The Terrorists' Man in Washington

Before Congressman Peter King was calling Obama soft on terror, he was championing terrorists in Ireland. Alex Massie on America’s worst congressman.

01.10.10 11:08 PM ET

Ladies and gentleman of America, meet the worst member of your Congress: Peter King, the Republican who represents New York's 3rd Congressional District and who for reasons that, as we shall see, are almost laughably inappropriate, is the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.

King has been on a tear since the attempted Christmas Day bombing, attacking the Obama administration at every turn. Earlier this week, he was asked what more President Obama could do to reassure Americans in the aftermath of the failed Christmas Day bomb plot. King's response? "I think one main thing would be to—just himself to use the word ‘terrorism’ more often." Even by the standards of the House of Representatives, this is impressively bone-headed.

For decades, King was one of the keenest, most reliable American voices supporting the Irish Republican Army during its long and murderous campaign.

Still, many members of Congress are stupid and the people, bless them, seem quite unconcerned by that. What's more galling is that King presents himself as a hawk on security issues who, like so many so-called conservatives, is an enthusiastic supporter of torture and, should it prove necessary, nuclear weapons. Listening to King talk about al Qaeda, you could be forgiven for thinking that he's the terrorists’ most implacable enemy.

Which would be funny if it weren't such a sour joke. For years, King, who represents a chunk of New York's Long Island, was in fact the terrorists' best friend. King wasn't merely an apologist for terrorism, he was an enthusiastic supporter of terrorism.

Of course it was Irish, not Islamic terrorism that King championed. So that's different. Right? For decades, King was one of the keenest, most reliable American voices supporting the Irish Republican Army during its long and murderous campaign.

According to King, the terrorist movement was "the legitimate voice of occupied Ireland."

In Northern Ireland, the conflict was drily referred to as "The Troubles." But that understatement hides the brutal nature of an ugly, squalid conflict during which more than 3,600 people were killed. Republican terrorists were responsible for more than 2,000 of these deaths. The scale of the carnage was such that, on a per-capita basis, a comparable conflict in the United States would kill 700,000 Americans.

And King was at the heart of it: In the 1980s, he was a prominent fundraiser for Noraid, the Irish-American organization that raised money for the IRA and was suspected of running guns to Ulster, too. Indeed, King's rise to prominence within the Irish-American movement was predicated upon his support for the IRA at a time when New Yorkers were softer on terrorism than they are now. Noraid helped win King his seat in Congress, making him, in some respects, the terrorists' Man in Washington.

On his travels to Northern Ireland, King would stay with members of the IRA and spend his evenings in IRA drinking clubs, soaking up the atmosphere and, I dare say, enjoying the craic.

In 1982 he told a pro-IRA rally in Nassau County, New York, that "We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry." That same year, an IRA bomb killed eight people in London's Hyde Park. Two years later, the IRA almost succeeded in murdering the British prime minister. Only good fortune saved Margaret Thatcher's life. In 1987, an IRA bomb murdered 11 civilians in Enniskillen during the annual Remembrance Day service. These are merely some of the more infamous IRA atrocities. There isn't space here to list them all.

King was such a well-known figure in Northern Ireland that one judge presiding over a murder case in which the accused were members of the IRA, threw King out of his Belfast courtroom because, as the judge put it, "he was an obvious collaborator with the IRA."

Nor was King ever apparently concerned by the links the IRA forged with countries hostile to the United States, such as Libya and Cuba. In 2002—after September 11, mind you—King condemned as "irresponsible" congressional hearings investigating links between the IRA and the Colombian terrorist-group FARC. King claimed that the hearings were rigged and subject to a "pre-ordained agenda" despite ample evidence demonstrating that the IRA was offering bomb-making and explosives training to the FARC.

As recently as 2005, King told me that "we shouldn't rush to be too sanctimonious" about the murder of Robert McCartney in a Belfast pub. Although the killing was witnessed by dozens of drinkers, IRA intimidation ensured that none came forward. A re-enactment of the murder shown on Irish television showed the Republicans involved returning to Magennis's bar to mop up blood and remove CCTV evidence while warning customers "This is IRA business." But, according to King, all the media attention devoted to the case was a whole lot of fuss about nothing much—even though the case revealed how the IRA continued to run rackets and pervert the course of justice.

Alas, fairness demands that one recognize that King did eventually break with the IRA later that year, demanding at long last that the organization fold its tent and disband. But he did so less because of the IRA's failings and more because he had become annoyed by what he termed Irish "begrudgery" and "anti-Americanism" after the Iraq War.

By that stage, the "Peace Process" had been going on for a dozen years—years in which King was a consistent apologist for the Republican movement's persistent disinclination to honor the promises it had made. That others were also happy to make excuses for Sinn Fein and the IRA does nothing to exculpate King's own willingness to turn a blind eye toward Sinn Fein's repeated bad faith.

Under the circumstances then, you may agree that it's just a bit rich to be lectured on terrorism by the likes of Peter King. It remains a mystery to me that his support for terrorism is mentioned so rarely by the American media when it is by far and away the most pertinent fact in Rep. King's sadly long career.

Happily there may be good news around the corner. New York is likely to lose a congressional seat once this year's Census results are confirmed. That means another bout of redistricting and King, one of just two Republicans New Yorkers send to Washington, is an obvious target to be mapped out of existence.

At the very least, this would give someone else a chance to inherit the title of America' Worst Congressman.

Alex Massie is a former Washington correspondent for The Scotsman and The Daily Telegraph. He writes for The Spectator and blogs at