Right-wing members of Congress have never shied away from associating with fringe agitators, but appearing with a white nationalist is beyond the pale. On Thursday afternoon, Iowa Representative Steve King jovially appeared on a panel with Peter Brimelow, an anti-immigrant author that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has termed a white nationalist. Brimelow wrote Alien Nation and founded the online community VDARE, which SPLC describes as "a nonprofit that warns against the polluting of America by non-whites, Catholics, and Spanish-speaking immigrants."
King had no qualms about associating himself with Brimelow when I caught up with the congressman after the panel. "Consider the source, I'm not in a position to judge people in the fashion that they seem to be so free to do," King said of the SPLC.
King was not on the public schedule for the panel held at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and showed up as a surprise guest an hour after the panel started. Hosted by a group called ProEnglish—which supports English as the official language—the panel was titled "The Failure of Multiculturalism." According to King's assistant, the congressman had always planned to attend in order to push the bill he has sponsored to make English the country's only official language. After standing at the podium and pitching his bill to make English the legal language—"there's no reason to back off, there's no reason to think all the names we're called are accurate, they are not"—King sat down with the panelists to take questions. When Brimelow introduced himself to the congressman, King exclaimed, "Oh yes, Peter! I've read your books, I just hadn't met you."
I followed up with King afterward to see what exactly he liked about the books. He said it had been more than ten years since he’d read the books but remembered reading several of them and that he had enjoyed Brimelow's writing. From what he could recall, King said, "I found his rationale to be clear and his message to be strong."
"It sounds to me like these are personal attacks and name calling coming out of the Southern Poverty Law Center," King said in response to another reporter's question as a means to dismiss the attacks. "I know they've made similar charges for witnesses we've had before the Judiciary Committee."
Brimelow's prepared remarks during the panel railed against laws in Canada that dictate a dual national language, French and English. "I think it's a hogwash," he said of bilingualism, proudly touting his knowledge of only one language. "I've never felt the absence."
An earlier speaker from ProEnglish, herself a former proponent of bilingual education who has since worked on political campaigns to outlaw the teaching style, attempted to frame the movement as simply a practical matter. She argued that it is an overwhelming burden on the government and school districts to be fully inclusive, and in fact does a disservice to the children themselves. But an earlier speaker came closer to the true motivation for the English-only groups. Serge Trifkovic, a foreign-affairs editor for Chronicles magazine, had to cancel his appearance at the last minute, but the panel's moderator graciously read his anti-multiculturalism screed. Wrapped in the language of academia, the speech essentially explained why whites of European descent must reject notions of multiculturalism as a "neurotic" affront to their community. "Members of the Western elite class overwhelming subscribe to a neoliberal outlook in general and to the tenets of multiculturalism in particular," the speech read. "In other words, they tend to accept the principle that recognition, positive accommodation, and even celebration of demands and special political and moral claims of various ethno-racial, religious, or sexual minorities are obligatory through group-differentiated rights. The result is a obsessive favoritism of allegedly disadvantaged groups often hostile to the European descendent majority of Americans."