by Randall S. Frederick
In the shadow of Duke’s influence on the North Shore, there were times – usually in the Spring, usually on a Sunday – when a small packet was left in our driveway. Such small, plastic-wrapped bundles are familiar to white homes in Louisiana. There was always an invitation for my father to join the Klan or for my mother to join a similar organization in the Daughters of the Confederacy, nothing too inconvenient or radical. The news often got it so wrong. Why, here’s a small baked good for you, like a muffin or a loaf of banana bread. Why don’t you come to a public barbecue to share ideas with us? Bring the kids and celebrate the true history of this great nation!
Nationalism was, for a time, considered a new genetic strand of white supremacy. Emphasizing American ideas, American values could often silence claims of racial superiority – after all, freedom was a white idea and who would be silly enough to argue against freedom? It was the Africans who invented slavery, not white people. To anyone who knows history, the lack of historical accuracy, political coherence, even decency, such attempts at logic are familiar. They are hardly new. Rather, nationalism will drive racism for a decade, then becomes something unique, a unifier across race and class. Muslim populations in America know and understand that sometimes it is easy to pledge loyalty to a country to avoid the violence of racism. In the months after September 11, 2001, Muslims were forced to grow louder and adamant about their love for America to simply continue living. Black students will curiously talk about the idea of America whenever we are reading slave narratives or grow silent when discussing historical context. Nationalism in this way is a form of appeasement, a way to avoid further oppression. The tenets of nationalism are easier to agree with – “I love America and yes, our Founding Fathers were pursuing a noble cause of freedom for all people” – than the racist ideologies that undergird them – “even as they were slave owners and ignored the personal letters of their wives and sisters to give rights to women, their religious leaders to protect religious expression for non-Christians, and slaves to end the practice of enslavement.” Historians and sociologists continue to remind of us this, even when we refuse to listen, even when we insist we are good white Americans. In the winding history of America, racism and nationalism have been particularly friendly in public and intimately generative in private.
There is nothing new under the sun. White supremacy is not so much an ideology as it is a part of America, in the warp or woof of the fabric we stitch every day. Travelers to the South will often think we are all racists down here and they – the good ones – are not racist at all. Sadly, this is laughable. Some of the most notorious racists of the Twentieth Century are from the Great Lakes region, from Northern California, in Texas and Florida, safely tucked away in Nebraska and Nevada. Racism is not unique to the South. What makes us unique is how we discuss race. In the South, we teach our children that the Civil War was about the rights of individual states. In the South, we claim Jesus loves all people. Red, yellow, black, and white are all precious in his sight. But that’s Jesus. And Jesus is magic. So it’s okay to tell that joke about the fiery bus full of black children. Jesus wouldn’t repeat it, but brothers and sisters, we’re not Jesus, now is we? This is to say that in the South, our religion is driven by the absence of ethics and accountability. In the South, “I was just teasin’” is an acceptable excuse for misconduct, even intentional harm. Better than anyone else, we in the South read the 13th Amendment as having allowed enslavement under another name, wink-wink, rather than abolishing it. White remains the default experience here.
To the shame of America, we are not unique. These values are continental, not regional. Nationalism allows America to sustain the idea that there are African-Americans, but no Africans. There are Asian Americans, but no Asians. Your very identity is one of enslavement, indebted and bound to America. For the person of European origin, we are not White-Americans or even European-Americans, we’re just American. We are not hyphenated. To be an American means to be white, to shop white, to eat and pray and love white. To be American means we are bound by whiteness, restricted to, by, and for whiteness. Whiteness transcends race. This kind of cultural arrogance is what is now referred to as white supremacy, a label as accusatory as it is accurate. When the default position in America is whiteness, when citizens are expected to hold or at least aspire to white cultural norms and values, that means whites hold a privilege of supremacy that we call our national identity. This is the reason why the talking heads on entertainment “news” like Fox (whose lead talent, producers, shareholders, and owner Rupert Murdoch have each-and-all claimed they are not a news agency but an entertainment agency) find ratings night after night as they bait latent racism with threats that “they” – whoever the great enemy is for the evening – “are trying to destroy America.” This is why arguments against “wokeness” thrive; white people feel threatened and afraid by the reckoning taking place in classrooms, businesses, and the media.
