House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) spoke at a white supremacist group’s event in 2002 while he served as a state representative, an unwelcome bit of news for Republicans preparing for the new Congress.
Scalise acknowledged speaking to the group created by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, but said it was “insulting and ludicrous” to think he shared the group's views.
“I didn't know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group," he said in an interview with Nola.com on Monday. "For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous,” he said.
The Louisiana political blog CenLamar initially published posts from Stormfront.com, a white supremacist message board, which mentioned Scalise speaking at an event for the European-American Unity and Rights Organization.
Scalise did not deny that he spoke to the group, but said he spoke to a number of groups about his opposition to governemnt spending when he served as a state representative.
“When people asked me to go speak, I went and spoke to any group that called,” he said.
“Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints,” Moira Bagley Smith, Scalise’s spokeswoman, said in the 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.”
News of Scalise's appearance before the group created a storm in Washington, and some conservatives lashed out at Scalise.
Influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson doesn’t buy Scalise’s excuse that he didn’t know about the group’s leanings.
“By 2002, everybody knew that Duke was still the man he claimed not to be. EVERYBODY,” Erickson said in a blog on his website RedState.com. “How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?”
The Post reported that a number of local businesses put out statements disavowing the event to create distance between its message.
Duke’s group is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and regularly posted white supremacist and anti-Semitic content on its website, whitecivilrights.com. Posts on the white supremacist forum say that Duke spoke at the event through a teleconference.
Scalise moved up to GOP whip this past summer after the primary defeat of former Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) caused a shake-up within the caucus.
He defeated Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), who had been a deputy whip, in the race for the third-ranking House GOP leadership spot. Scalise had previously served as the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
This story was updated at 9:09 p.m.