The Hazards of Duke
It all started when Louisiana political blogger Lamar White Jnr. took a look at some posts on Stormfront, the far-Right bulletin board site that provides an online meeting point for Klanners, Holocaust deniers, Nazis and other racists. He found them referring to Representative Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, speaking at a conference hosted by the white supremacist group European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO). That was in 2002, when Scalise was just a state representative, and 12 years before he was elected Republican House majority whip.
The event was the National/International EURO Workshop on Civil Rights, held from May 17 to 18, 2002, at the Landmark/Best Western Hotel in Metairie, Louisiana. It was listed on an Anti-Defamation League list of extremist events for that year. A Stormfront user said Scalise spoke to the organization at a workshop "to teach the most effective and up-to-date methods of civil rights and heritage related activism."
It's not hard to figure what EURO fans might understand by civil rights and "heritage". The organisation was founded by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, who never broke from his racialist past, but led a group that set out to modernise the KKK's politics, taking them away from pointy hoods and cross burning, and into business suits, ballot papers and links with like-minded European fascists.
The British National Party's veteran John Tyndall was a guest at one of Duke's events.
Affecting more 'reasonable'-sounding language for aims reminiscent of the far-Right South African racists, Duke explained: "We (Whites) desire to live in our own neighborhoods, go to our own schools, work in our own cities and towns, and ultimately live as one extended family in our own nation".
As for the charge that he was supporting European Nazi Holocaust deniers, Duke contended that they had a point. " You can't find one written order to one commander at any of these camps which says 'Exterminate the Jews.'"
Duke's efforts at political 'respectability' might have survived his conviction for tax fraud in 2002, for which he served a short prison sentence. Americans are less likely to forgive some of his foreign adventures and associates, such as the Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, jailed in Germany on race hate charges, whom Duke referred to as a "political prisoner", or the Russian fascist leader Alexander Dugin. Duke's attendence at a conference of Holocaust revisionists in Tehran, as well as promoting his book on Zionism as "Jewish Supremacism" in Moscow, make a curious contrast with right-wing Republicans' advocacy of Israeli expansionism and war with Iran. But maybe Republicans - and their Israeli proteges -don't embarrass easy.
Scalise and his defenders have tried to pretend he did not know how bad EURO really was, and that he had nothing to do with David Duke's politics.
"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."
Scalise himself said later "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."
In fact, Scalise's attacks on public spending and affirmative action programmes slots in with Duke's longstanding claim that whites were the victims of discrimination. Duke's first move after leaving the Klan was to form a "National Association for the Advancement of White People".
And those attending the EURO convention appreciated Scalise's contribution. "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 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."
The same user also referenced Scalise's remarks in a post on Feb. 2, 2004.
"It was just announced that Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson will enter the race in the 1st Congressional District," Hebert wrote. "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."
Two years after speaking at the conference, Scalise was one of just six state representatives who voted to oppose making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday in Louisiana. That was at least the second time Scalise had voted against an MLK holiday. He was one of three lawmakers to vote against it in 1999, too.
People aren't buying the story that Scalise did not know who he was meeting.
"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."
Even a visiting minor league baseball team from another state knew what the Louisiana Republican's office claims he did not. As the Des Moines Register noted at the time:
The Iowa Cubs have changed hotels for their trip to New Orleans this month because of the meeting of an organization headed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
The Cubs were scheduled to stay at the Best Western Landmark Hotel in Metairie, La., while playing four Pacific Coast League games May 16-19. The hotel also booked a workshop during that period for an organization called EURO -- European-American Unity and Rights Organization.
It seems the hotel hosting the conference wasn't happy with the publicity it attracted:
The Best Western Landmark said "A contract to book this event was made some time ago, and it is our practice to fulfill our contractual obligations," a company spokesperson says. "Our company does not share the views of this organization." In the past, David Duke has held campaign events at the hotel, and "we have never had any trouble there," claims EURO national director Vincent Breeding.
And many conservatives aren't buying Scalise's story. RedState's Erick Erickson writes that he finds it highly unlikely the congressman would not have known this was a Duke organization at the time of the event.
New Orleans reporter Stephanie Grace recalled her first meeting with Scalise, twenty years ago.
"He told me he was like David Duke without the baggage".
The Republican Party of Louisiana has dismissed what it calls a "manufactured blogger story."
“For the 25 years that I’ve known Congressman Scalise, he has been an aggressive advocate for conservative reform. He has been willing to bring this message to anyone who would listen and has spoken to thousands of groups during his career in public service. I’ve also known Steve to be a man of great integrity who embodies his Christian faith in his daily life. This manufactured blogger story is simply an attempt to score political points by slandering the character of a good man," Louisiana party chairman Roger Villere Jr. said in a statement.
But others say white supremacism runs deep in the part of Louisiana region Scalise now represents in Congress, and the infection hasn't been confined to one party. The 2004 race for Louisiana's 1st Congressional District included Democrat Roy Armstrong, an ex-Ku Klux Klan leader and spokesman for Duke, who had just been released from federal prison. Republican Bobby Jindal, who is now the governor of the state, won the race in a landslide, but Armstrong managed to pick up more than 19,000 votes.
Meanwhile David Duke has issued a warning that if people don't lay off attacking Scalise he will name other politicians with whom he has been in contact.
And though Louisiana has some history, and social problems for demagogues to exploit, a report on Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin suggests the Duke's disease has spread out of its home swamp.
Duke in Russia: