Steve King, Christ Figure

An analysis of the congressman's comparison of himself to the son of God last Tuesday

Pietro Perugino/Wikimedia Commons, KingforCongress/Facebook; Photo illustration: Gavin Aronsen/Iowa Informer

The Republican Party’s long overdue come-to-Jesus moment with Steve King, when its leaders finally concluded that they ought to concretely address the congressman’s increasingly bold embrace of white nationalism, arrived in mid-January. That’s when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stripped King of his three committee assignments after his now-notorious New York Times interview in which he suggested there was nothing offensive about the terms “white nationalist, white supremacist,” and “Western civilization.”

Reeling from an unexpectedly narrow re-election victory in November owing to a series of self-inflicted wounds, King had already announced a series of town hall meetings across the 4th District in an apparent effort to rehabilitate his image and, likely, in anticipation of the three impressively funded primary challengers he now faces in 2020.

But although the town halls are tightly controlled, with pre-screened questions from the audience and no press availabilities whatsoever, King has continued to demonstrate an almost comedic inability to keep his foot out of his mouth. The latest example, in Cherokee last Tuesday when the congressman told a constituent that the treatment he’s received from his party gave him insight into the suffering of Jesus Christ before his cruxifiction, was the most outlandish yet.

The moment began when Pinky Person, a local pastor, asked King about the role of Christian values in resolving national problems. “My concern is how Christianity is really being persecuted,” Person added. “It is starting right here in the United States.”

“For all that I’ve been through — and it seems even strange for me to say it — but I am at a certain peace, and it is because of a lot of prayers for me,” King replied. “And, when I have to step down to the floor of the House of Representatives, and look up at those 400-and-some accusers, you know we just passed through Easter and Christ’s passion, and I have better insight into what he went through for us partly because of that experience.”

Naturally, the comments made national news and spread quickly on social media, where they drew bipartisan criticism, including from two of King’s primary challengers. His strongest challenger so far, Hull state Sen. Randy Feenstra, used the opportunity to revisit the popular line of attack that the congressman has been ineffective in Washington, interested more in generating headlines than “actually delivering results for Iowa.”

Another primary opponent, Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor, called the comments “sad,” citing his service as a chaplain in the National Guard to contextualize the criticism.

Taylor also retweeted Shane Vander Hart, a prominent social conservative blogger and podcaster who has long defended King from criticism of his white nationalist rhetoric, dismissing it as a liberal “caricature” and suggesting the congressman isn’t racist on the basis that he’s a nice guy if you get to know him personally.

Similarly on a more local level, King’s comparison was criticized by Republicans who have been notably silent about the congressman’s support of white nationalism and its adherents. Jeremy Davis, a former Ames City Council member who after that worked as a district representative for King’s congressional office from 2013 to 2015, argued that he should not “retain any credibility.” (Davis’ tweet was liked by Nevada Mayor Brett Barker, who is also chairman of the Story County GOP and, at least on social media, has said virtually nothing about King’s ties to white nationalism.)

“This display of victimhood is pathetic in so many ways,” Republican strategist David Kochel tweeted in response to Davis’ comment. Kochel cut King two checks for $500 apiece during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, but he gave $250 to Feenstra on Jan. 10, the day after the state senator announced his primary bid.

Beyond the criticism from members of his own party, King’s comments Tuesday were notable for a couple other reasons.

At previous town halls, including his first this year in Primghar that the Informer attended in late January, the congressman compared his supposed persecution to the sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh as he sought confirmation to the US Supreme Court. “He at least had accusers,” King said in Primghar. “I don’t have accusers. Not one soul has stood up and disputed if Steve King has ever acted in a racist fashion. He’s never discriminated against anybody. There’s plenty of evidence out there to the contrary.” But on Tuesday he contradicted that claim, implying in his remark about “look[ing] up at those 400-and-some accusers” that he now considers among them his 423 House colleagues who, after his interview with the Times, voted to approve a resolution rejecting white supremacy.

At an annual dinner hosted last September by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, King called the allegations against Kavanaugh “character assassination.” Casting doubt on the details of Christine Blasey Ford’s account of an alleged attempted rape at a party during their high school years, King added: “You add all of that together and I’m thinking, is there any man in this room that wouldn’t be subjected to such an allegation? A false allegation? How can you disprove something like that? Which means, if that’s the new standard, no man will ever qualify for the Supreme Court again.”

As with King’s dubious contention that his quote in the Times was taken out of context, there’s also no real evidence that Ford was lying about Kavanaugh. But that hasn’t deterred the congressman from his futile effort to prove that the allegations of racism against him are false. His office released a memo purporting to fact-check the Times that seemingly acknowledged he couldn’t really disprove its accuracy because neither he nor the reporter recorded the interview, yet still claimed to have debunked the quote solely through a LexisNexis keyword search. King himself has cited an interview he did with pro-Trump video bloggers Diamond and Silk, crediting them with debunking the allegations against him. (Last year, before he was removed from the House Judiciary Committee, King invited the duo to testify about how Facebook allegedly censored them for their political views, a false claim for which they had no evidence.) And the congressman even asked constituents at a February town hall in Rock Rapids to pray for McCarthy to “separate his ego from this issue and look at it objectively.”

But at his town halls, as King casts himself as a victim of leftist smears, the fake-news media, and his own party, his own words time and again provide compelling rebuttals. In March, for example, without any apparent reason, the congressman criticized victims of Hurricane Katrina in the majority-black city of New Orleans, suggesting that flood victims in Iowa cared more about helping their neighbors. More subtly in Primghar, King responded to a question about economic stagnation by going off on a tangent about how abortion has caused a “low replacement rate,” a concept that ties directly into a white nationalist conspiracy theory the congressman has endorsed.

Just as baseless as King’s denials was the premise of the question he was asked Tuesday that led to his likening himself to Jesus. The idea that Christians face serious persecution in the United States is a myth sometimes referred to as the Christian persecution complex. This theory, too, is popular among white nationalists, particularly in Europe, where the “Western civilization” King is fond of invoking is seen as a white Christian majority whose very existence is threatened by radical Islam.

Gavin Aronsen
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.