Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona attended an hours-long dinner in London in July with an extremist Belgian politician who has a history of inflammatory and racist comments.
The Belgian official, Filip DeWinter, told CNN’s KFile that Gosar joined him after the two spoke at an event in support of a jailed British activist at a dinner organized by former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
DeWinter, who is known for his anti-Muslim views, is a prominent member of the far-right Flemish party Vlaams Belang – a successor party to Vlaams Blok, which disbanded after being sanctioned as “racist” by Belgium’s high court in 2004.
DeWinter has said Islam doesn’t belong in Europe, using the hashtag”#BanIslam.” He caused an uproar in June of 2015 over a racist tweet about a festival in Antwerp and spoke at the white nationalist American Renaissance conference in 2016. Even the anti-Muslim American activist Robert Spencer has noted, “Filip DeWinter has said some things I deplore.”
Gosar, a dentist by trade who has served in the House since 2011, is currently seeking his fifth term. CNN currently rates his race as solid Republican. A member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and an immigration hardliner, Gosar called on Capitol Police earlier this year to arrest undocumented immigrants at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. In 2017, he claimed that the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was a left-wing plot.
Gosar and DeWinter posed together for a smiling photo after the rally for Tommy Robinson, a right-wing, anti-Muslim activist whom the United Kingdom jailed in May for breaking the country’s rules about reporting on ongoing court cases. Robinson was arrested while filming outside a courthouse during a child sexual abuse trial after a year earlier receiving a warning for filming outside a court during the trial of four men convicted of gang-raping a teenager. The judge ruled then that filming defendants could bias the jury and instructed Robinson not to repeat the act. After his recent jailing, Robinson became a cause célèbre for many on the British and American right who say his case is an example of the government censoring critics of Islam. He has since been released on bail.
DeWinter told CNN’s KFile that he and the congressman got acquainted at a pub before speaking at the rally and then went to a lengthy dinner together with Bannon, where they discussed the political organization Bannon was setting up in Brussels and the possibility of working together in the future.
“We were with five or six people at the same table, so we had the possibility for three or four hours to speak with each other about all sorts of topics concerning American politics, European politics, the plans of Steve (Bannon), the way things were going in Europe and the possibilities to work together also with the Freedom Caucus and with those people who are supporting us over in the States,” DeWinter said.
Bannon didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Gosar wrote in August that he “traveled to London to express my concern over Tommy Robinson’s arrest and to fight back against suppression of the truth.”
Gosar defended his appearance at the rally to CNN and said he could defend only his own words.
“I stand by my own words and votes in Congress,” Gosar said in a statement. “I don’t vouch for and need not vouch for anyone else’s thoughts, comments or actions.”
Speaking after DeWinter at the rally, Gosar called on British citizens to continue to assemble to support Robinson. He also called on members of Muslim communities to speak out against the so-called “grooming gangs” Robinson denounced in his videos.
“Do not be silent,” Gosar said. “Never be silent. Whether you were born in the West or immigrated here for a better life, know and remember your duty to defend freedom and fight injustice. Yes, freedom comes alongside the ability to be lazy and disengaged but freedom also has attached to it the responsibility to be active and alert, vigilant and visible.”
DeWinter expressed his extreme views at the rally, calling Islam “the enemy.”
“By locking up an Islam-critical activist such as Tommy Robinson behind bars, we bend and fold for undemocratic Islam,” DeWinter said. “And it’s the British government, the British government with Theresa May, who is collaborating with the enemy. And the enemy, my friends, is Islam. The enemy is Islam. Because the Quran is a military manual to wage war against the West. The Quran is a license to kill.”
DeWinter told CNN’s KFile that he hadn’t had further contact with Gosar or other members of the Freedom Caucus since the dinner. He added that while the two hadn’t discuss his views about Islam during the meal, he did view the conservative congressional caucus as an ally in what he called a battle for “Western identity.”
“I’ve never seen a program or a political program from the Freedom Caucus about their views of different issues, but I think that we can call ourselves allies, of course,” he said. “We are fighting the same battle – it is certainly the same – for our Western identity, and although there can be some differences about several issues, we are fighting for the same goals, yes, and we are allies, yes.”