David Duke, onetime grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and a former senatorial and gubernatorial candidate, said Tuesday he thinks the media furor over U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise’s 2002 speech to a meeting of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization is a tempest in a teapot.

Duke, who founded the now-defunct white nationalist group, spoke to a New Orleans Advocate reporter outside his Mandeville home. He said he had nothing to do with Scalise’s appearance before the group and was out of the country when it happened.

He described Scalise as someone he doesn’t really know and may have spoken to only a couple of times.

In any event, he said, Scalise shouldn’t be blamed for talking to a group in his district, where Duke was very popular. Duke said he took 60 percent of the vote there in his campaigns for U.S. senator and governor. “If I was him, I’d say, ‘What, is this America? A lot of good people supported him (Duke); should I write them off?’ ” Duke, who spoke to the 2002 conference via telephone to express his his opposition to the Iraq war, said he agrees with some of Scalise’s conservative principles but opposes his support for Israel.

“We don’t have tolerance and freedom of speech anymore in this country. It’s McCarthyism times 1,000,” he said.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter at @spagonesadvocat.