Steve Scalise’s Denials Are Not Believable

Faced with an exploding crisis sparked by the revelation that the No. 3 Republican in the House gave a speech to a well-known group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis a dozen years ago, the GOP in Rep. Steve Scalise’s home state of Louisiana is doubling down, calling the entire episode a mere “manufactured blogger story.”

Really? A manufactured blogger story?

Scalise claimed yesterday that he had no idea of the views promoted by the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), whose workshop he addressed in 2002 at a hotel in Metairie, La. And he was backed by an array of Louisiana Republicans including state GOP chair Roger Villere Jr., who described Scalise as “a man of great integrity who embodies his Christian faith in his life.” Villere dismissed the story broken by Louisiana blogger Lamar White Jr. as “an attempt to score political points by slandering the character of a good man.”

But Scalise’s claim of ignorance is almost impossible to believe. He was a state representative and an aspiring national politician at the time, and Louisiana-based EURO already was well known as a hate group led by America’s most famous white supremacist.

EURO was founded two years before Scalise agreed to speak to its conference by Louisiana resident David Duke, a media-friendly neo-Nazi and onetime grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who had made a national name for himself by running repeatedly for office. He won his first elected office in 1989, when he became a state representative, garnering local headlines across Louisiana. In 1990, he won more than 600,000 votes in an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, and in 1991, he took almost 700,000 votes in a run for governor. Newspapers around the world wrote about his ultimately losing fight against the scandal-dogged Edwin Edwards and the bumper sticker it engendered: “Vote for the crook, it’s important.”

That’s not all.

Newspapers at the time of the EURO conference reported that a minor league baseball team from Iowa had changed hotels after learning that it would be held where they planned to stay. A hotel official also told a local paper that the company “did not share the views” of EURO, according to the Huffington Post.

And Scalise’s claims met with skepticism even from some well-known out-of-state conservatives. “How do you not know? How do you not investigate?” asked Erick Erickson, a former Louisiana resident, on his RedState blog yesterday. “By 2002,everybody knew Duke was still the man he had claimed not to be. EVERYBODY. How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?”

In an interview with NOLA.com yesterday, Scalise reiterated the claim that he had no idea what EURO was and said that he “went and spoke to any group that called.” That prompted Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin to ask the obvious question: “Would he have spoken to a KKK rally? To the American Nazi Party?”

The fact is that Scalise may have had some real affinities with EURO. In 1999, Roll Call reported that Scalise “said he embraces many of the same ‘conservative’ views as Duke, but is more viable.” To the extent that he had a problem with Duke, it appears it was only that he was unelectable. “Duke has proven he can’t get elected," Roll Call quoted Scalise as saying, “and that’s the first and most important thing.”

In 1999, Scalise voted against making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday, one of just three state representatives to do so. And in 2004, two years after the EURO conference, he was one of six to vote against the holiday.

There appears to be no transcript of Scalise’s speech to EURO, but blogger Lamar White Jr., who first broke the story on Sunday, found postings on the neo-Nazi Stormfront Web forum that described it. In one, a user said Scalise “brought into sharp focus the dire circumstances pervasive in many important, under-funded needs of the community at the expense of graft with the Housing and Urban Development Fund, an apparent giveaway to a selective group based on race.”

A colleague at the Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Project Director Heidi Beirich, actually attended EURO conferences in 2004 and 2005. The venues were adorned with Confederate flags and racist slogans and offered racist merchandise.

Scalise, a politician who already had national aspirations at the time of the 2002 EURO conference, certainly should have known what his dalliance with open white supremacists might cost him. In 1998, a scandal erupted when it was revealed that U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) had endorsed and spoken to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a major white supremacist hate group. In late 2002, after singing the praises of segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), Lott was forced to resign his leadership post.

Now Steve Scalise should do the same.

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