THE BLOG
12/31/2014 01:50 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2015

Scalise's Dark Knight Casts a Shadow

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Duke Protege Comes Into Focus

Kenny Knight, 64, the David Duke protégé who invited House Majority Whip Steve Scalise to address a 2002 white supremacist "EURO" conference and was "friendly" with him, according to Duke, already had a well-known hate resume of his own at the time. The story of Scalise's address, since confirmed by the congressman's office, broke after Louisiana political blogger Lamar White, Jr.'s postings on a regional website were picked up Monday by The Huffington Post.

While much of the debate and defense of Scalise's appearance at the hate group conference revolves around Scalise's claimed ignorance of the event and his distance from Duke, little has been said of the controversial man who invited him there in the first place and the relationship the congressman had with him.

Third Ranked House Republican Survives, But Questions Linger

In his third term, Mr. Scalise, 49, represents Louisiana's 1st Congressional District in the House of Representatives and was elected this summer to one of the highest political positions on Capitol Hill. As majority whip, Congressman Scalise is the chief political leader charged to coordinate with House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on legislation. Congressman Scalise also presided over the influential Republican Study Committee, a caucus that advises on political and legislative policy for the party. Scalise replaced Virginia congressman Eric Cantor, who lost his position as whip after a primary loss ousted him from Congress.

Despite the House Republican leadership's vigorous defense of Scalise Tuesday on the notion that the appearance was a regrettable, long ago, solitary honest mistake by a decent public servant important, uncomfortable questions remain.

  • 1. How likely was Scalise wholly unaware of the nature of the hate conference he addressed, if he was in fact friendly with the prominent hate group neighbor that invited him, Kenny Knight?
  • 2. If Scalise is the decent unbigoted man that Republican leadership and a local black Democratic Congressman make him out to be, could he still be someone who panders to racists, while not actually being one?
  • 3. And if possibly so, what does that say about Louisiana politics and its intersection with national Republican politics at a time when the party of Lincoln is seeking to make inroads with people of color in the next national election?

A Dark Political Knight Emerges

Knight, 64, invited Congressman Steve Scalise to speak at the racist European-American Unity and Rights Organization conference he organized with Duke in May 2002 in Louisiana. He had also served as spokesperson for another supremacist Duke organization, the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP) and had also spoken on behalf of another hate group, the Council of Conservative Citizens. The European-American Unity and Rights Organization was founded by Nazi and former Klan Grand Wizard David Duke with a slightly different name in 2000. Duke appeared at the Metarie, Louisiana, conference via video link from a companion conference held simultaneously in Europe. The group asserted that European American whites were under attack and needed a "civil rights" group of their own to combat "genocide." Duke at the time was a very well-known bigot in Louisiana, particularly in the state's political arena. EURO was also widely known as a hate group, having been designated as such by such like our Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center and ADL.

Despite Scalise's admissions, Knight has defended him, interestingly saying that the politician spoke at the venue before the actual conference and in any event did not know the nature of the conference. While distancing himself from Congressman Scalise, Duke, the former Klan Grand Wizard acknowledged on Monday to the Washington Post a much closer relationship existed between his controversial aide and the Congressman:

Scalise would communicate a lot with my campaign manager, Kenny Knight. ... That is why he was invited and why he would come. Kenny knew Scalise, Scalise knew Kenny. They were friendly.

It seems highly unlikely, though not impossible, that a politically active resident of Jefferson Parish, let alone a friendly acquaintance and neighbor, like Scalise would be unaware of how Knight's damning past would impact a conference he organized, whether he knew Duke was involved in it or not.

David Duke: One of the Most Influential Hatemongers

Duke, who first made himself known as a hatemonger wearing a swastika-emblazoned Nazi uniform during his protest days at LSU and later Klan robes and hoods as a Grand Wizard in the Klan, has been a key leader in mainstreaming hate into American politics. After exchanging his robes for a business suit and downplaying his earlier hate forays as youthful indiscretions, he achieved limited political success in his home state of Louisiana after founding another hate group, the NAAWP, and embarking in dog-whistle politics in public. He later unsuccessfully ran for president, senator and governor, where he won the majority of the white vote, and briefly served in the Louisiana House of Representatives, before being convicted of tax fraud. Duke has promoted ideas of black racial inferiority, Holocaust denial, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and segregation.

The Wit and Wisdom of the NAAWP

As stated Knight was spokesperson for the virulently racist, Louisiana-based NAAWP. After personal clashes with Klan leaders, Duke founded the NAAWP in 1981 and tried to recruit former Klansmen and other racists to the new organization. The NAAWP "civil rights organization" became one of the most notorious national hate groups. Issue 93 of the NAAWP newsletter was typical and has a masthead that reads: "WHITE PEOPLE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR BLACK FAILURE, BLACKS ARE."

The issue also features prominent headlines such as "Ebonics hides low black IQ," "Black Judges Let blacks go free," "Black rule is hopelessly corrupt" and "Media Cover up the black threat to American civilization." A cartoon titled "Media silence Oks black rape" features a television screen with the words "What black rape warfare?" over a ubiquitous "Star of David," which is employed throughout the newspaper on anything with conspiratorial overtones.

