Steve King Is Awful, But Austria’s Freedom Party Is Not Neo-Nazi

Call them alt-right or far right, but let’s reserve the “neo-Nazi” label for those who clearly deserve it.

Republican congressman Steve King of Iowa speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Republican congressman Steve King of Iowa speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

For the first time in sixteen years, Republican congressman Steve King of Iowa seems vulnerable. The polling gurus at FiveThirtyEight still give him a five-in-six chance of winning reelection, but one recent survey had King tied with his Democratic challenger.

I don’t think it’s unfair to call King a white supremacist. He speaks about the superiority of Western civilization, argues that certain races work harder than others and worries that white women are not having enough babies to preserve the dominant culture of the United States.

Many journalists have become comfortable calling out such bigotry in the age of Trump, but sometimes they go too far. There are stories referring to King meeting with members of a “neo-Nazi party” in Austria. That party is the ruling Freedom Party, and calling it neo-Nazi is inaccurate.

Former Nazis

The Freedom Party (FPÖ) was founded in 1956 as a right-wing alternative to the dominant center-right People’s Party. It did attract former Nazis, but so did the People’s Party and even the Social Democrats. Everyone who had been in Austrian politics between the Anschluss and the end of the Second World War was a former Nazi Party member. Other political parties had been banned.

Free-market liberals also joined the FPÖ and they were more influential. The far right broke away in the 1960s. Until the election of Jörg Haider as leader in 1986, the party was mainstream liberal.

Haider moved the party to the right on immigration and adopted a divisive populist style. Support went up from 5-6 percent in the 1970s and 80s to 17 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 1994 to a record 27 percent in 1999. The party formed a coalition government with the mainstream right that year, which led to an EU boycott.

Internal division, including Haider’s ouster (who died in 2008), caused popular support to plummet. The FPÖ received only 10 percent of the votes in 2002. It has since climbed its way back to 26 percent support. After the election last year, it formed another coalition government with the center-right.

How far right?

The FPÖ’s ideology hasn’t changed much since Haider, except he removed pan-Germanism from the platform. The party is anti-establishment, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam and anti-EU. It allies with Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Matteo Salvini’s League in Italy, Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary and the Sweden Democrats.

Call them alt-right or far right — but let’s reserve the “neo-Nazi” label for those who clearly deserve it.