As a white person, I understand the discomfort in being told my race is not special, that we have to earn our place in the world just like everyone else, that this is not “our” country. I get the temptation of fear and, controversially, I respect it. One can respect a well-crafted lie without succumbing to it; many do not. Still, white people who have been seduced by the lies of racism and nationalism are so well-entrenched in a false identity that they refuse to give up the ephemeral (and ironic) coat of many colors that has cloaked their racism and privilege as Americanism, patriotism, and hard-working self-sacrifice for decades. Privilege goes undetected in many good, otherwise open-minded self-proclaimed pure-hearted Southerners, even Americans who live geographically – though not always psychologically or emotionally – elsewhere. Naming the particulars or reframing words they have spoken back to them – “do you hear yourself?” – has proven, still proves, and will continue to prove upsetting for many Southerners even as they adamantly defend their token friends, classmates, or neighbors of color. I am not a racist, they insist, even as they casually joke about the Jews and their love of money. I am not a nationalist, they insist, even as they agree we have enough immigrants and that America is for Americans.
Which is to say, those packets arrived in our driveway for a reason. Something my parents had said, some friend they had drinks with, somewhere they shopped, had placed them on a well-developed radar. They received an invitation, rather than a burning cross because they were part of the “right” group of people. Yet this has always felt superficial and suspect to me. After all, even as a child, I wondered if it was truly as simple as that. Were we “good” simply because we were white? The last time this happened, my parents were in the middle of a divorce. We hadn’t attended church for almost a year. My father worked an hour away and my mother two. As a family, we were hardly traditional. As Christians, we had more questions than churches were willing to answer – questions about accountability for excess, the weaponization of fear, and the ongoing rejection of ethical principles. That package arrived in our driveway for the simple reason that we were white. That’s it. If our family had been explored beyond the color of our skin, civil violations would have proven abundant. My mother, for example, had identified as a Socialist since she visited Switzerland in 1985. My father refused the lure of the Klan, although it was convenient. He could have been the inheritor of a racist legacy. His father, Billy, was an avid and outspoken Duke supporter. Billy was proud of Duke, a believer in his cause, who had been a member of the Klan as a child in Mississippi and later as an adult in Louisiana. Duke was a son of the South like him, one my grandfather wished had been born to him. For complex psychological and emotional reasons, as well as social and political, my father thought Duke was a “dastardly sonofabitch” and said as much, defiantly, to his father. Curiously, this generational wave would give rise to Duke and Donald Trump a generation later. The Civil Rights Era allowed black people to become upwardly mobile. White people raised during this period were taught to be ashamed of police hosing black people against grocery walls in towns like their own, ashamed of people who looked like their parents loosing attack dogs, photographed screaming obscenities, and chanting slurs. My father was such a person. My mother was such a person. Duke, in his travels across the country building the Klan, noticed this divide and began to redirect his message. Black people were proving to be just as intelligent and capable as any other American, after all. Through sharing culture and workspaces with black people, many whites saw similarities that eroded what they had been taught. Black people cared for their children just like white people. They watched the same shows. They shopped in the same grocery stores. For others, cultural exposure reinforced their suspicions. White people had been forced to retreat culturally, so they began to retrench their differences. As Duke writes in his autobiography, My Awakening,
What I learned about them, I liked. But it also seemed that the liberal line was not entirely correct, for it was obvious that racial differences went far beyond skin color. It would be difficult to categorize all the distinctions I noticed. In fact, I made no effort to catalogue them at the time, but their differences ranged all the way from physical characteristics to more subtle differences such as extreme aversion for work in cold weather. On cold days, when I felt invigorated, my black co-workers seemed lethargic. (29).
