David Duke Returns to Haunt the Republican House Whip

How infamous was the former Klan leader when Steve Scalise spoke to his group?

David Duke speaks at a 2000 meeting of his "European-American" organization.

CSPAN

On the morning of Jan. 21, 2000, David Duke stood in a rented room at the National Press Club to announce his next act. It had been a few months since Duke tried and failed to win a congressional seat in Louisiana, and his own electoral career—which peaked when he got into 1991's runoff for governor of Louisiana—was over. His self-published doorstop of a memoir wasn't selling. Still, Duke had a brand, and adherents, and he was ready to organize them in the National Organization for European American Rights, or NOFEAR.

"Just as African Americans have the NAACP and Mexican Americans have La Raza, European Americans now have the National Organization for European American Rights, to actively defend their rights and heritage in the United States," said Duke in a press release. At the podium, he repeated himself: "European Americans must band together as a group the same way African Americans do, the same way other minorities do."

The "European-American" schtick was not new. Duke had spent his whole public life re-casting white supremacist politics as pro-white, "white rights" politics. Black people had their organization; why couldn't whites have theirs? "If you watch the media today," said Duke in a February 2000 speech, "it seems like there are no white people in need. Well, let me tell you, two-thirds of the poor people in this country are white."

For the first few months of the organization's life, Duke transformed into a sort of bizarro Al Sharpton, offering his wisdom and healing when "European-Americans" were victimized. Then the FBI showed up at his door. In November 2000, Duke's home was raided by feds looking for evidence that Duke was using NOFEAR as a slush fund. Shortly thereafter, FBI agent Todd Cox signed an affidavit explaining the alleged Duke scheme.

"Your affiant has probable cause to believe that David Duke was engaged in a scheme and artifice to defraud using the United States Mail," Cox wrote, according to a report from New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Michael Perlstein. "Duke received substantial sums from individuals in this manner. In truth, the majority of the money was not used for Duke's cause, but rather for his personal benefit including large sums of money used at gambling casinos in Mississippi, Nevada and Louisiana."

Duke wasn't around to take the rap. When the FBI raided his home, he was in Russia, spreading the white pride gospel. And yet, for a while, his rebranding really did seem to work. In 2001, NOFEAR got Virginia's Republican governor, Jim Gilmore, to proclaim May "European-American Heritage and History Month." The governor only tore up the proclamation when the AP called to ask if he knew who was behind NOFEAR. Duke returned to the United States and kept up his Civil Rights Leader act, and in June 2001, he changed NOFEAR's name to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization—a name with a fine acronym (EURO) and no copyright conflicts with a popular clothing brand. Still, in December 2002, he gave up. He confessed to mail fraud, and to bilking NOFEAR donors.

Why does any of this matter in 2014? Because over the weekend, the Louisiana blog CenLemar.com reported that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise spoke at a May 2002 EURO meeting, while serving as a state representative. The evidence of this had been sitting online for a decade, in a forum at the white supremacist site StormFront. Not until this December did the blogger point that out, or reporters confirm, with Scalise's office, that the speech happened.

"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," wrote a user named Alsace Hebert in a February 2004 forum post.

"A Republican such as Scalise can run in the district, state he will fight to end affirmative action, stop immigration, and fight crime," said another commenter, Lewis Sterling.

Today, in a full interview with the Times-Picayune's Julia O'Donoghue, Scalise plead ignorance of what EURO stood for and remembered no details from the event. (He surely would have noticed if he'd stuck around for Duke's video-conferenced speech, in which he speculated about Israel's role in the September 11 attacks.) "I was asked to speak all around the New Orleans region," he said. "I didn't know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group." He didn't remember the speech; Duke himself wasn't at the conference. "I had one person that was working for me. When someone called and asked me to speak, I would go." Rather like Van Jones did after his name was found on a 9/11 Truth petition, Scalise is insisting that the fringe fooled him into associating with beliefs he did not hold.

Duke's re-branding—his "European-American" group was founded 27 months before Scalise spoke, and re-named 11 months before he spoke—was obviously designed to sow confusion. Had David Duke asked Virginia to create a pro-white holiday, the governor would have safely tossed the request in the circular file. Because a "European American" organization asked for it, the governor was snookered. 

But how infamous was the EURO conference? It depended what you read. At the start of 2002, the Anti-Defamation League listed the "National/International EURO Workshop on Civil Rights" on its calendar of "extremist events." Before the conference began, Gambit Weekly columnist Jeff Crouere reported that a baseball team was canceling its bookings at the hotel that would host the conference.

