When Iowa Congressman Steve King wondered out loud last week to the New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”, the backlash was swift. After years of sheltering the openly racist, bigoted, xenophobic ethno-nationalist, the GOP appeared ready to finally throw him under the bus.
“This is not the first time we’ve heard these comments,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “That is not the party of Lincoln and it’s definitely not American.” King has endorsed white nationalist groups and candidates, appeared on the podcast of neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer and declared that “diversity is not our strength.” The eight-term congressman previously bemoaned that “white nationalist” is a derogatory term used to smear white people as racists.
Not everybody was eager to condemn King. It was Louie Gohmert, a fellow right-wing conservative congressman from deep East Texas, who yielded a portion of his time on the House floor to allow King to explain himself, claiming that the Times took his comments out of context. King was stripped of his committee assignments earlier this week by GOP House leadership.
At a meeting earlier this week between McCarthy and a group of House Republicans, Gohmert was reportedly the only one to defend King. And he’s not backing down. “[King] was talking about Western civilization, that, ‘When did Western civilization become a negative?’ and that’s a fair question. When did Western civilization become a negative?” Gohmert said in an interview with his hometown paper, the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
“We have the only country that I’m aware of that would shed its most valuable treasure — American blood — for freedom, not for hegemony, just for freedom,” Gohmert added.
He further claimed that King was the victim of character assassination enabled by weak-kneed GOP leadership. “They start piling on with innuendo and it was just grossly unfair, but Steve and everybody I hear all agree. We condemn white supremacy. There is no place for that,” Gohmert said.
It should come as no surprise that Gohmert — who has his own track record of anti-semitism, Islamophobia, racism and bigotry — is so eager to defend King and his attempts to normalize the rhetoric of white nationalism and supremacy. There has long been a faction in the Republican Party that advocates for ethno-nationalism and Christian dominionism, and it’s been emboldened by Trump.
“Let me start by saying that I am not at all surprised that Mr. Gohmert defended Steve King,” Shirley McKellar, a Democrat who has thrice unsuccessfully challenged Gohmert in his deep-red district, told the Observer. “I believe that Gohmert is a white supremacist. He sees nothing wrong with that.”
“He doesn’t come into my community,” said McKellar, who is African American and lives in Tyler. “He goes into the Caucasian communities.”
Gohmert’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s no wonder why conservative activists like Ray Myers, who helped craft the Texas GOP’s platform, feel so comfortable publicly and proudly declaring themselves white nationalists or calling for the lynching of a black elected official. It’s no wonder why politicians like Gohmert and Texas state Senator Bob Hall, also an East Texas Republican, feel compelled to defend Myers as the victim of political correctness. And it’s no wonder why leaders of the Texas GOP, like state party chair James Dickey, have decided to merely condemn the comments made by Myers, not Myers himself.
Indeed, it can be difficult to determine exactly where King ends and the GOP mainstream begins. King was the national co-chair of Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. Cruz, along with Representative Kevin Brady, representing The Woodlands, and recently retired Representative Lamar Smith, of San Antonio, all have made political contributions to King’s campaign in recent years.
In recent months, Cruz has hesitated to firmly distance himself from King. A spokesperson from Cruz’s office referred the Observer to comments he made on Meet the Press on Sunday: “What Steve King said was stupid. It was stupid, it was hurtful, it was wrong, and he needs to stop. I think all of us ought to be united, regardless of party, in saying, white supremacism, white nationalism, is hatred. It is bigotry. It is evil. It is wrong. And I think we need that clarity. And I’m certainly going to urge everyone to provide that clarity.”