Kenny Knight and Howie Farrell, the two men at the heart of the Steve Scalise scandal, were well known in Louisiana politics as longtime operatives of Duke’s Holocaust-denying hate machine.

In 1989, a newly registered Republican in Louisiana named David Duke won his only election by a fluke.

That year, a state representative in Metairie, an affluent Jefferson Parish suburb just across the line from New Orleans, vacated his seat to become a judge. The off-year special election into which Duke threw himself drew little media notice at first. Duke, who touted himself as a pro-life fiscal conservative, was known as an ex-Klan leader; he eschewed overtly racist language and instead pointed to crime in the city, criticizing affirmative action and minority set-asides. He landed in a runoff with John Treen, a silver-haired homebuilder, GOP stalwart and brother of the state’s first Republican governor, Dave Treen, who had left office in 1983.

Media coverage failed to probe the depth of Duke’s ties to neo-Nazi groups. But as national Republican strategist Lee Atwater and others realized, Duke’s background would be a stigma for the party if he won. So then-President George H.W. Bush and other prominent Republicans endorsed Treen in the House runoff. George W. Bush made a campaign appearance for Treen. Yet Treen was a poor match for Duke in the sound-bite department, or in appealing to the latent racial fears of many voters in Metairie, which was at the time a classic Reagan Democrats enclave. They liked what Duke was saying and were willing to look beyond what little they knew of his past.

During that 1989 campaign, I interviewed Howie Farrell, one of Duke’s campaign aides—and one of two longtime Duke allies, the other being Kenny Knight, who invited Steve Scalise to give the speech to a white racist group called EURO in 2002. Scalise was a state representative old enough to remember the notoriety of Farrell and Knight from years before.

That afternoon in 1989, Farrell stood on a street corner of Metairie Road as Duke handed out campaign fliers to motorists at the stoplight. After a day spent perusing the books Duke sold from his National Association for the Advancement of White People catalogue, I asked Farrell how many people died in the Holocaust. For Duke’s long-cultivated base, Holocaust denial was a scrim for anti-Semitism.

“I have no way of knowing,” said Farrell. “I can accept reasonable arguments on either side.” Church bells pealed from St. Catherine of Siena parish one block away. I asked Farrell, who claimed to be a Catholic, what this statement said to Jews.

“So what?” he replied with a smirk.