GOPer Tries to Explain Away Ties to White Supremacists; David Duke Says He Was a Political Friend
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-LA, the third-highest ranking Republican in the U.S. House, keeps trying to explain away the fact that in 2002 he spoke at a white nationalist conference with ties to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, saying he did not realize who was speaking to and that he had no ties to the group.
In a lengthy interview New Orleans’ Nola.com, Scalise said Monday that he “detest(s) any kind of hate group,” that he didn’t have a staff a dozen years ago when he was a state legislator—or Google—to vet the conference sponsors, and that some of the groups associated with the conference don’t like Catholics, his religious faith. Other Louisiana Republicans, such as Gov. Bobby Jindal, defended Scalise, following a predictable damage-control script.
“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,” Scalise told NOLA.com, referring to the conference organized by the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO, an entity founded by Duke. Duke, who spoke by video during the two-day event, served in the same legislative district as Scalise.
But what is insulting and ludicrous are these retractions and defenses. As the Washington Post noted in its report that included a lengthy interview with Duke, Scalise has been very “friendly” for years with Kenny Knight, Duke’s longtime political advisor, which, was why the incoming 2015 House Majority Whip agreed to speak at the event.
“Scalise would communicate a lot with my campaign manager, Kenny Knight,” Duke told the Post. “That is why he was invited and why he would come. Kenny knew Scalise, Scalise knew Kenny. They were friendly.”
Scalise was invited because he a sharp and up-and-coming legislator who had a reputation of giving good talks about state politics, Duke said, adding that he didn’t know Scalise personally. But Duke did say that Scalise—via their mutual friend Kenny Knight—knew about Duke’s activities.
“All I know is that Kenny liked him. He thought Scalise, who remember was just a state representative, was sharp. They’d talk about the Hollywood system, about the war, whatever I was concerned about,” Duke said. “I think Scalise would talk to Kenny because he recognized how popular I was in his own district. He knew that knowing what I was doing and saying wouldn’t be the worst thing politically. Kenny would keep Scalise up to date on my issues.”
Well, maybe it wouldn’t be “worst thing politically” to appear before any constituent group in the New Orleans metro area if you are an ambitious Republican state lawmaker, but to claim—as Scalise is now claiming—that he had no knowledge of who he was talking to a dozen years ago, is not credible.
"If I knew today what they were about, I wouldn’t go,” Scalise told Nola.com. “My staff, they are able to vet organizations. We turn down requests from organizations we don’t approve of. Now, I still go speak to people who don’t think like me. I’ll go speak to liberal groups a lot. But a group like this? I would not go to speak to. They don’t share my values.”
Notice how Scalise’s backtracking emphasizes what he’d do now—given today’s stakes as the incoming House Majority Whip—as opposed to what knew and he did years ago as a state representative.
As far as political apologies go, a contrite Scalise will probably keep his House leadership post. Unlike Michael Grimm, Staten Island, New York’s Republican congressman, Michael Grimm, he wasn’t recently convicted of tax evasion and is being forced to resign. This event occurred more than a decade ago.
But it does underscore why the GOP, especially its southern flank that embraces every modern voter suppression tactic available, cannot escape its pro-white, racist roots. There’s a reason why the party has that reputation and it is coming from within—not from its critics seeking to smear it.