Still a Nazi After All These Years: The Return of David Duke (with Audio)

For so many reasons, I really didn’t want to have to write this. But here we go again.

Twenty-six years after his first run for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana, lifelong white supremacist, Neo-Nazi and former Klansman David Duke has once again thrown his hat in the ring for the job.

As tempting as it would be to write him off, and to conclude that this was yet another of his many schemes for attention and money, it would be terribly naive to believe he was incapable of winning this position in November. First, because with only a couple of months to go, Duke will be able to call upon a legion of hardcore fans to boost his profile (many of the same folks who voted for him in 1990 and 1991, when he got 60 and 55 percent of the white vote, respectively). And second, and more importantly, because with the rise of Donald Trump, and the infusion of blatant white anxiety and resentment into the 2016 presidential race, Duke could easily ride the wave of white backlash politics to victory.

Indeed, in many ways, Duke has come full circle. In 1990 it was he who pulled the Republican establishment further to the right, pushing racial themes like so-called welfare abuse, resentment over affirmative action and immigration, and fears about black crime into the forefront. Yes, others had played this tune before — most notably George Wallace, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — but none with as much focus and determination as Duke. By the time Duke ran for President in 1992, he had already made enough of an impact on conservative politics so as to catapult Pat Buchanan (who sounded much like Duke, but without the Klan robes) into the position of a serious contender for several months. Buchanan at the time advised the GOP to steal from Duke’s “winning playbook” of ideas, so as to use white anger to win political office. And they did.

Today, after two decades of overt appeals to racial resentment — a strategy perfected in many ways by Duke — a candidate like Donald Trump can find himself the Republican nominee, riding a wave of white anger over immigration, over eight years of the Obama presidency, and over the supposed threat of brown-skinned Muslims seeking to bring terrorism and Sharia law to our shores. As such, Duke now sees an opening to pull the party even further to the right, filling in the blanks left unfilled by Trump: namely, placing the blame where Duke has always thought it belonged—on Jews.

For if there is one area not yet embraced by the American mainstream right–even those flocking to Trump–it is overt anti-Jewish bigotry. Yes, some of Trump’s alt-right fans online and white nationalist supporters tweet such material regularly, and there is little doubt that most hardcore anti-Semites are behind Trump. But to Duke, they need a leader who truly runs with that issue, and who can point the dagger of hatred directly at those whom Duke has long blamed for all the world’s problems. For as much as Duke disdains African Americans and Latino immigrants, his real contempt is reserved for Jews, whom he blames for foisting immigration and integration on whites, so as to destroy the white race and consolidate their own Jewish power.

My fear is that the media will downplay the threat posed by Duke, either by ignoring him as he runs for office — perhaps assuming that voters will never accept someone with his toxic history of overt racism — or that they will reduce his racism to something from his past, by referring to him only as “ex-Klansman” David Duke. While most people of conscience might suspect such a title would be the kiss of death for anyone running for office in America, rest assured, as we learned in 1990 and 1991, that is not the case. Sadly, Duke’s Klan affiliation had almost no impact on convincing white Louisianans to vote against him. Only when his current Neo-Nazi affiliations and beliefs were made clear, and voters had to consider what electing a man such as that would mean to the reputation of their state, did enough whites turn against him (and enough people of color turn out at the polls) to defeat him.

For the simple truth is, Duke’s Klan days are but one aspect of his white supremacist history. Before he joined the Klan in 1973, and after he left it in 1980, Duke had been and continued to be a true believer in Hitlerian Nazism. His 1998 autobiography, “My Awakening” is a compendium of overt white supremacist beliefs and Neo-Nazism, including overt praise for Adolf Hitler, denial that the Holocaust happened, and calls for an all-white America. If anything, his prior political defeats in 1990 and 1991 (and certainly his defeat in a U.S. House race in the late 1990s, in which he only missed making the runoff by a few thousand votes) have led him to believe that he might as well embrace overt white nationalism and extremism. Hiding his views didn’t work, and with Trump’s rise, he appears to think that hiding is no longer necessary.

That said, it is important to understand just how extreme those views are and have always been. For David Duke does not simply want to “defend the rights and interests of white people” in the abstract (whatever that might mean); rather, he wishes to purge the U.S. of non-whites altogether. White identity politics — and Duke is proof of it — are inherently racist and supremacist. After all, there is a difference between fighting for a seat at the table, as folks of color have long done, and fighting to keep the table all to oneself, as Duke and his compatriots wish.

Previously I posted a brief timeline of Duke’s political activity over the years and his lifelong commitment to Neo-Nazism, so as to give readers a clear understanding of who this man is and what he believes. The information came from a resource packet I co-wrote with Lance Hill, my former boss at the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism — the primary anti-Duke opposition group — when he ran for Senate and Governor in 1990 and 1991 respectively.

But to really understand what David Duke is about, you need only listen to his own words.

Among the most powerful pieces of evidence we were able to marshal back in the early 1990s, so as to prove Duke’s real intentions — to purge the U.S. of people of color and Jews — was a taped interview we discovered, in which Duke spoke quite candidly about these things. There were actually two interviews, both with graduate student Evelyn Rich. The first was from 1985, and in that interview, which stretched over an hour, Duke expounded upon every possible racist and anti-Semitic theory imaginable. He praised Hitler, denied the Holocaust (calling it “Hollywood bullshit”) and stated his belief that all non-whites would have to be purged from the U.S. The second interview, from 1986, was even more chilling. In that one, Rich is actually interviewing another white supremacist — a self-professed Nazi named Joe Fields — when Duke walks into the hotel room where the conversation was taking place. At the time, Duke and Fields were both attending the annual conference of the Institute for Historical Review, which was the nation’s premier Holocaust denial organization. Fields openly praises Hitler, calling him “the ultimate,” and noting that although he thinks Hitler only intended to resettle the Jews of Europe, if he had exterminated them “they would have deserved it.” Duke, uncomfortable by Fields’s lack of nuance, tells him to be careful because if they can “call you a Nazi and make it stick,” it’s going to hurt “your ability to get through” to people. Duke then explains that he “wheedles out” of his Nazism because he’s a “pragmatist.”

Perhaps the most disturbing and revealing part of the tape is the point at which Fields notes that “it doesn’t take much to get something going though…Hitler started with seven men, and most people didn’t want to have anything to do with him at first.” to which Duke replies: “Right! And don’t you think it can happen right now if we put the right package together?”

In any event, here are links to portions of that 1986 interview. The first is a link to two radio commercials we produced in 1991 and which were played over 5000 times on radio stations across Louisiana in the weeks leading up to the Gubernatorial election. The Democratic Party also ran its own television spot, using portions of the same tape. The second link has longer portions of the 1986 interview, preceded by my analysis of Duke’s current run for office, in historic and contemporary context.

Comments are closed.