Kenny Knight, a longtime political adviser to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, said in an interview Tuesday that he personally invited House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to speak to a 2002 gathering of white supremacists.
“He was my neighbor,” Knight said of Scalise, who was serving as a state representative at the time of the conference. “I asked him to be the first speaker before the meeting kicked off.”
Scalise confirmed through an aide Monday that he once appeared at a convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO. But the aide said the congressman didn’t know at the time about the group’s affiliation with racists and neo-Nazi activists.
Several civil rights groups have criticized EURO as a vehicle for Duke that promotes anti-Semitism and racism.
“This all came about because I organized the EURO meeting for David Duke as a courtesy after he had moved to Russia. I’ve known David for 40 years so I did him a favor. As part of that, I decided to ask Steve, our local representative, to come by and say a few words before the conference started,” Knight said. “He agreed, believing it was going to be neighbors, friends, and family. He saw me not as David Duke’s guy, but as the president of our civic association.”
Knight continued, “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.”
“Steve came in early on the first day of EURO, spoke for about 15 minutes, and he left,” Knight recalled. “He didn’t hear David speak remotely to the crowd.” Knight also said that he does not have video of Scalise’s remarks nor does he know if video of the speech exists.
The crowd there was a “mixed” audience for Scalise, mostly local, and partly “people who are concerned about the survival of their race,” he added. “The thing is, I don’t think Scalise knew anything about EURO, about that latter group.”
Knight said, repeatedly, he regrets being part of a political headache for Scalise more than a decade after he issued the invitation, and insisted that Scalise does not share his views on race.
“This controversy, Steve Scalise being crucified, is unfortunate,” he said. “Steve Scalise is a good man and someone I’ve known for years and have made calls for when he ran for office. I’ve donated $1,000 to his House campaign. I’ve supported him because I like Steve Scalise and not because I’m working on behalf of David Duke, sending him secret messages. Steve was someone who I exchanged ideas with on politics. We wouldn’t talk about race or the Jewish question.”
In an interview Monday, Duke said he and Scalise have “shaken hands” a few times but said he does not have a relationship” with the fast-rising Republican, who won the majority whip position in June following a House leadership shake-up. Knight said he and Scalise have not kept in close touch in recent years.
Knight said he reminded Duke about Scalise’s 2002 speech a “few weeks ago over dinner.” While talking politics, Knight brought up Scalise’s high-ranking position in Congress. He said Duke “did not remember” Scalise coming to EURO but was pleased that he did. A few weeks later, the news of Scalise’s speech broke on a state politics Web site run by blogger Lamar White Jr.
“Scalise would communicate a lot with my campaign manager, Kenny Knight,” Duke said Monday. “That is why he was invited and why he would come. Kenny knew Scalise, Scalise knew Kenny. They were friendly.”