Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke said late Monday that his longtime political adviser, Kenny Knight, was “friendly” with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) in 2002, and cited that relationship as the reason Scalise accepted an invitation that year to speak at a gathering of white supremacists.
“Scalise would communicate a lot with my campaign manager, Kenny Knight,” Duke said in a phone interview. “That is why he was invited and why he would come. Kenny knew Scalise, Scalise knew Kenny. They were friendly.”
Scalise, then a state lawmaker, spoke in May 2002 at a convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO, at a hotel in a New Orleans suburb.
Several civil rights groups have criticized EURO as a vehicle for Duke that promotes anti-Semitism and racism.
Duke, who spoke to the crowd remotely, recalled Knight reaching out to Scalise in the weeks before the conference to come and update attendees on state affairs, and that Scalise accepted without reservation.
“Maybe that is evidence he knew what he was doing when he came to the meeting,” Duke said. “Who knows? All I know is that Kenny liked him. He thought Scalise, who remember was just a state representative, was sharp. They’d talk about the Hollywood system, about the war, whatever I was concerned about.”
Duke added, “I think Scalise would talk to Kenny because he recognized how popular I was in his own district. He knew that knowing what I was doing and saying wouldn’t be the worst thing politically. Kenny would keep Scalise up to date on my issues.”
Duke, however, insisted that he and Scalise have “never had a relationship.”
“No lunches, no dinners with Scalise. I never supported him in any campaign,” Duke said. “I didn’t get the impression that he was one of us. I didn’t cultivate a relationship. Kenny was the one who did.”
Knight, who has been a confidant of Duke for decades and has long been seen as Duke’s liaison in state politics, would go on to donate $1000 to Scalise’s 2008 congressional campaign, according to federal election records.
Duke confirmed that the address listed in federal records along with the Scalise donation was the home address for his political confidant.
A spokesperson for Scalise was unavailable for comment on Duke’s claims. Knight was also unavailable for comment.
Scalise said in an interview Monday with The Times-Picayune that he did not know at the time about EURO’s affiliation with racists and neo-Nazi activists.
"I don't have any records from back in 2002, but when people called and asked me to speak to groups, I went and spoke to groups,” Scalise said. “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.”
Later in the interview, Scalise blamed his staff for booking him to speak and engaging with Duke’s organization. “I didn't have a scheduler back then. I was without the advantages of a tool like Google. It's nice to have those,” he said. “Those tools weren't available back then."
When asked if he was “avoiding” Duke in 2002, Scalise said, "He was a state representative before me. Everyone knew who he was. I would not go to any group he was a part of."