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Rep. Steve King’s racist tweet shows how global the far right has become

Steve King (L) and Geert Wilders (R).
(Peter W. Stevenson/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

In April 2015, Dutch politician Geert Wilders traveled to Washington, DC, to give a speech to the Conservative Opportunity Society, a meeting group of conservatives in the House of Representatives. Wilders had been invited by the Society’s chair, anti-immigration hard-liner Steve King, to talk about the effect Muslim immigration was having on Europe. Wilders did not disappoint.

“There is no moderate Islam. Islam has changed Europe beyond recognition,” Wilders told the Iowa Congress member and the other representatives. “Our duty is clear: In order to solve the problem, we have to stop mass immigration to the West from Islamic countries.”

So when King tweeted out a racist comment this Sunday suggesting that nonwhite immigrants couldn’t be part of “our civilization,” it was hardly an accident that the tweet was inspired by Wilders — they’re old comrades in the anti-immigration cause:

The longstanding affinity between the two politicians tells us something important about modern politics. Far-right politicians are organizing, developing networks and alliances with like-minded xenophobes throughout Europe and the United States. The nationalists are building an international movement — creating a kind of global movement dedicated to slowing immigration to the West.

The “nationalist international”

New America’s Scott Malcomson termed this global far-right alliance the “nationalist international” — a cheeky reference to the Communist International, a global umbrella organization for communist parties. It is, however, far less organized than its communist predecessor, and more of a loose web of connections among various different like-minded parties. These connections come through speaking engagements and meetings between leaders such as Wilders, France’s Marine Le Pen, Germany’s Frauke Petry, and Britain’s Nigel Farage.

The notion of nationalists organizing sounds, on the face of it, ridiculous. The whole point of nationalism is elevating one’s own country above others; you’d think that German and French nationalists would hate each other almost on principle.

The nationalist international has a different view, though. They see nationalists around the West as facing two key common threats — mass immigration and the loss of political power to international institutions like the European Union. The first order of business, they believe, is to counter these threats. Whatever differences French and German patriots may have with each other, they share enemies in common — and a shared interest in standing up for the right of nations to be distinct from one another.

Le Pen elegantly summarized the idea in a January speech to the first-ever assembly of far-right leaders: “I love France because it is France. I love Germany because it is Germany.”

King is part of the American branch of this nationalist international. He sees America in basically the same way that European far-rightists see their countries — as a nation at risk of being destroyed by ethnically and culturally distinct immigrants who won’t integrate — and he has a very long history of saying so.

This is different from how the GOP typically relates to foreign politicians. In the past, Republicans typically saw center-right parties, like the British Tories or French Republicans, as their international peers. But Wilders, Le Pen, and the rest lead third parties — they’re far-right challengers to the mainstream, who argue that the mainstream has betrayed Europeans by being open to mass immigration and remaining in the European Union.

King and like-minded legislators such as Texas’s Louie Gohmert are far more aligned with this populist vision than the more mainstream consensus position. Prior to 2016, this seemed like a fringe opinion — but with Trump in the White House, things might be different. White House senior strategist Steve Bannon argued, in a 2014 speech, that this right-wing international is a “global Tea Party movement” he strongly supports.

“The central thing that binds that all together is a center-right populist movement of really the middle class, the working men and women in the world who are just tired of being dictated to by what we call the ‘party of Davos,’” Bannon said. “I think you’re seeing a global reaction to centralized government.”

The result, then, is that you’ve got ideas from Europe’s far right being imported to the United States, then being shaped by folks like King and Bannon to fit the American context. It’s not that the US needed to learn bigotry from Europe; it’s that American anti-immigrant politicians are learning the specific tactics and concepts that have helped the far right rise in Europe and redeploying them at home. And vice versa, of course: The European far right watched Trump’s rise closely.

Steve King represents a long, and distinctly American, tradition of anti-immigrant advocacy. But his ideas have an unmistakably European flavor.

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