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By Kasie Hunt, Alex Moe and Rebecca Shabad
WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, did not deny making inflammatory comments to the New York Times about white nationalism and white supremacy — though he insisted in an interview that he rejects both of those mindsets.
“I reject white nationalism. I reject white supremacy. It’s not part of any of my ideology. I reject anyone who carries that ideology,” the Iowa Republican told NBC News in his Capitol Hill office.
King said that he was really talking about “the continuation of applying labels onto people as freely as they are.”
King faced widespread criticism following a recent interview with The New York Times in which he said: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?…Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
Asked why he made that comment, King told NBC Thursday, “That was in the context of a long interview for the New York Times.”
“I will accept this idea that I’ve supported Western civilization for a long time and that’s the foundation of the American civilization but ‘American’ means people of all races, all ethnicities, all national origins and we’re pretty proud of that,” King said.
After the story was published by the Times Thursday, the paper said that King had issued a statement in which he described himself as a “nationalist” and supporter of “western civilization’s values,” but said of “white nationalist” and “white supremacy” terminology: “I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I reject those labels and the evil ideology they define.”
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, blasted King’s comments on Twitter, calling them “abhorrent and racist.”
GOP Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., also condemned the remarks. “I think it’s offensive to try to legitimize those terms,” he said Thursday.
And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called the remarks “reckless” and “wrong”: “Everything about white supremacy and white nationalism goes against who we are as a nation,” he said. “Steve’s language is reckless, wrong, and has no place in our society. The Declaration of Independence states that ‘all men are created equal.’ That is a fact. It is self-evident.”