On August 21, authorities in Iowa charged 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera with the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old student from the University of Iowa who had been missing for over a month. Federal officials say that Rivera, who is originally from Mexico, entered the country illegally and used false documents to get a job, although his lawyer disputes this.
The same day, Iowa Rep. Steve King (R) tweeted his condolences. “Mollie Tibbetts, our hearts are broken,” King said. “We all prayed for your safe return. May you now be with the Lord and your family one day find a peace. Justice must now be served. RIP Mollie.”
Two days later, King sent a follow-up tweet, claiming “9 of the 10 most violent countries in the world” are in Latin America and “importing millions of this demographic means death for Americans.” His tweet implied unchecked immigration was responsible for Tibbetts’ death, and would be responsible for more.
It’s not surprising that King, who has a well-documented history of supporting far-right beliefs, would want to capitalize on Tibbetts’ murder. What is curious, however, is the fact that the geo-location tag on the tweet showed it had been sent from Vienna, Austria, home to an increasingly far-right government beset by allegations of neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism.
It’s unclear whether King was actually in Austria when he posted the tweet, as his office did not respond to several requests for comment on the matter. If he was, however, it wouldn’t have been his first trip.
According to Congressional Records, King made four congressional trips to Austria between December 2013 and early 2017 — more than any other country during that period. His last documented congressional trip was for two days in late February 2017. Prior to that, he visited the country in October 2016, December 2014, and December 2013. The number of private excursions King has made to the country is unknown.
Foreign travel is hardly a rarity for a congressman, and King visited dozens of other nations during that time frame, including Israel, Sweden, Turkey, and Guatemala. While King’s foreign travel expenditures have far exceeded those of his fellow Iowa representatives over the years, they’re not entirely unusual, given his position as vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law.
But the amount of times that King has specifically visited Austria raises questions, especially since, even when he’s not in Austria, King makes an effort to include leaders from the country’s far-right factions in U.S. political matters. In January 2017, for instance, King allegedly invited members of the right-wing populist Austria Freedom Party (FPÖ) to Trump’s inauguration, and then made sure to pose for a photo with them and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
King’s apparent fascination with Austria, and more specifically the FPÖ, makes a lot more sense once you start to examine the FPÖ’s far-right political stances.
Since forming a government in December, the FPÖ has promised to impose “sanctions” on migrants who it believes have “refus[ed] to integrate.” The head of the FPÖ, Heinz-Christian Strache, has also called for a ban on “fascistic Islam.”
“Let us put an end to this policy of Islamization… otherwise we Austrians, we Europeans will come to an abrupt end,” Strache said in January 2017, shortly after his party had urged a crackdown on asylum applications.
He added, “We need zero and minus immigration.”
Since December, the FPÖ has been beset by a number of internal scandals involving extreme far-right and neo-Nazi sympathizers within its ranks. In January, an Austrian fraternity was disbanded after it was discovered its songbook contained anti-Semitic jokes. The fraternity’s deputy leader was Udo Landbauer, a candidate with the FPÖ.
In March, an employee with the Austrian embassy in Israel was also recalled after a photo emerged of him wearing a Nazi t-shirt. Later that month, the FPÖ was forced to expel two local councilors after WhatsApp messages revealed they had been trading images of Hitler along with quotes from the genocidal dictator. The fact that the FPÖ was originally founded by a former SS officer doesn’t exactly help matters either.
None of this seems to bother King, who, in addition to his racist and anti-immigrant beliefs, has previously faced criticism for retweeting British neo-Nazis and posting messages like the ones he tweeted in March 2017 (“We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies”) and September 2016 (“Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end”).
King faces a tricky Democratic challenger in November, and his seat has recently been moved from “Safe Republican” to “Likely Republican” by political handicapper Sabato’s Crystal Ball. This means that his friendly relationship with racist, xenophobic, right-wing European politicians may come back to haunt him later. For now, though, he seems more concerned with his far-right chums in Europe than the people and communities — Mollie Tibbetts included — he actually represents.