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House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said Monday that he did not know the nature of a white nationalist group he may have addressed as a state legislator in 2002, saying that "if I knew today what they were about, I wouldn't go."
In an interview published Monday night by the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, Scalise said that he did not recall speaking before the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, a group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. But he did not deny the appearance, which was first reported by Louisiana political blogger Lamar White Jr.
"I didn't know who all of these groups were, and I detest any kind of hate group," he said.
Earlier Monday, an aide to Scalise told NBC News it is “highly likely” that the third-ranking House Republican addressed the organization but that he does not remember the event.
The aide told NBC News that Scalise had only one staffer at the time and "was running across the state speaking to anyone who would listen to him" talk about cutting state taxes. The aide also said Scalise would not have spoken to the organization had he known it was a white supremacy group.
The group is characterized as "extremists" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the conference that year was flagged in a list compiled by the Anti-Defamation League. "Beyond hosting a website, whitecivilrights.com, and staging an occasional conference, EURO is a paper tiger, serving primarily as a vehicle to publicize Duke's writing and sell his books," according to SPLC.
"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," Scalise spokesperson Moira Smith said in a statement.
"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," she added.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that Scalise said he did attend the event in question. In his interview with the Times-Picayune, the congressman in fact said he did not recall speaking to that specific group.