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GOP lawmaker Steve King facing criticism in wake of Pittsburgh shooting

As Americans across the political spectrum call for a toning down of incendiary discourse, some critics are particularly scrutinizing comments made by Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, whose sharp criticism of immigration, diversity and Democrats have long been decried as discriminatory, insensitive and extreme.

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Clare Foran
(CNN) — As Americans across the political spectrum call for a toning down of incendiary discourse, some critics are particularly scrutinizing comments made by Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, whose sharp criticism of immigration, diversity and Democrats have long been decried as discriminatory, insensitive and extreme.

Republican Rep. Steve Stivers, the chair of the House Republican campaign arm, sharply criticized King in a tweet on Tuesday, calling recent comments and actions by the GOP lawmaker "completely inappropriate" though he did not single out or specify any particular comment or action.

"Congressman Steve King's recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate. We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior," Stivers tweeted.

The rebuke comes as King is under scrutiny for comments he has made criticizing diversity in the United States and immigration as well as George Soros, a Jewish billionaire and Democratic donor. Soros, along with prominent Democrats such as former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama, were among those targeted by the explosive devices.

King, along with other GOP lawmakers and President Donald Trump, is now at the center of a national debate over whether or not, and to what extent, political rhetoric has contributed to recent attacks, following the deadly synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh and the series of explosive devices sent in recent days to Trump critics.

The White House has refuted the idea that the President's political rhetoric bears any responsibility and the President has blamed the media for what he has described as "great anger in our country," while King has defended himself in the wake of the Pittsburgh attack, saying that he is not anti-Semitic.

King's office did not immediately return CNN's request for comment, but King did defend himself against criticism Wednesday on Twitter.

"Americans, all created equal by God, with all our races, ethnicities, and national origins-legal immigrants & natural born citizens, together make up the Shining City on the Hill. These attacks are orchestrated by nasty, desperate, and dishonest fake news. Their ultimate goal is to flip the House and impeach Donald Trump. Establishment Never Trumpers are complicit," King said in a statement.

He also defended himself in a recent interview with The Washington Post after the shooting in Pittsburgh, saying that he is not anti-Semitic. "How do you call Steve King anti-Semitic?" he said, and also reportedly stated that there's "a special place in hell" for people who commit violence that is religious or race-based.

King has also come under scrutiny for his recent endorsement of Faith Goldy earlier this month to be the next mayor of Toronto. Goldy is a controversial figure in Canadian politics, who has questioned whether Canada faces a "white genocide."

In an interview with a local Iowa news station, King defended his support for Goldy, saying, "there's this police action going on that once someone has been labeled by the left then we're all supposed to step away from them and shun them for whatever they might have said."

When asked by the interviewer if Goldy is "a supremacist," the congressman said, "I don't know that. I have not seen the evidence of that. Nothing came out in our conversations that would have indicated that."

King went on to defend himself against accusations of white nationalism, saying, "No one who knows me says that and there are a lot of people that know me ... the people who know me don't say that." He added, "I am effective and they attack the people that are effective. They try to marginalize effective people and they do it through intimidation. This is cyber-bullying that's going on."

The congressman is under heightened scrutiny following last week's events, but he's long been a polarizing figure on cultural issues.

In an interview conducted in August that has attracted renewed attention in the past few days, King questioned the value of diversity, reiterating his belief that it is "not a strength," and asking, "what does it bring that we don't have that is worth the price?"

The interview was published in Unzensuriert, which The Post has reported 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 was active in neo-Nazi circles as a youth." The Post noted that, "the party has distanced itself from those connections" but "recently embraced a hard-line anti-immigration stance while seeking ties with other far-right parties and leaders abroad."

King suggested in the same interview that Soros has propped up a range of liberal causes and speculated that he may have funded the Women's March.

"His money floats in in such a way you can't see the flow, but if you trace it back you can connect it to his foundation," he said. Soros is a major liberal donor, but the fact-checker PolitiFact concluded last year that claims that money from Soros went directly to protesters in the Women's March were not true.

King also suggested in a tweet earlier this month that Soros has a plan to bring immigrants into the US.

Heidi Beirich, an expert at the Southern Poverty Law Center who tracks hate groups and extremists, said in an interview that "King has engaged in anti-Soros conspiracy theories by suggesting that Soros is some kind of puppet-master behind the evils of globalism. He can say that's not anti-Semitic, but that's exactly what that is. For years, people have accused Jewish people of being behind a conspiracy to try to undo white societies and that is the same thing that Steve King is trading in right now."

During the same August interview, King said that an increasing number of people are concerned that "Western Civilization is on the decline" similar to remarks King was criticized for last year, when he tweeted "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

In the August interview, King went on to say, "I have said that diversity is not a strength. The Left just repeats it again and again, but it is mindless. What does this diversity bring that we don't already have? 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 US already."

Beirich said that King's comments criticizing diversity align with the ideology of white nationalism.

"At the bedrock of white nationalism is the idea that America should be a white place it should be dominated by white people, run by white people and in its most extreme forms the idea is that non-whites should be removed by the society. What Steve King has said is that non-whites shouldn't be imported into our society. A basic tenet of white nationalism is that the US should be a white ethno-state and that people of color are destroying it and Steve King seems to buy into that notion," she said.

In 2016, Soros committed to spending several billion dollars in an effort to counter hate crimes. The SPLC did not return a request for comment about whether Soros or the organization he founded, the Open Society Foundations, is a funder.

Patrick Gaspard, the president of the Open Society Foundations, said in a statement reacting to the Pittsburgh attack that attacks on Soros have continued "even in the aftermath of the shooting," adding that Soros, "has been the subject of countless anti-Semitic slurs from bigots in the US and around the world" and saying, "This has to stop."

King isn't the only Republican lawmaker to face scrutiny over comments he has made related to Soros.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy recently deleted a tweet in which he had said, "we cannot allow Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg to BUY this election," a reference to liberal billionaire and Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer and former New York City mayor and Democratic donor Michael Bloomberg.

Steyer, a vocal critic of Trump who has called for his impeachment, was also recently the target of a suspicious package.

"There's definitely been an emboldening under the Trump administration. We've seen more extreme comments coming from GOP figures, it's not just Steve King," Beirich said, referencing the fact that the President has routinely made anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant comments and warning that political rhetoric along those lines can contribute to the kind of attacks that took place in Pittsburgh.

"Hate speech leads to hate violence," she said. "When you engage in hate speech and demonize a population you make them suspect and we know that hate crimes are connected to hate speech."

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