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House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) has admitted that he delivered a speech to a so-called “white rights” conference in 2002 that was held by an organization known as EURO, headed by the neo-Nazi leader David Duke. Scalise has also insisted that he shares American society’s abhorrence of such “hate groups” — and that he did not know what kind of group he was talking to.   He is asking the public to believe that he did not notice any of the virulent racist and anti-Semitic talk by the Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and assorted white nationalists in attendance at this gathering.

But Louisiana Republicans have had a David Duke problem since 1989, when Duke won a state assembly seat. He had been a neo-Nazi ideologue since his youth; he had paraded one night in full Nazi uniform with a swastika armband at the state university; and he had made the “international Jewish conspiracy” central to his Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Even after he was elected, Duke was still selling Holocaust denial books from his state legislative office.

Yet the Louisiana State Republican Party Central Committee refused to either investigate Duke’s views or pass a censure motion, despite the repeated efforts of Beth Rickey, a Central Committee member. When Duke said he had changed his beliefs, his fellow Republicans and many white Louisianans decided to believe him.

Then in 1990 and 1991 Duke ran in two consecutive statewide elections in Louisiana — for U.S. senator and governor — and won a majority of the white vote both times. The state was saved by black voters, whose ballots defeated him. Again, the state Republican Party refused to investigate Duke’s actual positions. Nevertheless, his worldview became the central issue in those campaigns. And after Duke equated affirmative action with the extermination of European Jews, President George H.W. Bush stepped in to denounce him. Once more, local Republicans remained silent. Scalise, who was 25 years old in 1990, could not have missed this debate, which made national news.

A few years later, Duke finally gave up his Republican “my views have changed” smokescreen.   He published an Aryan primer as an autobiography in 1998, was convicted of tax fraud and went to federal prison in 2002, and began a prolonged public rant and rave about Jews that continues to this date. At the time of the EURO meeting with Scalise, Duke was overseas, attempting to avoid indictment, and addressed the gathering in Metairie, LA, via long-distance video hookup.

It is hard to believe that Steve Scalise, a sentient adult, missed all this, particularly as he was running for re-election to the state legislature in 2002. It is much easier to believe that he had the typical, old-fashioned, indulgent Louisiana Republican attitude toward David Duke. The question remains: Are there any national Republican leaders who will stand up, as President George H. W. Bush did in the 1990s, and speak the truth?

Published with permission from the Institute for Research & Education On Human Rights.

Photo: House GOP via Flickr

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