On Wednesday, Ellen Carmichael, a conservative political consultant originally from Louisiana, took to the pages of Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller and declared that the entire story about Congressman Steve Scalise attending a white nationalist conference was a fabrication. In an article titled “The Scalise Ordeal Shows The Media Will Bury Facts To Fit Its Narrative About Racist Southerners,” Carmichael argues, quite forcefully, that Scalise is only guilty of attending a neighborhood civic association meeting and that he is now the victim of a liberal media run amuck. Quoting:
The problem was, the facts told an entirely different story than the one they wanted to tell. In 2002, Scalise was invited to participate in a meeting of the Jefferson Heights Civic Association — the parish’s largest neighborhood group – at a Best Western hotel, organized by former David Duke aide Kenny Knight. According to Knight – who was chairman of the civic association — and others present, Scalise was asked to speak on his efforts to fight a slush fund being debated in the state legislature. Scalise, who seems to have little to no recollection of the event, spoke for 10 or 15 minutes alongside representatives from the Red Cross and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Organization, who shared insights about emergency preparedness, CPR and crime.
There is only one problem with Carmichael’s thesis: Not only was the Jefferson Heights Civic Association not “the parish’s largest neighborhood group,” it never even existed. It’s not a real organization. It never was a real organization.
Ms. Carmichael’s argument is built on a house of cards and informed, entirely, by the words of Kenny Knight, a well-known neo-Nazi and white nationalist, the treasurer of EURO, the Louisiana contact listed on EURO’s website, and David Duke’s former campaign manager. Decades before, Knight, it’s worth noting, was fired from the New Orleans Police Department after he was caught stealing from a lumber company.
It is unclear why anyone would take Mr. Knight’s word over the word of Congressman Scalise himself, who actually admitted to attending the event, but Ms. Carmichael is not the only conservative who has done so. Jeff Sadow, a far-right Louisiana conservative blogger and associate professor of political science at LSUS, also bought Knight’s testimony, declaring that Scalise has been found “guilty before proven innocent.” Scalise’s Wikipedia entry includes an entire paragraph on Knight’s excuse. RedState claimed that my story was “fake” and “shopped to blogger by vengeful Scalise opponent.”
These are inconvenient facts to those who would seek to minimize the relevancy of the third most powerful Republican member of the House of Representatives associating with and attending a meeting of a well-known hate group, but they cannot and should not be ignored: Steve Scalise did not attend a meeting of the Jefferson Heights Civic Association, because, again, there was no such thing as the Jefferson Heights Civic Association.
As I have reported both here and on Salon.com, the Louisiana Secretary of State has never listed the Jefferson Heights Civic Association; at the time of the EURO conference, Kenny Knight didn’t even live in Jefferson Heights, and the Landmark Best Western Hotel, where the event was held, is nearly five miles away from the neighborhood.
But yesterday, we learned even more: Kenny LaSalle, the President of the Southern Terrace Civic Association since 1999, an association which includes Jefferson Heights, told The Advocate, “To my knowledge, it’s (the Jefferson Heights Civic Association) never existed.” Jeff Adelson, a reporter for The Advocate, did his own digging. Quoting:
Multiple people familiar with Jefferson Parish’s myriad civic associations, including past presidents of the Civic League of East Jefferson, also have said over the past week that they had never heard of such a group. And the organization does not appear on the parish’s list of neighborhood groups, an informal but lengthy resource on the parish’s website.
Yet some conservatives, like Sadow and Carmichael, have latched onto interviews that Knight conducted with The Times-Picayune and others, including WDSU and Slate, in which he repeats his claims about the Jefferson Parish Civic Association. Interestingly, though, in that article, Knight tells reporter Julia O’Donaghue that he was not even a member of EURO in 2002 and that he and his girlfriend at the time didn’t even attend the EURO conference; they claimed that they left along with then-State Representative Scalise shortly after the civic association wrapped up. Quoting:
Noble also said she and Kenny left after the civic association meeting ended and didn’t stay for the EURO conference.
“We left. We didn’t stay for that. Neither of us were members of EURO,” she said.
Well, there’s another problem with Kenny Knight’s story. Here is a copy of David Duke’s newsletter from June 2002:
And here is the larger picture of Knight:
The caption says it all, “Kenny Knight addressing the 2002 EURO New Orleans workshop.” Kenny Knight didn’t leave hours before. He didn’t host another event. To be sure, Steve Scalise was not mentioned in this newsletter, but Kenny Knight was also described as EURO Louisiana member and Jefferson Parish Executive Committee member Kenny Knight.
In other conversations with LaSalle, he revealed that Knight, when Knight attempted to run for Jefferson Parish Council, allegedly told others that he was President of the Southern Terrace Civic Association. After members became aware of Knight’s claims, they allegedly revoked his membership and banned him from participating in the association.
The Louisiana Secretary of State does, in fact, list businesses named “Jefferson Heights”:
It certainly appears that Kenny Knight, for whatever reason, wanted to dupe the media, and he found an audience among some conservatives online who were more than happy to run his story as Gospel truth, without even conducting an ounce of due diligence.
On a related note, two days ago, I spoke with a member of the Southern Poverty Law Center who went undercover at the 2004 and 2005 EURO conferences in Kenner, Louisiana. Although the events were not the same as the one Scalise attended two years prior, according to her (and contrary to yet another one of Knight’s claims), if the 2002 event was set up and organized the same way that the 2004 and 2005 events were set up, Representative Scalise would have walked into a room filled with prominently placed Confederate flags, a dais that featured the groups logo and name, several tables placed along the sides of the room selling neo-Nazi paraphernalia and literature, and a throng of at least 50 people, 80% of whom were men, dressed in neo-Nazi attire. This was most definitely not a civic association meeting for a non-existent civic association.
I suppose I understand the impulse in attempting to debunk my original reporting, but if conservatives truly want to defend Congressman Scalise, they should probably stop taking Kenny Knight at his word. Even Scalise, the man’s former neighbor, now knows not to do that.