Perhaps America's most well-known racist, David Duke was instrumental in the Klan resurgence of the 1970s. He pioneered the now common effort on the far right to camouflage racist ideas in hot-button issues like affirmative action and immigration, successfully appealing to race and class resentments. Similarly, he was one of the first neo-Nazi and Klan leaders to discontinue the use of Nazi and Klan regalia and ritual, as well as other traditional displays of race hatred, and to cultivate media attention.
Promoting anti-Semitism abroad
- December 2006: Duke traveled to Tehran, Iran, to address a Holocaust denial conference convened by the Iranian Foreign Ministry. The conference brought together a diverse group of anti-Semites, including white supremacists and neo-Nazis, radical anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists, and Islamic fundamentalists. Though the organizers insisted that their aim was only to “scientifically investigate” the history of World War II, the guests and speeches were universally devoted to either denying that Jews were the victims of genocide under the Nazis or to de-legitimizing the State of Israel.
In his remarks at the Tehran conference, listed on the event program as "A Holocaust Enquiry," Duke repeated his anti-Semitic claims that “Zionists” control and manipulate governments, politics and media in the Western world. As proof that the U.S. State Department is "under thorough control of International Zionism" Duke cited the agency's statement that the Tehran conference was a "disgrace." He also maintained that repeated media references to the event as a "Holocaust denial conference" further demonstrate "Zionist control" of the media.
- November 2006: Duke embarked on a book promotion tour of Hungary in the cities of Budapest, Szeged, Miscolc and Gyor. During his tour, a television talk show host and one of Hungary’s leading newspapers challenged Duke publicly. He responded to these media outlets with his familiar rhetoric accusing them of being part of a Jewish-dominated media conspiracy. In addition to his usual themes, Duke also discussed the post-World War II Soviet regime that dominated Hungary, referring to it as a Judeo-Bolshevik and Jewish-Bolshevik government.
- October 2006: Duke addressed an audience at the MAUP, or the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management, a major private university system in Ukraine. He spoke on the topic of "Zionist influence in the United States" and opened his speech by declaring that "the powers of globalism and Zionism are reaching out and they are trying to control the lives, the values, the culture and the foreign policy of every nation on earth." MAUP awarded Duke a doctorate in history in September 2005 and he has taught at the university.
Promoting anti-Semitism in the U.S. and spending time in prison
- March 2005: The Swedish "patriotic community" flew Duke to Sweden, according to his Web site, to promote his book Jewish Supremacism, which had been translated into Swedish. Duke gave speeches in Stockholm and in Helsingborg during his trip and hosted a daily Webcast featuring various Swedish “patriots.”
- March 2006: Duke praised “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” a paper written by academics John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, which proved to be a conspiratorial anti-Semitic analysis invoking allegations of Jewish power and Jewish control. The paper claims that an “Israel lobby” controls American foreign policy and engineered the country’s military overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Duke claimed that the paper mirrored many of the assertions he had made over the years, and that he been “validated.” The media reported his plaudits for the paper and Duke himself made a rare appearance on mainstream television when he was interviewed that month by Joe Scarborough on the MSNBC program Scarborough Country.
- February 2006: Duke attended a Virginia conference convened by the white supremacist American Renaissance publication. About 300 white supremacists attended this biennial gathering promoting pseudo-intellectual racist theories and opposing non-white immigration. Although Duke was not an official speaker, he disrupted the event with anti-Semitic comments and became involved in a heated verbal exchange with a Jewish participant.
- May 2005: Duke’s most notable activity this year was his convening of the “2005 European American Conference” in New Orleans. Attended by over 300 white supremacists, the theme of the conference was the unification of Europeans and Americans in opposition to Jews, who were demonized as blood suckers and parasites who dominate media and government around the world. A significant number of politically affiliated European racists addressed the crowd, including Nick Griffin and Simon Darby from the far-right British National Party, Karl Richter and Marcus Haverkamp from Germany's far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), Vavra Suk and Lennart Berg of Sweden, Jean-Michel Girard of France's far-right National Front, and Deirdre Fields of South Africa.
- May 2004: Duke’s European American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) sponsored a conference in Kenner, Louisiana, near New Orleans. Several significant neo-Nazi and racist figures attended the event, including speakers John Tyndall, founder of the British National Party; neo-Nazi Kevin Alfred Strom; Don Black, founder of Stormfront, the most popular extremist Internet forum; virulent anti-Semite Willis Carto, who publishes the anti-Semitic newspaper American Free Press and The Barnes Review, a Holocaust denial publication; anti-Semitic attorney Edgar J. Steele; and Holocaust denier Germar Rudolf. In his own remarks, Duke urged the audience of 250 not to characterize themselves as white supremacists and racists but as devoted to the "white civil rights cause." He also assailed President Bush and his administration as being "pawns of Israel and betrayers of the white race."
At the event, Duke unveiled the so-called “New Orleans Protocol,” a three-point document for white "nationalists" advocating nonviolence, collegiality and "a high tone in our arguments." Signatories included Duke, Black, Carto, Strom, Tyndall, Canadian activist Paul Fromm and Ed Fields. The Protocol had no noticeable effect in any of those three areas.
- April 2003 through May 2004: Duke served time in a federal prison in Texas following a 2002 conviction for mail fraud and tax evasion. He had avoided prosecution earlier by spending much of 2001-2002 in Russia and the Ukraine promoting anti-Semitism while safely out of the reach of the U.S. government. Returning to the U.S. late in 2002, Duke entered into a plea-bargained thirteen-month prison sentence.
