David Duke Is Using Steve Scalise's Controversial Past to Re-Write His Own
Nobody has benefitted more from the Steve Scalise kerfuffle than David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, Louisiana state representative, and founder of a white nationalist group that Scalise may or may not have addressed in 2002, years before becoming House majority whip.
While Duke has been interviewed by several outlets (including this one) about the politically relevant details of the story—was Scalise there? What was their relationship? etc.—he has also used the new publicity to attempt to legitimize and defend his white nationalist views.
That’s especially clear in Duke’s TV interviews, including one on Monday with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and one on Saturday with CNN’s Michael Smerconish. The interviewers wanted to talk about Scalise, but Duke wanted to challenge the idea that he was the white supremacist founder of an inherently racist organization.
During the CNN interview, after answering a question about whether Scalise did address his European-American Unity and Rights Organization (“frankly, I’m not sure”), Duke took issue with his characterization as a former Klan leader.
“By the way, you gotta make something really clear here,” he said. “They say former Klan leader or whatever—this was 37 years ago in my life, OK?”
As for EURO, he said, it was not a racist group, but one dedicated to promoting civil rights for all people. “The European-American Unity and Rights Organization was an organization, in its charter, dedicated to true civil rights and dedicated to stopping discrimination against people … and that every people have the right to preserve their heritage, their freedom and their values.”
Web archives of the group's now-defunct site, whitecivilrights.com, seem to counter the anti-discrimination claim. One of the best examples is the site’s answer to the frequently asked question of whether EURO believes in equality. “No,” it said. “We believe that no two individuals or races are exactly equal in their inborn talents and potentialities.”
Even though Duke has made it clear that he isn’t sure whether Scalise was at the conference, he keeps getting press; his self-promotion was even more pronounced during his O’Reilly interview. When O’Reilly asked Duke where he was during the EURO conference, Duke held up a copy of the book he had been working on at the time and said his speech, which he gave via teleconference, was actually about how “the Iraq War would be a catastrophic war for America.”
He argued that he actually fought against “racial discrimination” through a Louisiana legislature bill to end affirmative action. “Okay, but let’s get back to Congressman Scalise,” O’Reilly said.
That didn’t happen. As Duke did on CNN, he complained that the late Robert Byrd was in the KKK longer than he was and still became a senator, and held up a photo of President Barack Obama and Byrd to illustrate the hypocrisy. Later he held up an image of Nelson Mandela. “He was a communist. They never headline ‘former communist Nelson Mandela,’” Duke said. (O’Reilly has discussed the topic on his show.)
“That’s because they’re sympathetic, in the mainstream media, for the left,” O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly wasn’t buying Duke’s other arguments. When the former EURO leader said he wanted to preserve European heritage, O’Reilly replied, “What does that mean? … The problem with this garbage, on both sides, is that we’re all in it together and skin color doesn’t matter.”
Duke’s views haven’t done well among actual Europeans either: He reportedly wore out his welcome in several countries there over the past few years.
But with the Scalise situation, Duke has managed to get back into the news for something else. The Southern Poverty Law Center argued that one of the main purposes of EURO was to serve “as a vehicle to publicize Duke’s writing and sell his books,” and he mentioned The Secret Behind Communism during both interviews. He also saw an uptick in mentions on social media, according to Topsy. As to whether he's managed to convince anyone that he's not a racist—well, that's another question.