The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a leading civil rights group, is calling on House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseFifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill Democratic leaders racing toward Monday infrastructure vote House GOP to whip against bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (R-La.) to resign from his leadership post after revelations that he spoke to a white supremacist group in 2002.
In a post on the SPLC website, titled "Steve Scalise's Denials Are Not Believable," senior fellow Mark Potok points to the example of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who resigned his leadership post in 2002 after praising the presidential campaign of segregationist Strom Thurmond.
"After singing the praises of segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), Lott was forced to resign his leadership post," Potok writes. "Now Steve Scalise should do the same."
The call comes as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is standing by Scalise, calling the appearance an "error in judgment." A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not go as far as the SPLC, calling the revelation "deeply troubling" but stopping short of calling on Scalise to resign.
The SPLC argues that Scalise's defense that he did not know the views of the group, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, is not believable. The group was founded by David Duke, a well known former Ku Klux Klan leader.
"But Scalise’s claim of ignorance is almost impossible to believe," Potok writes. "He was a state representative and an aspiring national politician at the time, and EURO already was well known as a hate group led by America’s most famous white supremacist."
The SPLC points to reports that before the same event that Scalise spoke at, a minor league baseball team canceled its stay at the hotel in Louisiana after finding out that the group would be meeting there.
"A colleague at the Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Project Director Heidi Beirich, actually attended EURO conferences in 2004 and 2005," Potok writes. "The venues were adorned with Confederate flags and racist slogans and offered racist merchandise."
Scalise released a statement Tuesday afternoon, calling the appearance a "mistake I regret."