One Foot In Politics, One Foot In...

Knight, a former New Orleans police officer, also played a key role in politics serving as Duke's campaign manager in a key primary, starting in late 1988 before Duke's first successful foray into Republican politics with a narrow victory for state representative later on in 1989. Duke's exploitation of fears over black crime in neighboring New Orleans, minority set-aside programs, affirmative action and welfare fraud hit a nerve with "white flight" voters in suburban Jefferson Parish. In Tyler Bridges, The Rise of David Duke a white female teacher acknowledged voting for Duke despite being fully aware of his roles "in the Klan and the NAAWP." The teacher and mother of two admitted, "I can't say it loud...I also teach...I'm more interested in what he'll do than what he's done in the past....It wouldn't influence me one bit what he did in the past." False rumors promoted by the Duke campaign that his opponent was a child molester also helped propel the candidate to victory.

In 1995 Knight reportedly brokered a deal on behalf of Duke's short-lived campaign to rent his mailing list to another gubernatorial candidate, Mike Foster, for $152,000. Knight's alleged deal with Foster also included a party switch, a non-disparagement agreement for Duke, and the destruction of affirmative action program, which Foster did upon his election.

In 1996, Knight served as a public representative of another hate group, the neo-Confederate Council of Conservative Citizens, where he publicly fought against the Louisiana Secretary of State's decision to remove the Confederate battle flag from the interior of the state capitol. That same year the New York Times ran an article about Pat Buchanan's difficulty in trying to distance himself from extremists like Duke, while using Duke's protégé's and other controversial people in his campaign:

Among the members of the religious right and conservative social and political organizations enlisted by the Buchanan campaign as advisers and workers was Kenny Knight, one of Mr. Duke's key advisers. Mr. Knight ran in the Louisiana caucuses as a delegate committed to Mr. Buchanan, and he provided office space for early Buchanan campaign meetings.

On Wednesday, Mr. Buchanan's campaign director for South Carolina, which holds its primary on March 2, dismissed Bill Carter from the campaign's state steering committee after a reporter inquired about Mr. Carter's previous connection to Mr. Duke. Emphasis added

The previous week the Buchanan campaign cut loose one of its national campaign co-chairs, Gun Owners of America head Larry Pratt, after it was revealed he shared a stage at a Colorado Christian Identity organized conference with Nazi saluting Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler. Sandy Lamb, a Buchanan, Florida, county campaign chair, also had to resign her political position because she was a representative in Duke's NAAWP.

An Offer He Can't Refuse

It is against this backdrop that Knight's role in inviting Scalise to the supremacist conference, as well as his role in defending him, becomes interesting. Knight told the Washington Post on Tuesday:

Now, at the time, I was a prominent person in state politics. I was on the radio, I was doing campaigns. Steve knew who I was, but I don't think he held it against me. He knew I lived by his street and that I was active in our community. And I didn't see a problem with having him speak.

In 1999 Scalise seemed more concerned with Duke's lack of electability than his racist views. He told Roll Call that he embraces many of Duke's conservative views but "Duke has proven he can't get elected," Scalise noted, "and that's the first and most important thing." Later, Scalise voted against a holiday for Martin Luther King.

Scalise spoke in 2002 at the EURO conference and after neo-Nazi Vince Breeding left his post as EURO director in 2003 following an Internet porn scandal. Guess who took over? None other than Kenny Knight.

In 2004 Knight happily spoke at another EURO conference where one promoted goal was how "whites can take their country back." Among the other luminaries were longstanding notorious bigots like Duke, himself, Nazi Holocaust denier Willis Carto, Stormfront founder and felon Don Black, another former Duke political manager Howie Farrel, and Julie Jones belting out a mean version of Dixie in a venue adorned with hate literature and the Confederate flag.

Abhoring Bigots, But Not Their Votes?

Conservative analyst Erick Erickson asked: "By 2002, everybody knew Duke was still the man he had claimed not to be. EVERYBODY. How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?"

Southern Poverty Law Center's Mark Potok similarly stated:

But Scalise's claim of ignorance is almost impossible to believe. He was a state representative and an aspiring national politician at the time, and Louisiana-based EURO already was well known as a hate group led by America's most famous white supremacist.

My more nuanced take is that all politics is local. And from what Scalise likely knew about his neighbor Kenny Knight at the time, he really should have known what crowd would show up. As Knight admitted to the Washington Post it included "people who are concerned about the survival of their race." Knight also said, "Steve was someone who I exchanged ideas with on politics. We wouldn't talk about race or the Jewish question." Presuming that Scalise is truly not a racist, as he attests, it appears highly possible that he still nonetheless dances with and panders to them. If that presumption proves to have any currency at all, it is damaging not only to him, but to the political party that professes outreach in upcoming national elections to the very constituency that Knight so vigorously detests.