A far-right Austrian political party whose leaders visited Washington last year to witness the Trump inauguration with Steve King caused a stir this week after proposing a law that would require Jews and Muslims to register with the government in order to purchase kosher and halal meats, respectively.
The proposal came from the Freedom Party of Austria, or FPÖ, which was founded in 1956 by former Nazis, including a member of Adolf Hitler’s SS, and in last October’s legislative election made major gains amid the wave of anti-migrant nationalism sweeping Europe.
On January 18, 2017, two days before President Trump’s inauguration, King tweeted a photo (embedded below) of himself posing with congresswomen Michele Bachmann and Marsha Blackburn and leading FPÖ members. They included Andreas Karlsböck (far left), a member of parliament; opposition leader and soon-to-be Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (second from left); and Norbert Hofer (second from right), who came close to winning the country’s 2016 presidential election.
Austrian Freedom Party leadership MP’s here to celebrate Trump inauguration. Hofer, Strache, Karlsboeck w/King, Blackburn, Bachmann, etc. pic.twitter.com/Hdb86Tzg4q
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) January 19, 2017
It wasn’t King’s first encounter with FPÖ leaders. In October 2016, he traveled to Vienna to endorse Hofer’s candidacy, praising his anti-immigration platform. An Associated Press article titled “Austrian presidential hopeful meets US Trump backer,” translating a report from the Austria Press Agency, noted that King said “after meeting Norbert Hofer that Western civilization has to be defended and that Hofer speaks moderately but very clearly on this issue.”
As for the proposal to require Jews and Muslims to register with the government to purchase meat, an FPÖ spokesperson told the Washington Post Thursday that his party was being unfairly criticized. “All we’re doing now is to follow the rules,” he said, claiming that the proposed law was actually first drafted last year by the center-left Social Democratic Party. “This is absolutely not about religion — it’s about animal protection.” But that proposal applied only to butchers preparing the meats, not their customers.
“This constitutes an attack on Jewish and Muslim life,” the American Jewish Committee, an organization based in Berlin, told the Post. “Soon with a star on the chest?” Likewise, Vienna’s Israeli Cultural Community condemned the proposal as an “Aryan paragraph.”
Just last month, King caused a stir of his own over a similar issue when he was interviewed on the radio program Breitbart News Daily, arguing that Somali Muslim immigrants should not work in pork processing plants in his congressional district because of their religious beliefs. “The rationale is that if infidels are eating this pork, [Muslims] are not eating it,” he said. “So as long as they’re preparing this pork for infidels, it helps send them to hell and it must make Allah happy. I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops.”
For decades, the FPÖ has drawn criticism for its anti-Semitic and Islamophobic rhetoric. Party leaders have claimed that the FPÖ has cast aside its Nazi roots, but this year alone it’s come under fire for a series of “Nazi scandals,” as the international press has called them. They include two lawmakers expelled by the party for using WhatsApp to share Hitler photos and quotes, a candidate who exited a state election race after it was revealed that his student fraternity once published a songbook with lyrics about gassing Jews, an attache recalled from his post in Israel after he posted a Facebook photo of himself wearing a shirt with a Nazi reference, and Austria’s interior minister using language associated with Nazi death camps to advocate for concentrating asylum seekers in a single location.
In the ‘90s, then-FPÖ leader Jörg Haider made efforts to moderate the party’s rhetoric. But in 2011, the party rewrote its manifesto with the help of Hofer, who reintroduced controversial language including Volksgemeinschaft, a propaganda term employed by Hitler — who was born in Austria in 1889 — referring to his vision of racially unified nationalism.