Twelve years before he was elected by his colleagues as House majority whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) spoke at a conference hosted by the white supremacist group European-American Unity and Rights Organization.
Louisiana political blogger Lamar White Jr. dug up a number of posts on Stormfront, one of the original white supremacist websites, that place Scalise at the 2002 EURO gathering. According to one user who attended the conference, Scalise -- then a state representative -- spoke to the organization at a workshop "to teach the most effective and up-to-date methods of civil rights and heritage related activism."
According to another Stormfront post, the National/International EURO Workshop on Civil Rights was held from May 17 to 18, 2002, at the Landmark/Best Western Hotel in Metairie, Louisiana. The conference was also listed on an Anti-Defamation League list of extremist events for that year.
"Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints," Moira Bagley Smith, a spokeswoman for Scalise, said in a 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. He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question. The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic."
Later on Monday, Scalise told NOLA.com, "I didn't know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group. For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous."
An aide to Scalise noted that at the time Scalise had only one aide and that he was speaking to any group that would listen to his argument about "slush funds." According to a contemporaneous Stormfront post, Scalise referenced such funds in his remarks to the EURO conference.
"In addition to plans to implement tactical strategies that were discussed, the meeting was productive locally as State Representative, Steve Scalise, discussed ways to oversee gross mismanagement of tax revenue or 'slush funds' that have little or no accountability," user Alsace Hebert wrote on May 21, 2002. "Representative Scalise brought into sharp focus the dire circumstances pervasive in many important, under-funded needs of the community at the expense of graft within the Housing and Urban Development Fund, an apparent give-away to a selective group based on race."
The same user also referenced Scalise's remarks in a post on Feb. 2, 2004.
"It was just announced that Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson will enter the race in the 1st Congressional District," Hebert wrote. "Those that attended the EURO conference in New Orleans will recall that Scalise was a speaker, offering his support for issues that are of concern to us."
Two years after speaking at the conference, Scalise was one of just six state representatives who voted to oppose making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday in Louisiana. That was at least the second time Scalise had voted against an MLK holiday. He was one of three lawmakers to vote against it in 1999, too.
Founded in 2000 by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke (who served as a Louisiana state representative from 1989 to 1992), EURO seeks to fight for "white civil rights." The group is recognized as a white nationalist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. As the SPLC notes, the group is largely inactive, serving primarily as a vehicle to promote Duke's books.
"EURO already was well known as a racist hate group at the time that Steve Scalise apparently spoke to its workshop, and it is hard to believe that any aspiring politician would not have known that," Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "In any case, it's worth noting that Scalise apparently did not leave even after hearing other racist speakers spouting their hatred."
While Scalise's office says he was unaware of EURO's politics at the time of the convention, other groups knew the background of the group. A newspaper archives search on Nexis.com found that The Des Moines Register noted at the time:
The Iowa Cubs have changed hotels for their trip to New Orleans this month because of the meeting of an organization headed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
The Cubs were scheduled to stay at the Best Western Landmark Hotel in Metairie, La., while playing four Pacific Coast League games May 16-19. The hotel also booked a workshop during that period for an organization called EURO -- European-American Unity and Rights Organization.
According to the Gambit Weekly, via the Nexis archives, the hotel hosting the conference wasn't pleased either:
The Best Western Landmark seems unhappy about the workshop as well. "A contract to book this event was made some time ago, and it is our practice to fulfill our contractual obligations," a company spokesperson says. "Our company does not share the views of this organization." In the past, David Duke has held campaign events at the hotel, and "we have never had any trouble there," claims EURO national director Vincent Breeding.
And many conservatives aren't buying Scalise's story. RedState's Erick Erickson writes that he finds it highly unlikely the congressman would not have known this was a Duke organization at the time of the event. And then he sticks in the knife: "Trent Lott was driven from the field in 2001 for something less than this."
But the Republican Party of Louisiana dismissed the news of Scalise's speech at a white supremacist meeting as a "manufactured blogger story."
“For the 25 years that I’ve known Congressman Scalise, he has been an aggressive advocate for conservative reform. He has been willing to bring this message to anyone who would listen and has spoken to thousands of groups during his career in public service. I’ve also known Steve to be a man of great integrity who embodies his Christian faith in his daily life. This manufactured blogger story is simply an attempt to score political points by slandering the character of a good man," Louisiana party chairman Roger Villere Jr. said in a statement.
White supremacy runs deep in the Louisiana region Scalise now represents in Congress. The 2004 race for Louisiana's 1st Congressional District included Democrat Roy Armstrong, an ex-Ku Klux Klan leader and spokesman for Duke. Duke himself had mulled a run for Congress that year, having just been released from federal prison, but ultimately Armstrong ran instead. Republican Bobby Jindal, who is now the governor of the state, won the race in a landslide, but Armstrong managed to pick up more than 19,000 votes.
Sam Stein contributed reporting.
This article has been updated with comment from Rep. Scalise, statements from the SPLC and the Louisiana Republican Party, passages from publications about the 2002 conference, and a quote from RedState.