Rep. Steve King on Saturday opened his first town hall since sparking outrage over his latest racially insensitive remarks by insisting he isn’t racist.
The Iowa Republican was removed from his committee assignments in the new Congress earlier this month for defending the term “white supremacist,” the latest among numerous public statements widely seen as racist or insensitive.
“It’s stunning and astonishing to me that four words in a New York Times quote can outweigh 20 some years of public service, 20 some years of giving you my word every day,” King said in Primghar, Iowa, at an event where he addressed the partial government shutdown.
He said his experience made him think of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation proceedings over allegations of sexual assault, where “at least he had accusers.”
“Not one soul has stood up that said, ‘Steve King has ever acted in a racist fashion, that he’s ever discriminated against anybody,’” he added. “There’s plenty of evidence out there to the contrary.”
In a now-infamous New York Times interview published earlier this month, King, as part of a defense of what he said was the “culture of America,” asked how certain terms had become controversial in the modern discourse.
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” the Iowa Republican told the Times. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
On Saturday, King said that his quote was only referencing Western civilization, which he promised to defend from alleged affronts from the left.
“What I was addressing was not those terms of white supremacy or white nationalism,” King said. “Yes, (the Times reporter) said those terms to me, and yes, I responded to his question about them. But when I said ‘why did that language become offensive,’ I was speaking exclusively and directly about Western civilization.”
“They are denigrating Western civilization today, and if they can break down Western civilization and turn it into the scourge of history, then our freedom is gone, and there’s nothing left to fight for,” he added.
He also said: “We have the left that’s policing our language. And they’re adding definitions to this English language that aren’t in Webster’s dictionary, but you will see them in the Urban Dictionary. And they’re trying to control the language. Then they control the argument. Then they control the information. Then they control history. If they control history, they can control the future. They know that, and I’ve resisted that for a long time.”
The controversy surrounding King’s views on race, however, extends well beyond the comments published in the Times. He has previously retweeted a Nazi sympathizer and has sponsored a white nationalist fringe candidate for Toronto mayor.
In March 2017, King tweeted, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” later telling CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he “meant exactly what I said.”
And during an interview with a far right Austrian publication in 2018, King suggested that immigration and diversity brought risks.
“What does this diversity bring that we don’t already have? Mexican food. Chinese food,” King said at the time. “Those things, well, that’s fine, but what does it bring that we don’t have that is worth the price?”
King did not address the prior controversies at the event on Saturday.
CNN’s Sara Sidner contributed to this report.