Prior to founding the European Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), which he currently leads, as well as its predecessor, the National Organization for European American Rights (NOFEAR), Duke established in 1980 the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP). He described the group as “primarily a white rights lobby organization, a racialist movement, mainly middle class people” and likened its message to that of the Ku Klux Klan. Indeed, NAAWP was housed in the former headquarters of the Knights of the KKK, and Duke used the facilities to produce the NAAWP newsletter. From that office, he also produced the Louisiana edition of The White Patriot, a periodical of the Knights of the KKK.
NAAWP had such close ties to the KKK because, throughout the 1970s, Duke was a Klan leader. In 1974, he founded the Louisiana-based Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and became the group’s Imperial Wizard. Duke’s efforts to market himself as a new brand of Klansman – well-groomed, engaged, professional – were successful, and Duke boosted Klan membership. Duke urged an overhaul of the organization at the grass-roots level, encouraging his colleagues to “get out of the cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms.” In media appearances and political venues, he skillfully exploited issues like illegal immigration, affirmative action and court-ordered busing, and sanitized Klan vocabulary, titling himself “national director” and referring to cross burnings as “illuminations.” In 1976, he organized the largest Klan rally the nation had witnessed since the 1960s in Walker, Louisiana, with an estimated attendance of 2,700. In addition, he built up local organizations in other states, including California, Florida and Texas. Although he publicly shunned violence, he was convicted in 1979 of inciting a riot in connection with a Klan rally in suburban New Orleans.
While a student at Louisiana State University, he founded the White Youth Alliance, a group affiliated with the neo-Nazi National Socialist White People’s Party in Arlington, Virginia. To protest a speech by attorney William Kunstler at Tulane University, Duke picketed wearing a Nazi brown shirt and a swastika armband and carried a placard that said “Kunstler is a Communist-Jew” and “Gas the Chicago 7” (referring to the well-known leftist activists). Duke now describes the event as a “folly of youth.”
In late 1998, Duke authored and self-published a 700-page autobiography, My Awakening. In this magnum opus, which he reprinted in 2000, Duke attempted to prove that blacks are genetically inferior to whites, while devoting almost 250 pages to anti-Jewish themes. Duke wrote that Jews “thoroughly dominate the news and entertainment media in almost every civilized nation; they control the international markets and stock exchanges; and no government can resist doing their bidding on any issue of importance,” and he noted that Jews and Gentiles are “in a state of ethnic war,” predicting that “the ultimate clash between these two diametrically opposed genotypes and cultures fast approaches with the new millenium.” In its unabashed racist animosity, the book seemed to represent a conscious decision by Duke to abandon his two-decade long attempts to obfuscate, repackage, intellectualize and dress up his opinions and ideas.
Duke also wrote two short pieces of very different sorts in the 1970s. In 1976, assuming the name “Dorothy Vanderbilt,” he authored Finders Keepers, a self-help sex manual for women. In 1973, as “Mohammad X,” Duke wrote African Atto, a street-fighting manual avowedly written to help the Klan identify "radical" African-Americans, who would buy the book.
In December 1998, Duke ran for a Congressional seat in Louisiana’s First Congressional District. He positioned himself as an anti-government conservative who stood up for the little man against programs such as affirmative action, minority set-asides and welfare. His message seemed to hit a nerve among some frustrated and alienated white voters who were willing to overlook his past. He received one out of every five ballots cast in the district and placed third in the election.
In September 1996, Duke competed in Louisiana’s United States Senate “open” primary, placing fourth among 15 candidates, with 140,910 votes, and carrying several rural parishes. Five years earlier, in March 1991, Duke launched a campaign for the governorship of Louisiana. His bid attracted enormous publicity, and his long record of bigotry came under heightened scrutiny. In response, Duke claimed to have discarded his racist beliefs. His claim was belied, however, by a number of recent anti-Semitic statements and the resignation of his campaign coordinator, who claimed that Duke’s recent professions were a political ploy. Duke lost the election but won nearly 700,000 votes. In 1990, Duke ran against Democratic incumbent J. Bennett Johnston for a United States Senate seat. Although Duke lost the election, he gained 43.5% of the vote and a surprising 60% of the white vote.
Duke saw his only political victory in January 1989, when he was elected to a seat in the Louisiana State Legislature in Metairie. Despite the opposition to Duke expressed by national Republican leaders, including then-President George H.W. Bush, voters elected him by a narrow margin. Until the middle of that year, when the practice was publicly exposed, Duke sold extremist literature (including Hitler’s Mein Kampf and The Turner Diaries, a racist novel written by a deceased neo-Nazi leader) from his Metairie legislative office. Duke still draws on this position to call himself a Representative, attempting to gain a more legitimate public face.
A year before being elected to the Louisiana State Legislature, Duke ran for the Presidency, first as a Democrat, and then as a third-party candidate on the ticket of the Populist Party, founded four years earlier by Willis Carto to provide far-right radicals with a platform for political office. Duke appeared on the ballot in 11 states and received 47,047 votes – one-twentieth of one percent of those cast. In 1975, Duke emerged on the political scene with an unsuccessful bid for the Louisiana State Senate in 1975, receiving one-third of the votes cast.