Justice

Rep. Steve Scalise Incident Highlights the Troubling Rise of Hate Groups in America

White supremacist hate groups have increased by 56 percent since 2000, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks organizations that believe in white superiority. (traditionally anglo-white supremacy). Examples of these hate groups include neo-Nazis, skinhead groups, or the Ku Klux Klan. 

Why are hate groups on the rise?

Hate never develops in a vacuum. The Southern Poverty Law center says that hate groups have risen in recent years as a result of a tough economy, an increase in non-white immigrants, and the decline of the white majority. (Of course, the election of Barack Obama as president has also been a factor since 2008.)

“They represent both a kind of right-wing populist rage and a left-wing populist rage that has gotten all mixed up in anger toward the government,” Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told the New York Times in 2012.

Daryl Johnson, former domestic terrorism expert for the Department of Homeland Security, said in 2013 that the government has not done enough to monitor hate groups.

"We have a whole generation of analysts and law enforcement officers who have been coming up through the ranks and have no idea what they are dealing with," Johnson told MSNBC.

Why is Rep. Steve Scalise trending?

Steve Scalise is a member of the US House of Representatives, representing the 1st District of Louisiana. He's in Republican leadership -- serving as the House Majority Whip. That means he is one of the most powerful politicians in Washington.

Scalise acknowledges that he spoke in front of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, known as EURO, in 2002. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies EURO as white supremacist group. He was then a state legislator in Louisiana.

This is a big deal because it means one of the leading Republicans in Congress spoke in front of a white supremacist group as recently as six years before entering Congress. These types of things were forgiven in the 1960s, 1970s, and even 1980s. But it's been awhile since Southern politicians could get away with associations with white supremacist groups.

Why am I hearing about David Duke? That name sounds vaguely familiar.

David Duke is being mentioned because he founded EURO. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, EURO is "a paper tiger, serving primarily as a vehicle to publicize Duke's writing and sell his books."

Duke is a white supremacist who was a fixture of the radical right in the 1980s and 1990s, but he hasn't been in the public eye in awhile. Duke was a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He also served in the Louisiana House of Representatives as a Republican, from 1990-1992. He ran for president in 1988 as a Democrat. In 1990, he also ran for US Senate in Louisiana, gaining more than 650,000 votes in the Republican Primary. He tried his hand again at statewide politics in 1991, shocking observers by putting up a tough fight in the Democratic primary for governor and forcing a run-off with the incumbent Gov. Edwin Edwards.

In all these campaigns, he ran as a avowed racist.

So how is Scalise explaining his appearance at a front group for David Duke?

He's saying it was a mistake.

"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 told the Post. “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.”

Scalise's spokesperson also emphasized the representative's desire to speak to all types of audiences:

“Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints. 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.”

Scalise's critics, on the other hand, argue that politicians at some point have to draw a line when it comes to hate groups, particularly a group that was started by David Duke.

UPDATE: 12/30: The Post caught up with David Duke and asked him about Scalise. Duke said that while Scalise and one of Duke's staff members had a relationship, there was no relationship between Scalise and Duke himself.

Is it possible that Scalise did not know who these people were?

As the Washington Post reports, Scalise's story "contrasts with the local press coverage generated by the Duke-coordinated conclave that spring." The hotel that hosted that event spoke to the press about regretting the booking. The Iowa Cubs -- minor league affiliate of the Chicago Cubs -- expressed concern in the media about bringing their black players to that hotel during the event. So, the purpose of this event was no secret.

More concerning, according to the Post:

The Duke group drew additional headlines nationally in the weeks before the Louisiana meeting. In mid-May 2002, USA Today reported that the organization was active in South Carolina and had “picketed” there to support the Confederate flag flying on state Capitol grounds.

Months earlier, in February 2002, the Washington Post reported that Duke’s group was organizing in Virginia and “demanding that black teenagers be prosecuted for hate crimes against whites.

Does Scalise have a history with radical racial politics?

The closest thing seems to be that in 2004 he was among six members of the Louisiana House to vote against making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a holiday in Louisiana.

You can read the full Post story here.