During an interview earlier this week with an Iowa TV station, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) rewrote history while trying to defend President Trump’s defense of the white supremacists who recently gathered in Charlottesville, claiming Confederate displays have only recently become controversial because of “politically driven” outrage.
On the topic of Charlottesville — where a counter-protester named Heather Heyer was murdered and 19 others injured after an alleged Nazi sympathizer drove a vehicle through a crowd — the interviewer asked King, “What your reaction to the president’s response was when he said, ‘there’s blame to be shared on both sides?’” The congressman began with a subtle dodge.
“Well, I was out of the country when this happened, so I did not and have not seen the videos of that as it unfolded,” he said, before making a case that those counter-protesting white supremacists chanting anti-Semitic and homophobic slogans and recklessly shooting guns were equally if not more culpable for the violence that ensued, because they didn’t have a permit.
“I’m under the understanding that the group that carried the white banner, however they labeled themselves, had a permit to demonstrate,” King said. “There were counter-demonstrators — I don’t have any evidence they had a permit to demonstrate. There was a clash apparently in the streets. I don’t know who landed the first blow.”
King then talked about Heyer’s death as though she had been killed in a tragic traffic accident instead of murdered by an alleged white supremacist.
“It’s a tragedy in any case, the lady losing her life down there,” he said. “And it looks to me that when the president said there is blame on both sides, the facts do support the president’s statement.”
King — an open white nationalist who was photographed displaying a Confederate flag on his desk in 2016 — went on to speak in support of the ostensible reason for the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville: the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a public park. Ignoring more than a century of American history, he characterized controversy surrounding the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments as a recent, “politically driven” development.
“Let’s put that stuff behind us in history,” King said. “The Civil War was history, the Confederacy was history. There’s a symbol there that means slavery to some, but it means a historical pride in the south in others, and we should be able to look at it as history.”
“It hasn’t been a problem for 150 years,” he added. “Why [did it] emerge now? It looks like it’s politically driven.”
Historians disagree with King’s analysis. Two years ago, John Coski, author of The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem, wrote that “[b]y the act of the Confederate government, the battle flag’s meaning is inextricably intertwined with the Confederacy itself and, thus, with the issues of slavery and states’ rights—over which readers of Civil War Times and the American public as a whole engage in spirited and endless debate.”
“Within a decade of the end of the war (even before the end of Reconstruction in 1877), white Southerners began using the Confederate flag as a memorial symbol for fallen heroes,” he added. “By the turn of the 20th century, during the so-called ‘Lost Cause’ movement in which white Southerners formed organizations, erected and dedicated monuments, and propagated a Confederate history of the ‘War Between the States,’ Confederate flags proliferated in the South’s public life. Far from being suppressed, the Confederate version of history and Confederate symbols became mainstream in the postwar South.”