Freedom, and Frauke “Adolfina” Petry, who chairs the far-right Alternative for Germany party. In the tweet, King added the message, “Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end”: