Recently, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the third highest ranking Republican member in the U.S. House of Representatives, was exposed for his links to American neo-Nazi and white nationalist David Duke. In response to criticism of Scalise, Duke has threatened to release a list of names from both sides of the aisle with whom he has ties. The scandal highlights the intermingling of the U.S. political establishment and white supremacy, just as international attention increasingly focuses on racist police terror in the U.S.
A political blogger in Louisiana revealed that in 2002, Scalise, then a Louisiana state representative, spoke at a conference held by the so-called European-American Unity and Rights Organization. EURO is a white nationalist organization active in the southern United States. Founded in 2000, this hate group is led by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. EURO’s sickening statement of “principles” includes “equal rights for whites,” “swift and sure punishment” of “violent criminals who are Black,” and ending desegregation, immigration and affirmative action.
Scalise claims not to have known EURO’s views, but the facts show that he likely embraced them himself. Not only was Scalise one of just six state representatives to vote against making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a Louisiana state holiday in 1999 and 2004, he was also on friendly terms for years with Duke’s political advisor Kenny Knight, who invited him to speak at the EURO conference. Scalise also confirmed his knowledge of Duke’s political views as early as 1999 in a Roll Call interview, when the two were potential contenders in a House special election.
The Republican Party, as well as some Louisiana Democrats, have come to Scalise’s defense. On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner announced his “full confidence” in Scalise as whip. While the GOP conducts damage control, the Democratic Party leadership in Washington has seized on the scandal to denounce Republicans, who enter the new year with an expanded majority in the House and a GOP-controlled Senate. Democrat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi opined that the GOP’s “actions speaker louder than whatever Steve Scalise said to that group in 2002.”
However, it is also worth evaluating the actions of the Democratic Party in the fight against racism. The epidemic of racist police brutality, the alarming growth of white supremacist militias and patriot groups in the U.S., and the Democratic Party’s own willingness to share power with the overtly racist GOP demand such an account. The burgeoning “Black Lives Matter” movement provides a timely example.
Ever since the murder of Trayvon Martin and the heroic uprising in Ferguson after the police murder of Mike Brown, a national movement has gripped the country to demand fundamental changes. Across the U.S., people are confronting the intrinsic racism of America’s social, economic and political order, and doing so more consciously and militantly than they have in decades. What, then, have the Democrats said and done?
The Democrats, like the Republicans responding to the scandal of Scalise’s connection to organized white supremacy, have likewise offered doubtful words and little action. At a time when hundreds of thousands of people are mobilized, shutting down cities and putting as much pressure on institutions as possible, the Democrats have done almost nothing.
Instead of standing with the Ferguson rebellion, as he immediately should have, President Obama responded with derailing calls for “calm” and the creation of a task force to study police “best practices.” To add insult to injury, Obama appointed Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to head the task force, despite Ramsey’s legacy of militarized and repressive policing during his tenure as Chief of Police in Washington, D.C.
After the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown, Obama still refused to take a bold stand on institutionalized racism. He still has not visited Ferguson. Though he has spoken eloquently about his own experiences as a Black man, his message as President has been all but evasive. Meanwhile, his administration has passed up the chance to call for a federal requirement that jurisdictions report police shootings and killings, and for restricting transfers of military equipment to local police.
The Democrats, representing the interests of one faction of the ruling class, have no intention of addressing the systemic causes of white supremacy, New Jim Crow and police brutality. They readily denounce racism, especially when they can hurl it as an accusation against their Republican rivals in the illusory arena of capitalist democracy. However, an honest look at their actions shows that they serve to maintain order and profit before all else.
The mass movements sweeping the country are the real source of change. They must continue to challenge the social and material relations that give rise to reactionaries like David Duke and his collaborators within the system. As the crisis deepens and consciousness grows, the people set their eyes on direct action, and ultimately, revolutionary change.