Washington (AFP) - A Republican congressman from Iowa who has been accused in the past of racism asked in an interview published on Thursday how the terms "white nationalist" and "white supremacist" became offensive to Americans.
"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization - how did that language become offensive?" Representative Steve King asked in the interview with The New York Times.
"Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?" King asked.
He insisted in the interview that he was not racist and directed the Times to pictures on Twitter of him meeting people of various religions and races.
The conservative lawmaker later put out a statement denying what he said were suggestions in the Times article that he was "an advocate for white nationalism and white supremacy."
"I want to make one thing abundantly clear; I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define," King said.
"Further, I condemn anyone that supports this evil and bigoted ideology which saw in its ultimate expression the systematic murder of six million innocent Jewish lives."
King described himself -- "like the Founding Fathers" -- as an advocate for Western values and "simply a nationalist."
"One of my most strongly held beliefs is that we are all created in God's image and that human life is sacred in all its forms," he said.
King is known for espousing hard-line views on immigration and has long backed building a wall along the southern border with Mexico.
President Donald Trump is currently engaged in a standoff with the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives over its refusal to provide the $5.7 billion he is demanding for a border barrier.
King, 69, has been criticized by some Republicans for past remarks and narrowly won re-election in November after easy victories in previous years.
A Republican member of the Iowa state senate announced on Wednesday that he would challenge King in the 2020 Republican primary.