US congressman Steve King refused to answer a voter’s question at a public forum about similarities between his worldview and that of the alleged killer of 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
The exchange, in which the Iowa Republican brought up his support for Israel to discredit the legitimacy of the question, occurred on Thursday during the Greater Des Moines Partnership Forum.
The questioner began comparing rhetoric by the Pittsburgh suspect, a far-right extremist, and that of King, who has frequently promoted far-right material online and has spoken about the need to limit immigration to save the “shared civilization” of the United States and Europe.
“Do not associate me with that shooter,” King interrupted, pointing at the questioner. “I knew you were an ambusher when you walked in the room, but there is no basis for that and you get no question and no answer.”
When the questioner, speaking calmly, attempted to speak, King said loudly: “No, you’re done, we don’t play those games in Iowa. You have crossed the line. It is not tolerable to accuse me of being associated with that guy who shot 11 people in Pittsburgh. I am a person who has supported Israel since the beginning. 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 will not listen to another word from you.”
Two Jewish leaders in Iowa condemned King this week for being “an enthusiastic crusader for the same types of abhorrent beliefs held by the Pittsburgh shooter.” King also drew criticism this week from Ohio Representative Steve Stivers, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who called some of the Iowa lawmaker’s recent comments “completely inappropriate.”
Separately, on Thursday, Media Matters for America published a report saying that King twice last year included links to the New Observer, a far-right website that regularly features anti-Semitic content. However, the links to the articles that were shared by King and that were flagged by Media Matters, a nonprofit progressive group, were about illegal immigration in the United States and Afghanistan and did not mention Jews or Israel.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt sent House Speaker Paul Ryan an open letter following the Pittsburgh killings calling on him to censure King. Greenblatt cited King’s relationship with Austria’s far-right Freedom Party. Last week, King met in August with members of the far-right party, which has Nazi roots, while on a trip sponsored by a Holocaust education group.
In June, King retweeted Mark Collett, a British white nationalist who has described himself as a “Nazi sympathizer.” King refused to apologize or delete the tweet despite criticism. Last month King endorsed Faith Goldy, a white nationalist running for mayor of Toronto, who has claimed that “Canada is undergoing a ‘white genocide.’”
King is facing mounting criticism within the Republican Party and a tough re-election bid in a district that has gone for him by wide margins in the past.