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Steve King: Five Islamophobic moments from outgoing congressman

King, who has been accused of racism and embracing white supremacy, lost to Republican primary challenger on Tuesday
MEE revisits five outrageous anti-Muslim comments King has made over the years (AFP/File photo)
By Ali Harb in Washington

For more than 16 years in Congress, outgoing Republican Congressman Steve King spewed Islamophobic statements, questioned the loyalty of Muslim Americans and promoted anti-immigrant conspiracy theories about demographic threats to white people in the United States.

It wasn't until last year that his Republican colleagues chose to meaningfully condemn him, stripping him of committee assignments in the House of Representatives after he openly praised white supremacy.

"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization - how did that language become offensive?" King said to the New York Times in January of last year. "Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"

Still, long before that comment, King made numerous anti-Muslim statements that went largely unnoticed by the mainstream Republican Party. In fact, he was often defended by party leaders. In 2016, Senator Ted Cruz appointed King as his presidential campaign's national co-chair.

On Tuesday, King, an Iowa Republican, lost his primary race to conservative State Senator Randy Feenstra, effectively ending his tenure in Congress at the conclusion of his term early next year.

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MEE revisits five outrageous anti-Muslim comments that King has made over the years.

'We can't restore our civilisation with somebody else's babies'

In perhaps his most infamous racist outburst, King retweeted a news report about "Islamists" shouting "Allahu Akbar" in the city of Rotterdam, going on to praise anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders.

"Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny," King wrote in March 2017. "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

The post was immediately rebuked by civil rights groups and some Democrats. 

"This racist tweet crosses the line from dog-whistle politics to straight-up white supremacist advocacy," the Countil on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a statement at the time.

The congressman stood by his statement, telling CNN: "You've got to keep your birth rate up, and that you need to teach your children your values." 

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Beyond the anti-Muslim bigotry, the incident highlighted King's white nationalism, which emphasises demographics and immigrants' birth rates. 

After a white supremacist gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, King's "somebody else's babies" remarks faced renewed scrutiny.

The shooter was a right-wing zealot who described immigrants as "invaders" and rebuked Jewish-American organisations for helping refugees. 

King cited his staunch support for Israel when asked about the shooter's anti-immigrant ideology.

"I am a person who has stood with Israel from the beginning, and the length of that nation is the length of my life. And I've been with them all along, and I will not answer your question and I'll not listen to another word from you," the congressman told a man who asked him about the shooting during a town hall meeting late in 2018.

Questioning loyalty of Muslim-American congressman

King and former Muslim-American Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota were technically colleagues from neighbouring states, but despite serving together for more than eight years in the House of Representatives, King questioned Ellison's loyalty to the US Constitution in 2015. 

"When Congressman Ellison takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States... which is superior, the Constitution or Sharia law? Sharia Law by their teachings is superior to everything else. It replaces everything else. It replaces the Constitution itself," he told MSNBC late in 2015.

While a few theocracies apply Islamic governing principles and penal codes, the overwhelming majority of Muslims living in secular countries view Islamic rules as personal, spiritual guiding principles.

King's remarks came after a rant against Muslim immigrants. "They are not assimilating because Sharia law is incompatible with the Constitution of the United States," he said.

Ellison, who is now serving as attorney general in Minnesota, is a Detroit-born African-American convert to Islam.

Calling for surveillance of mosques 

During the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group in 2014, King sounded the alarm on what he called IS recruiters in the United States, citing research claiming that as many as 15 percent of Muslims were "radical Islamists".

"They are all over the world. They're certainly in the United States. They're recruiting fighters for ISIS right out of Minneapolis out of the Somali enclave. And that's going on in other parts of the country, too," he told a radio show.

His solution to the problem? Monitoring mosques. "We ought to have people in those mosques watching to see what's going on," King said.

Although civil rights groups have long denounced profiling Muslim Americans as a blatant violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, King was not alone in calling for surveillance of Muslims in the United States.

In fact, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg implemented a surveillance programme that targeted mosques, restaurants and student groups in the Muslim community.

While running for president as a Democrat earlier this year, Bloomberg defended the scheme, saying that it was "the right thing to do".

Bloomberg was endorsed by several Democratic members of Congress and local leaders in the party, including Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.

'I don't want people doing my pork that won't eat it'

King's Iowa is one of the whitest states in the country, but it also happens to be home to one of the oldest Muslim communities in the United States, which continues to grow. 

Meat processing plants in Iowa have attracted Somali workers to the agricultural state. Despite it being intensive labour that proved to be dangerous during the spread of the coronavirus, King objected to Muslim workers in his state in 2018.

In a radio interview with the far-right website Breitbart, King joked that he had asked Ellison, "the lead Muslim in Congress", about the permissibility of handling pork in Islam.

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"The rationale is that if infidels are eating this pork, they [the workers] aren't eating it, so as long as they're preparing this pork for infidels, it helps send 'em to hell and it'll make Allah happy," King said. 

"I don't want people doing my pork that won't eat it, let alone hope I'll go to hell for eating pork chops."

The same workers that King antagonised and mocked were deemed essential workers and praised for their "heroic efforts" earlier this year, as they continued to ensure food demands are met during the pandemic. 

Joking about China force-feeding pork to Muslims

King seems to really like pork. Even when decrying China's abuses against its Muslim Uighur population, he couldn't help but joke about pork.

"They take all of their religious artefacts out and then they want them to put on Chinese clothing and eat Chinese diets, which includes trying to force the Muslims to eat pork," King said at a town hall last year.

"That's actually the only part of that that I agree with, is everybody ought to eat pork."

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