The Other Time Steve King Pleaded Ignorance About a White Supremacist — Six Years Ago

Remaining silent are GOP leaders across Iowa, including Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has kept the congressman on as a campaign co-chair

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Earlier this month, Congressman Steve King once again vaulted his name into national news headlines with his staunch anti-immigrant views, this time for retweeting a Breitbart article shared by British white supremacist and self-described “Nazi sympathizer” Mark Collett. Although the retweet — and another of Collett’s from May 4 — remain on his Twitter account, King eventually told reporters that he didn’t know who Collett was and remained unsure of whether he truly was a neo-Nazi. It’s a disingenuous act the congressman has pulled before.

In 2012, King attended the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, to appear on a panel titled, “The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the pursuit of diversity is weakening the American identity.” The panel was organized by ProEnglish, a nonprofit that, like King, supported the English-only movement and was founded by John Tanton, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

The panel was hosted by Robert Vandervoort, the director of ProEnglish at the time and an ally of Jared Taylor, editor of the online white supremacist magazine American Renaissance. Vandervoort kicked off the panel by thanking CPAC organizers for not bowing to “leftist thugs” who called for the event’s cancellation because of another panelist: Peter Brimelow, founder of VDARE, an anti-immigration website known for its associations with white supremacists.

Brimelow slammed Democrats during the panel discussion, saying the party had “given up on the white working class” in the interest of establishing a new voting bloc of ethnic minorities. King then told Brimelow, “I’ve read all your books!” and praised the author for how he “eloquently wrote about the balkanization of America” — a term employed by white supremacists to warn of the dangers of geopolitical fragmentation posed by immigration.

Afterward, King was approached by BuzzFeed reporter Rosie Gray, who asked the congressman if he was concerned about the implications of sitting on a panel with Brimelow, whom she referred to as a white nationalist. “I don’t know anything about that,” King replied, adding, in Gray’s words, “that he wasn’t totally familiar with Brimelow’s work.” When Gray explained that the description of Brimelow as a white nationalist came from the Southern Poverty Law Center, King laughed. “I wouldn’t take them seriously,” he said. “No, not at all.”

Similarly, when the national media took notice this month of King’s retweets of Collett, the congressman initially dodged questions but, two days after the latest retweet, told reporters he didn’t know who Collett was. When one explained he was a Nazi sympathizer, King replied, “I still don’t know that.” Earlier that day, he independently tweeted the Breitbart article that Collett had shared, about a poll showing a majority of Italians opposed to “mass immigration,” with an apparent disclaimer: “This is my message from Breitbart to America.” But King still has not undone either of his retweets.

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Collett’s ties to white supremacy and neo-Nazism, as the Huffington Post and other news outlets had made clear the previous day, are undeniable. In 2002, Collett was featured in the undercover documentary Young, Nazi and Proud, in which he claims AIDS is a “friendly disease because blacks, drug users, and gays have it” and praises Adolf Hitler. He recently dated Eva Van Housen, a neo-Nazi with a swastika tattoo on her left breast. His recent book, The Fall of Western Man, is endorsed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Mark Collett's former girlfriend Eva Van Housen posing in front of a Nazi flag in an image uploaded to one of her social media accounts. Image via The Sun
Mark Collett’s former girlfriend Eva Van Housen posing in front of a Nazi flag in an image uploaded to one of her social media accounts. Image via The Sun

Given King’s fascination with leaders of Europe’s far-right fringes, several of whom he’s traveled to meet with in person, including members of an Austrian party founded in the 1950s by former Nazis, it seems questionable that the congressman was truly unaware of Collett, who has a well-known political background of his own. A former chairman of the youth division of the British National Party, he was briefly expelled from the party over his AIDS remarks and later unwittingly recorded for another documentary, The Secret Agent, calling asylum seekers “cockroaches.” He and BNP leader Nick Griffin were eventually charged with hate crimes but acquitted, before Collett was booted from the party for good in 2010 for trying to oust Griffin, whom he allegedly threatened to kill. More recently, Collett campaigned in support of the Brexit campaign to get the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, angering leaders of the cause who didn’t want it to be associated with Van Housen’s neo-Nazism.

On the day after King’s denial about Collett, the New York Times published an article with the headline “Steve King’s Inflammatory Behavior Is Met With Silence From G.O.P.” Its focus was on the congressman’s colleagues in Washington, but the headline is equally true of Iowa Republicans, locally in Story County and throughout King’s 4th District and all the way up to Gov. Kim Reynolds, who continues to keep him as one of her campaign co-chairs despite his repeated and longstanding embrace of white supremacists.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.