People For the American Way

Rep. Steve King Must Be Held Accountable for His Use of Dehumanizing, Racist Language

People For in Action
Rep. Steve King Must Be Held Accountable for His Use of Dehumanizing, Racist Language

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has a long history of using dehumanizing, racist language against systemically oppressed communities. Following the latest incident, in which Rep. King referred to immigrants as “dirt” in a taped conversation with his supporters, People For the American Way, PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action, and allied organizations are calling for his censure and that he be required to appear on the House floor to receive the official condemnation. You can download our letter here.

Dear Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McCarthy,

As the 115th Congress draws to a close, we, the undersigned organizations, strongly urge you to introduce and bring to the House floor a censure resolution condemning the pattern of racist and xenophobic comments made by Representative Steve King (R-IA) that are not befitting of any elected Member of Congress. Against his long backdrop of incendiary, anti-immigrant, and racist remarks, Rep. King recently used dehumanizing rhetoric when referring to immigrants from Mexico as “dirt” in a taped conversation with supporters.1 We ask that before the end of this Congress you bring before the House a censure resolution and, upon passage, require Rep. King to stand in the well of the House chamber to receive the official condemnation of the body. We further ask that, upon being censured, Rep. King be denied leadership posts in any committee or subcommittee to which he may be assigned in the 116th Congress.

On Monday, November 5, 2018, Rep. King addressed a group of supporters during a rally in Webster City, Iowa. While speaking about jalapeño peppers, according to an article by The Weekly Standard, he said, “I guess I’m going to have to go and get some dirt from Mexico to grow the next batch.” An audience member added “Trust me, it’s already on its way” and Rep. King responded, “Well, yeah, there’s plenty of dirt, it’s coming from the West Coast, too. And a lot of other places, besides. This is the most dirt we’ve ever seen.”

Rep. King first denied the allegations in the article and claimed that he was referring to the leftist media, not immigrants. After challenging The Weekly Standard to provide proof, the publication produced an audio recording of the conversation that made it clear that Rep. King was referring to Mexican immigrants as “dirt.”2

The remarks by Rep. King came during an already contentious moment for his campaign, as the National Republican Congressional Committee had recently rebuked his endorsement of far-right causes and white supremacists, and corporate donors such as Land O’Lakes and Purina announced they would no longer contribute to his campaign.3

We are deeply concerned with Rep. King’s remarks about Mexican immigrants and urge you to not take his words lightly. The use of dehumanizing language such as this has, in the past, led to the normalization of bigotry and abuse towards immigrants of color. Recall the dehumanizing of Jews during the Holocaust, the Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, and the Rohingya in Myanmar. Language such as this further exacerbates hostility and violence.

Furthermore, Rep. King’s comments did not come out of thin air. He has a long history of xenophobic, racist, and white supremacist remarks:

  • On August 24, 2018, Rep. King met in Austria with members of the Freedom Party, a far-right political party founded by a former Nazi SS officer, and sat for an interview with the Freedom Party-aligned publication, Unzensuriert, in which he argued that he believed that white Europeans are being replaced by minorities and that “western civilization is on the decline.”4
  • On October 16, 2018, Rep. King endorsed Faith Goldy, a far-right candidate for Toronto Mayor.5 Goldy is a white nationalist who participated in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA. Goldy has recommended a book supporting the “elimination of Jews” and has argued homosexuality was a cause for the Holocaust.6
  • On June 22, 2018, Rep. King told Breitbart News radio he wanted to deny Somali-American Muslims the right to work at meat-packing plants in his congressional district because he believed their true motive for processing pork in those facilities was to send non-Muslims “to hell and it must make Allah happy.” Rep. King continued, “I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops.”7
  • On June 12, 2018, Rep. King shared a tweet from Mark Collett, a British neo-Nazi who is a self-professed admirer of Adolf Hitler.8 When asked about the tweet, a spokesperson for Speaker Ryan said “the speaker has said many times that Nazis have no place in our politics, and clearly members should not engage with anyone promoting hate.” After being rebuked, Rep. King refused to back down, arguing that “then it’d be like I’m admitting that I did something, now I’m sorry about it. I’m not sorry. I’m human.”9
  • On December 8, 2017, Rep. King shared a tweet quoting Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban, “Mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one.”10
  • On March 12, 2017, Rep King tweeted that we “can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”11 In response to this retweet, Speaker Ryan’s spokesperson observed that “the speaker clearly disagrees and believes America’s long history of inclusiveness is one of its great strengths.”12
  • On July 18, 2013, Rep. King, referencing Dreamers, said, “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that they weigh 130 pounds, and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”13
  • On November 30, 2011, Rep. King questioned the unconstitutionality of racial profiling during a hearing of the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.14

Over the years, Rep. King’s comments have earned the praise of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, white nationalist Richard Spencer, and countless other prominent racists who take heart in knowing that someone who shares their views is allowed a prominent place in the U.S. House of Representatives. Indeed, Rep. King continues to be treated as a Member in good standing within the Republican caucus. The anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, racist and homophobic examples above are only a fraction of the countless hateful remarks and actions by Rep. King. Allowing him to continue to spread these dangerous ideologies normalizes this behavior and places already vulnerable groups of people in danger.

The House of Representatives is the people’s house. As a member of this body, representatives should reflect the voices of their constituencies and also the nation at large. Rep. King has failed to execute these duties and instead dishonors the people’s house and the nation. We strongly urge you to demonstrate your disapproval by taking disciplinary action and censuring Rep. King. The undersigned organizations urge you to hold Rep. King accountable.


anti-immigrant, Immigration, letter, racism, Steve King, White supremacists