The Once and Future Duke

Originally published in Z Magazine, November 1995

Like an alcoholic who denies his addiction for years only to break down and go on a public drinking binge, David Duke has reverted to type. The ex-Klansman and lifelong neo-Nazi, who narrowly lost his bid for the U.S. Senate in 1990 and was then soundly defeated in the 1991 Louisiana Governor’s race, has had enough of playing games. No more solemn oaths to the effect that he left his racisma nd bigotry behind in 1980 upon leaving the KKK. No more platitudes about how he isn’t “anti-black,” but merely, “pro-white.” To hell with caution. The David Duke of 1995, who once again has thrown his hat in the ring for governor, is wearing his racism on his sleeve for all to see.

During the first televised debate between the gubernatorial candidates, Duke made it clear that there would be nothing slick about his racism this time. Referring to candidate (and U.S. Congressperson) William Jefferson — one of two black candidates, and the only one participating in the evening’s debate — Duke let loose with the following: “I think Bill Jefferson is the future of this state if things keep going the way they’re going…We have to make a choice if we want this state to look like Haiti or have it be like it was planned by the forefathers of Louisiana.”

So there you have it. Between now and the October primary, Duke intends to portray Jefferson as Father Aristide, while presenting himself as the equivalent of the Marines, rushing in to save the brown savages from their voodoo, and, as he sees it, their never-ending desire to bear children out of wedlock. To favorably remark upon the forefathers of the state, whose vision for Louisiana obviously included subjugation of African Americans — as a way to explain your own agenda, makes George Wallace’s “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” diatribe seem modest by comparison.

On the one hand, I’m happy to see such honesty. In a way, it feels vindicating. Four years ago, as Assistant Director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, I was often forced to explain to voters why Duke couldn’t be trusted when he claimed apostasy from his two decades as an avowed white supremacist.

Imagine, having to prove that Duke was still a racist. After all, here was a guy who as recently as 1989 was selling pro-Nazi books from his legislative office, with titles like The Hitler We Loved and Why and The Six Million Reconsidered, which claims that the Holocaust of European Jewry never happened; a guy who, until 1990 — one week before the Senate election — had been President of the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP), an outfit that, for 14 years, has been calling for racial separation and printing articles in their newsletter proclaiming the genetic superiority of the white race (many of these penned by Duke himself).

Since Duke has chosen the path of least resistance this time, it will relieve antiracist activists of a substantial burden: no longer will we forced to spend time and money to defeat Duke the candidate, as his unwillingness to play the mainstream game will guarantee his electoral defeat. Oh sure, racism is endemic in the political and national culture, and candidates other than Duke are falling over themselves to bash affirmative action and “welfare cheats,” but still, Louisiana voters aren’t quite ready to elect a guy whose desire to abandon moderate pretense led him to say, in a May interview, that the German Nazis were “just a strongly family-oriented people.” Say what you want about unwed moms and busing, but Holocaust-as-family-values policy is too far out, even for Louisiana politics.

Which brings me now to the other hand. The hand that says the only reason Duke s appealing to the Hitler conservatives this time out is because the rest of the country, and most of the candidates in this race, have now caught up to where he was four years ago. In a sense, Duke — although he lost in 1990 and 1991 — won a very significant victory, by pushing political discourse on race-related issues further to the right. Although he doesn’t deserve all the credit (after all, it was Ronald Reagan who referred to a mythical black male food stamp recipient as a “strapping young buck,” back in 1980), Duke did help define the legitimate boundaries of the racialized political terrain. Since the country’s other white pols have borrowed from the Grand Wizard’s playbook, he needs to distinguish himself from the pack. The only way he sees to accomplish this, apparently, is by fashioning his political platform after The Bell Curve, rather than the contract with America.

Earlier this year Duke took credit for the Contract, by the way, claiming the whole thing was based on his ideas about “preserving our European cultural heritage.” Yet, apparently he now feels the fruits of his previous labor were inadequate to the task of said cultural preservation, so instead of term limits and tort reform (neither of which have much to do, truth be told, with the nobility of the Aryan soul), Duke has fastened upon eugenics again. In May, he told Gary Boulard, of The Advocate, that “eugenics is improving mankind with each new generation and discouraging people with low IQs…from having kids. That I applaud.” He also restated his belief that black crime is the result of “reversion to genotype,” that some races are naturally more intelligent than others, and that “IQ correlates with head size.”

Those of us who have made Duke-watching a habit, if not a hobby, have long said that Duke’s goal was never to get elected, but rather, to build a white supremacist movement. Although he hasn’t been able to progress much in that direction (his claims of conversion having convinced so many hardcore neo-Nazis that now even they don’t trust him), he certainly has the ability to move the debate even further towards social fascism. One wonders whether his remarks about New Orleans-as-Port-Au-Prince may one day become standard fare? Do I exaggerate the potential of Dukism to further infect American politics? Who knows? Four years ago, Duke called welfare recipients “cancerous and parasitic,” and this year, during debate over welfare reform in the House of Representatives, the same folks were referred to as “alligators and wild dogs.” Coincidence? Maybe. But nonetheless, it indicates that there are still plenty of folks who firmly support Duke’s message, if not the man himself, and who, if pushed far enough by the continued deterioration of the American job and wage base, may, in their rush to scapegoat, begin sounding like the unreconstructed Nazi Duke has revealed himself to be.

Let’s just hope that as Duke has made his racism a more visible target this time, we will be able to focus in on his hatred, combat it, and neutralize it. I know one thing for sure: it will be more rewarding fighting that battle, than having to spend time, yet again, proving that indeed, this duck quacks.

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