Demonstrating just how short is the distance from white hate groups to the seat of American political power, the Majority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, gave a speech at a Louisiana conference hosted by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s white supremacy group 12 years ago while he was a state representative, according to published reports.
Duke’s group, called the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, is well-known to the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist hate group founded in 2000 by Duke, the controversial former Louisiana state representative.
Scalise’s appearance was first reported on Sunday by a Louisiana political blogger named Lamar White Jr., who found a number of posts on Stormfront, one of the original white supremacist websites, describing Scalise’s appearance at the 2002 EURO gathering.
“EURO already was well known as a racist hate group at the time that Steve Scalise apparently spoke to its workshop, and it is hard to believe that any aspiring politician would not have known that,” Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “In any case, it’s worth noting that Scalise apparently did not leave even after hearing other racist speakers spouting their hatred.”
Scalise is the third-highest ranking Republican in the House. His link to a white hate group comes as the Republicans are about to take over both chambers of Congress and are attempting to rewrite the party’s narrative as an inclusive party open to people of color.
Predictably, Scalise and his aides scrambled to explain away his appearance at Duke’s conference, using ignorance and disorganization as their defense.
Asked by the New Orleans Times-Picayune how he came to appear at the conference, Scalise blamed his tiny staff, saying he had only one person working for him at the time.
“When someone called and asked me to speak, I would go,” he said. “If I knew today what they were about, I wouldn’t go.”
“Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints,” Moira Bagley Smith, a spokeswoman for Scalise, said in a statement. “In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around. In 2002, he made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars as well as his opposition to a proposed tax increase on middle-class families. He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question. The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic.”
Later on Monday, Scalise said to the website NOLA.com, “I didn’t know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group. For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous.”
A person who attended the conference said Scalise gave a workshop on “the most effective and up-to-date methods of civil rights and heritage related activism,” according to published reports.
The conference, which was listed on an Anti-Defamation League list of extremist events for that year, received much attention because the Best Western tried to distance itself from the event and a minor league baseball team with African-American players said it wasn’t comfortable staying at the hotel during the conference.
“It’s hard to believe, given David Duke’s reputation in Louisiana, that somebody in politics in Louisiana wasn’t aware of Duke’s associations with the group and what they stand for,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (Tex.), a rising Hispanic star in the Democratic Party, told the Washington Post. “If that’s the case and he agreed to join them for their event, then I think it’s a real test for Speaker Boehner as to whether congressman Scalise should remain in Republican leadership.”
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said the Scalise story was “a big deal.”
“Race still is, sadly, an ugly aspect of our politics,” he told the Post by e-mail. “No politician should ever find himself/herself addressing a white supremacist organization except to tell them to go to hell.”
“In addition to plans to implement tactical strategies that were discussed, the meeting was productive locally as State Representative, Steve Scalise, discussed ways to oversee gross mismanagement of tax revenue or ‘slush funds’ that have little or no accountability,” user Alsace Hebert wrote on Stormfront on May 21, 2002. “Representative Scalise brought into sharp focus the dire circumstances pervasive in many important, under-funded needs of the community at the expense of graft within the Housing and Urban Development Fund, an apparent give-away to a selective group based on race.”
That same user wrote on Stormfront on Feb. 2, 2004: “It was just announced that Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson will enter the race in the 1st Congressional District. Those that attended the EURO conference in New Orleans will recall that Scalise was a speaker, offering his support for issues that are of concern to us.”
If observers need any more clues about Scalise’s racial politics, it should be noted that two years after speaking at the conference, Scalise was one of just six state representatives in Louisiana who voted to oppose making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday in Louisiana.
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What's that I hear? A pin dropping?