The Iowa Cubs will be playing the New Orleans Zephyrs from May 16-19, the same time frame as the EURO workshop. Originally, the Cubs were slated to stay at the same hotel as EURO participants. Normally, when playing the Zephyrs, the Iowa Cubs stay at the Best Western Landmark. Due to the controversial nature of EURO, the Cubs will move to a different hotel.

"We would just as soon stay away from a group that will create controversy," says Iowa Cubs general manager Sam Bernabe. The Best Western Landmark seems unhappy about the workshop as well. "

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.

The Iowa Cubs travel with 30 players and coaches, including six African Americans. "I'm glad we're staying away from it," says Cubs hitting coach Pat Listach. "I wouldn't have been comfortable staying there."

Scalise might have missed that edition of the newspaper. "It is my recollection that the group was not well established or very large," Crouere told me in an email. "It also did not receive much publicity in the local area, so I am not sure if most of the local political community was even aware of their conference. Of course everyone is familiar with the founder, but not this group or their meeting."

Perhaps Scalise also failed to check EURO's website, which was located at WhiteCivilRights.com. How'd he get to the conference, anyway? Duke, who has re-emerged from obscurity to talk to reporters, told the Washington Post's Robert Costa that the invitation came from his associates Howie Farrell and Kenny Knight. If Scalise didn't know who Howie Farrell was, he'd forgotten the name of Duke's campaign manager in his 1991 gubernatorial bid, one of the most infamous periods in Louisiana political history.

And it's hard to overstate how toxic Duke himself was in Louisiana. Every couple of years, he was re-emerging to taint Republicans. In 1995, Duke quietly sold his voter mailing list to the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Foster—who won. In 1996, Duke embarrassed the party by running for U.S. Senate and losing. In 1999, he did the same, beckoning yet another group of out-of-state journalists into Louisiana to cover him. Later that year, with Foster up for re-election, a grand jury probed the sale of the mailing list and Duke himself was called to testify. No Republican with ambition, as Scalise clearly was, wanted to get close to Duke.

"By 2002, everybody knew Duke was still the man he had claimed not to be," wrote RedState's Erick Erickson today. "The very GOP establishment now lining up behind Steve Scalise threw Chris McDaniel under the bus for speaking to a Sons of the Confederate Veterans event."

Indeed, Scalise was on the record attacking Duke for that 1999 race. "The novelty of David Duke has worn off,” Scalise told Roll Call's John Mercurio. “The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected."

That phrase—"who not only believes in the issues they care about"—seemed innocuous enough at the time. In 2014, after Scalise has won five easy elections to the House (he took Governor Bobby Jindal's vacant seat in a 2008 special), it's being read as evidence that Scalise did not condemn Duke nearly enough. Duke is happy to pick up the ringing phone and link himself to Scalise; the whip is left arguing that he simply didn't pay enough attention, in 2002, to the name of the organization that Duke was using to unite white supremacists.

Meanwhile, the only people who know what Scalise said at EURO are deriding the media's sudden interest. "I remember that conference well," wrote Don Black, the founder of Stormfront, in a forum post. "Hard to believe it's been over twelve years. I won't comment on Scalise. But I will note the absolute hypocrisy of the anti-White establishment. David Duke had been elected to the Louisiana legislature in 1989, despite massive opposition from the local and national media/political establishment. He went on to win 60 percent of the White vote statewide in the 1990 U. S. Senate election and then in the 1991 gubernatorial race. I worked on all those campaigns, and other Louisiana politicians naturally wanted the Duke vote."

Scalise didn't need "the Duke vote." He won his Republican-leaning district easily; he won his congressional races with no less than 66 percent of the vote, and often much more. If his explanation is true, he failed to due diligence and make sure the conservative group he'd be talking taxes to in May 2002 had no connection to Louisiana's most infamous bigot. Just days before the new Congress takes office, he's being universally condemned or mocked by progressives. He's being derided by conservatives like Erickson, who want the establishment to play by the same "guilt by association" rules they assign to insurgents. And he's being defended by people who think the media is making up rules no politician should have to live by.

"The double standard of which supremacists we are allowed to tolerate is glaring," wrote conservative activist Charles C. Johnson in a series of tweets defending Scalise. "Why can politicians speak at black or Latin supremacist organizations but not white supremacist organizations?"

MORE FROM BLOOMBERG POLITICS

— David Duke Says He Understands Why Scalise's Memory May Have Failed

— Jindal, Richmond Defend Scalise After Reports of White Nationalist Appearance

— Scalise, No. 3 House Republican, Says He Has No Link to White Supremacy Group

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