USA Politics First Look

Are this Iowa congressman's views on immigration racist?

Rep. Steve King has come under fire for tweeting that Americans 'can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.' 

Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa speaks in Des Moines. Representative King in a tweet on Sunday, March 12, 2017, paid tribute to Geert Wilders, a veteran member of the Dutch Parliament who founded the Party of Freedom.
Charlie Neibergall/AP/File
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An Iowa congressman has come under fire for a tweet that critics are denouncing as racist and xenophobic. 

Republican Rep. Steve King took to Twitter on Sunday afternoon to express support for the nationalist Dutch politician Geert Wilders, writing: "Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies." 

The tweet quickly drew criticism from lawmakers and commentators across the political spectrum, who accused Representative King of promoting white nationalism, or the belief that national identity should be built around white ethnicity. 

"What exactly do you mean?" asked Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R) of Florida in a tweeted reply. "Do I qualify as 'somebody else's baby?' " 

"[T]here goes the melting pot and 200 years of history," wrote fellow Republican Reid Ribble, a former congressman from Wisconsin, echoing other high-profile political figures. 

King, who has landed in hot water for expressing similar views in the past, maintains that his views have everything to do with a "superior" American culture and little to do with race. But, critics argue, the two aren't so easily separated. 

The rhetoric and proposed policies of President Trump and ascension of former Breitbart head Steve Bannon to the White House have brought strains of anti-establishment nationalist conservatism previously relegated to the fringes of the Republican Party to the forefront of American politics, spurring widespread debate over what – and who – qualifies as racist in 2017. Leaders of extreme right and hate groups have said they feel empowered by Mr. Trump, who gives them confidence to speak openly about their controversial views, as Patrik Jonsson reported for The Christian Science Monitor last month: 

For his part, Trump has condemned recent threats against Jewish organizations and has visited and extolled the new National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington. He has said his proposed temporary ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries is not based on religion.

But his talk of a Muslim ban during the campaign, combined with his broad characterizations of many undocumented immigrants as violent criminals, bears what one scholar calls “a family face resemblance” to ideas supported by hard-right groups. Indeed, a broader surge in hate groups since 2000 has been “driven in part by anger over Latino immigration” and the declining whiteness of the United States, SLPC argues.

In that context, experts are watching to see how this rise in energy and organization on the extreme right plays out. The question is whether some Americans are feeling empowered to use the confrontational stance of the Trump administration to radicalize an emotional and existential debate over America’s fundamental character. 

This isn't the first time King has attracted negative attention for making remarks with nationalist undertones. During the 2016 presidential election, the congressman, a Trump supporter, suggested during a panel discussion with MSNBC's Chris Hayes that white Westerners had contributed more to civilization than any other "subgroup." 

"This ‘old white people’ business does get a little tired, Charlie," King said in response to remarks by Esquire’s Charlie Pierce, who suggested that the Republican National Convention was primarily energized by "loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people." "I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?" 

When asked by Mr. Hayes to clarify his remarks, King noted that he was referring to "Western civilization itself" – "every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world" – and not white people in particular. 

In defending Sunday's tweet on CNN's "New Day" Monday morning, the congressman took a similar approach, arguing that his comments were not about race, but culture, and describing himself as a "champion of" the "superior" Western civilization. 

"We're a country here, that if you take a picture of what America looks like, you can do it in a football stadium or a basketball court and you see all kinds of different Americans there. We're pretty proud of that, the different-looking Americans that are still Americans," King told CNN's Chris Cuomo. "And there's an American culture, an American civilization. It's raised within these children in these American homes. And that’s one of the reasons why we require that the president of the United States be raised with an American experience." 

In the future, King added, he would like to see less of an emphasis on race. 

"Actually, if you go down the road a few generations or maybe centuries with the intermarriage, I'd like to see an America that’s just so homogenous that we look a lot the same, from that perspective," he said. 

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