Nation & World

Holocaust memorial group unwittingly funded Rep. Steve King's trip to meet far-right Austrians that have had Neo Nazi ties

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in his office in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O’Leary
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in his office in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O’Leary

Rep. Steve King met with members of a far-right Austrian party with historical Nazi ties during a European trip financed by a Holocaust memorial group.

In an interview with a website associated with the party, King, R-Iowa, declared that “Western civilization is on the decline,” spoke of the replacement of white Europeans by immigrants and criticized Hungarian-American financier George Soros, who has backed liberal groups around the world.

King spoke to the Unzensuriert site Aug. 24 in Vienna, a day after concluding a five-day journey to Jewish and Holocaust historical sites in Poland, including the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. The trip, including airfare to and from Europe, was financed by From the Depths, an international nonprofit that seeks to educate lawmakers about the Holocaust.

Unzensuriert, which translates as “uncensored,” is a publication associated with Austria’s Freedom Party, which was founded by a former Nazi SS officer and is now led by Heinz-Christian Strache, who had been active in neo-Nazi circles as a youth. The party has distanced itself from those connections and recently embraced a hard-line anti-immigration stance while seeking ties with other far-right parties and leaders abroad.

“What does this diversity bring that we don’t already have?” King said in the interview. “Mexican food, Chinese food, those things — well, that’s fine, but what does it bring that we don’t have that is worth the price? We have a lot of diversity within the U.S. already.”

Documents that King filed with the House Ethics Committee make clear that the trip to Austria, from Aug. 24 until his departure from Europe on Aug. 26, was a personally funded extension of the Holocaust trip. But King’s airfare — which represented the bulk of the expenses for the trip — was borne by From the Depths.

Jonny Daniels, president of From the Depths, acknowledged that the group had flown King to and from Europe but said he had no knowledge of King’s plans after leaving the group Aug. 23.

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“We didn’t know about any other travel,” he said. “We didn’t pay for any other travel or anything of the kind.”

In an interview Thursday, King said much the same and accused his “political opposition” of “ginning this up” ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

“It wasn’t their idea, and it wasn’t anything they knew about, and they received no communication from me with regard to the Vienna meetings,” he said of From the Depths. “That was all on me and completely separate from that.”

King is seeking re-election to a ninth term in the House against Democrat J.D. Scholten, who has outraised King and is campaigning aggressively in the overwhelmingly Republican 4th Congressional District.

King described his travels in Poland as a “very, very powerful experience” but also described later visiting historical sites separately from the Depths group to get a “Polish perspective” on the Holocaust.

“I asked them what was worse, was it the Nazis or was it the Soviets?” he said. “And they don’t know the answer to that because the Soviets occupied them longer, may have killed more of them, but it was over a longer period of time.”

King defended his meetings in Vienna with Freedom Party members, noting that its leaders are participating in the Austrian government and that they “completely reject any kind of Nazi ideology or philosophy.”

“That’s not a fringe group,” he said, adding: “I have identified them and counted them as friends and allies well before they were winning elections. But that’s a good thing to build those relationships before they come to power.”

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In the earlier interview, King identified Soros as a force behind the “great replacement” — a notion promoted by far-right groups — and accused him of surreptitiously influencing U.S. elections and policymaking: “His money floats in such a way you can’t see the flow, but if you trace it back, you can connect it to his foundation.”

The “Great Replacement” theory is a view on the right that white Europeans are being replaced by minorities.

Criticism of Soros, who is Jewish, has frequently carried anti-Semitic overtones, and he was one of several figures linked to the Democratic Party who have been targeted with mail bombs in the United States this week.

On Thursday, King denounced the bombings but declined to retract his criticism of Soros or acknowledge a possible link to anti-Semitism. He went on to repeat unfounded allegations that Soros, as a young teenager in occupied Hungary, collaborated with authorities against his fellow Jews.

“Me pointing out the activities of George Soros is a matter of pointing out the facts, and there is no reason to refrain from the real truth,” he said. “I don’t think about George Soros as a Jew. I think about him as an operator, a leftist operator that’s been engaged in upsetting freedom and (being) more or less an enemy of conservatism.”

Four other House Republicans joined King and his wife on the trip to Poland, but none of the others traveled to Austria afterward.

“You sort of hope that a trip like this gives a better understanding to a parliamentarian,” Daniels said. “Understanding that the connection between hate speech and hatred of any people or any nation leads directly to places like Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

From the Depths, he said, invites lawmakers from across the political spectrum, from the U.S. as well as from other nations. Daniels said he was not completely familiar with King’s views but added that his group did not condone “hate speech” from any politician.

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“We’re against any kind of labeling of a group or anything of that kind,” he said. “So for us, we condemn hate speech, be it from the left or be it from the right or be it from the center. It’s all the same for us.”

King has met with Strache and another Freedom Party leader, Norbert Hofer, who narrowly lost a national election last year but now participates in the country’s governing coalition. They are among several far-right political figures that King has met with and promoted, including Dutch politician Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front.

Earlier this month, King endorsed a far-right candidate for Toronto mayor, Faith Goldy, who has promoted the idea of a “white genocide.” In June, King retweeted a message by Mark Collett, a self-described “Nazi sympathizer,” and refused to apologize after an uproar.

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