Did Rep. Steve Scalise Actually Speak at a Racist Event in 2002?

steve-scalise
Newly elected House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, speaks to the media on Capitol Hill on June 19, 2014. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

U.S. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, has received intense criticism after an allegation emerged Monday that he spoke at a conference hosted by the white supremacist European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO, in 2002.

Scalise was a Louisiana state legislator at the time. The allegation that he appeared at the conference was based on a blog post by an anonymous user on the white supremacist Web forum Stormfront.org, which was unearthed Sunday by Louisiana politics blogger Lamar White Jr. The story was picked up by the Guardian newspaper Tuesday and quickly went viral.

Scalise was at first hesitant to confirm whether he had spoken at the event, but on Monday he issued a statement confirming it and apologizing. “Twelve years ago, I spoke to many different Louisiana groups as a state representative, trying to build support for legislation that focused on cutting wasteful state spending, eliminating government corruption and stopping tax hikes,” Scalise said in a statement issued Tuesday, according to The Washington Post. “One of the many groups that I spoke to regarding this critical legislation was a group whose views I wholeheartedly condemn. It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.”

House Speaker John Boehner stood by Scalise in a statement, also released Tuesday. “More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate,” Boehner’s statement said. “Like many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I know Steve to be a man of high integrity and good character. He has my full confidence as our whip, and he will continue to do great and important work for all Americans.”

On Monday, Scalise’s spokeswoman confirmed to The New York Times that he had spoken at the conference.

However, at least three reports have now emerged with details that raise questions about whether Scalise did, in fact, attend the event, including from one event attendee who spoke with Newsweek.

Don Black, founder of Stormfront.org, told Newsweek he attended the 2002 conference, which was sponsored by former Louisiana state representative and self-described white nationalist David Duke. Black told Newsweek via email that “Scalise was scheduled to speak” but that “he was a no-show.”

“We speculated at the time he’d gotten cold feet,” Black said. He added that it would have been “no surprise” for Scalise to agree to speak at such an event, however. “I worked on all David Dukes political campaigns,” he said. “He was obviously popular among voters in Louisiana. Sometimes wildly popular. Politicians wanted his support and that of his supporters. So it was no surprise Scalise would agree to speak at this relatively low-key meeting.”

Told that Scalise had confirmed to The New York Times that he attended the event, Black said, “If only his memory had been as good as mine yesterday!”

Kenny Knight, a longtime Duke associate and local organizer of the EURO conference, told The Daily Beast Tuesday that he invited Scalise to speak but not at the conference. Rather, Knight said, he invited Scalise to speak at a gathering of the Jefferson Heights Civic Association, which was held before the EURO event. Knight said Scalise did speak at that event, in between a representative from the Red Cross and a representative of the local sheriff’s department. Knight told the Beast that the civic association meeting was attended by constituents of Scalise’s. Both events happened in the same hotel space at the Best Western Landmark Hotel in Metairie, Louisiana.

Knight did not respond to a request for comment from Newsweek.

Barbara Noble, Knight’s girlfriend at the time, who also said she attended the EURO conference, told Slate that Scalise did not speak there.

Newsweek attempted to contact Scalise by email and phone, but has yet to receive a response.

Scalise took several days to confirm whether he had attended the EURO event after the news broke Sunday, initially saying he couldn’t recall.

Throughout the process, he has adamantly maintained that he did not know that the event was sponsored by a white supremacist group and that he “wholeheartedly condemns” its views.