Asked Whether White Societies Are Superior, Steve King Demurs

ALGONA, Iowa — It was the kind of question that a politician should have been able to handle with ease, but Representative Steve King is not any politician.

“Do you think a white society is superior to a nonwhite society?” Mary Lavelle, 63, asked, testing his reputation for white supremacist sympathies.

“I don’t have an answer for that. That’s so hypothetical,” Mr. King, Republican of Iowa, told her. “I’ll say this, America is not a white society — it has never been a completely white society. We came here and joined the Native Americans.”

He continued: “I’ve long said that a baby can be lifted out of a cradle anywhere in the world and brought into any home in America, whatever the color of the folks in that household, and they can be raised to be American as any other. And I believe that every one of us, every one of us, is created in God’s image.”

Ms. Lavelle said she asked the question in this northern Iowa town of 5,000 because she worried that anti-immigrant language used in a manifesto written by the suspect in the mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, resembled Mr. King’s own talking points. His fumbling answer to a relatively simple query may have done little to allay those concerns, two months after Mr. King, a nine-term Republican with a long history of racist comments, was publicly rebuked by members of his own party.

House Republican leaders removed Mr. King from his committee assignments in January, after comments he made to The New York Times questioned why the phrase “white supremacy” was considered offensive. A number of powerful party leaders, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican, suggested he should resign, and the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution disapproving of Mr. King’s statements.

Mr. King remained defiant after losing his committee seats, and released a statement insisting that his comments had been misunderstood. He said he had been referring only to “Western civilization” when he asked “how did that language become offensive,” not “white nationalist” or “white supremacist.”

Mr. King again faced scrutiny on Monday after a post on his Facebook page speculated who would win a second civil war between red states and blue states.

“Folks keep talking about another civil war; one side has about 8 trillion bullets while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use,” read the post, which has since been deleted.

On Tuesday, pressed by a reporter from CNN, Mr. King told constituents that he “wasn’t aware” that the image had been published on his Facebook page the night before, and said he does not personally manage that page.

“I wish it had never gone up,” he said.

But he also sought to deflect the question, telling the reporter, “it’s interesting that nobody here asked that question,” while gesturing to his constituents.

“The only people who care about that is national news media. Nobody has raised the issue around here,” he said, prompting a handful of attendees to protest. The exchange was quickly picked up by American Bridge, a liberal political action committee.

But Ms. Lavelle clearly did care about Mr. King’s incendiary language. After being asked about the manifesto, Mr. King responded at length. He said the author of the manifesto had expressed as much sympathy for Communist China as white supremacy. “The further it went, the more inconsistent it became, and he seems to have mixed and matched ideologies,” he said.

Pressed about the overlap between the manifesto’s language and his own, Mr. King responded, “He also likely used the same words that Mao used.”

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