Increasingly independent black economic, cultural and political power gave Blacks more freedom to do what came natural to them. Divorced from White influence and culture, they reverted quickly to their genotype — increasingly typical of black societies around the world. Males exhibited exaggerated sexual aggression and promiscuity that led to the dissolution of the Black nuclear family in America. Females reverted to the age-old African model of maternal provisioning of children (159).David Duke, My Awakening (1998)
Read in isolation, it seems as though Duke is banging the drum of anti-black racism. In context, My Awakening is generous to blacks. He attributes the socio-economic failure of black people to social manipulation, even genetics, rather than the individualized failure prevalent in capitalistic rhetoric. In a perverted way, Duke is defending black people, offering sympathy and understanding. In an interview with doctoral student Evelyn Rich conducted in March of 1985 for a dissertation on the Ku Klux Klan, Duke shared that
What we really want to do is to be left alone. We don’t want Negroes around. We don’t need Negroes around. We’re not asking you know, we don’t want to have them, you know, for our culture. We simply want our own country and our own society. That’s in no way exploitive at all. We want our own society, our own nation.
Curiously, in this same interview with Rich in March of ‘85, Duke also mentions the Jews. “These Jews who run things, who are producing this mental illness teenage suicide…all these Jewish sicknesses…that’s nothing new. The Talmud’s full of things like sex with boys and girls.” In an editorial that same year, titled “The Black Plague” for his own National Association for the Advancement of White People News, Duke wrote, “[A] black…gets a job with a white-owned company. He is the only black at the firm. He works hard, but he’s fighting a losing battle against his genes.” This is almost a progressive position, in contrast to the racism he had grown up with. It offers sympathy and understanding in a way. The violence of black people, the lack of parental figures due to high incarceration, and the crack epidemic, all are attributable to larger issues at play. Black people can’t help themselves because, as a race, they are being exploited and oppressed. Yet Duke focuses his attention on genetic predisposition, not social circumstance. The defining difference for Blacks was that their social circumstance was not a result of white supremacy, but Jewish supremacy and manipulation.
Duke was perfectly clothed – quite literally – to directing the message of racism away from black people to a conspiracy of Jewish manipulation. From the very beginning, he had been preaching against the Jews and their insidious plotting, their hoarded wealth, their genetic predisposition toward corrupting the white race and destroying nations. Racism only needed to find a new frequency of broadcast, one of white victimization and interracial civility. As he had been insisting all along, he wasn’t anti-black, he was just pro-white. In this way, he could explain his support of violence against black people by adding more detail to his views. The success of black in the marketplace was attributable to Jewish influence. Hadn’t Malcolm X said the same thing? Louis Farrakhan? These men were not enemies of David Duke or the Klan, but prophets. Each man wanted the best for his race. Duke could respect that. Hadn’t he proven he could learn from his mistakes? But the rising tide of violence in our cities? The mass incarceration of black people? The disenfranchisement of the white race? The devaluation of America? The whole thing, the whole convoluted mess Americans found themselves in, had to be the work of the Jews, sticking their big noses into American politics and manipulating democracy once again from the safety of their banks. From boyhood, Duke had been repeating antisemitic conspiracies of the National Socialists. He was adapting them now to new circumstances.
In 1975, Duke was interviewed for The Sun of Wichita in Kansas. In the interview, Duke commented quite casually, “It’s really the Jew Marxists who see the nigger as their instrument, as their bullets, by which to destroy our society.”
In a 1978 interview for the Heritage Florida Jewish News, Duke argued that “Jewish people have put the interests of race over the interests of the American people… Jews are filled with more hatred and rage for our race, for our heritage, for our blood than perhaps you can imagine.”
In a follow-up interview with Evelyn Rich in February of 1986 for her dissertation, Duke adds that the Jews are the greatest threat to American society – whites as well as black aspirants.
They’re trying to exterminate our race. I think, probably in a moral sense, the Jewish people have been a blight. I mean as a whole, not every Jew. And they probably deserve to go into the ashbin of history. But saying that and actually shooting or killing people in masses, are two different things. I’m not advocating extermination. I think the best thing is to resettle them in someplace where they can’t exploit others. And I don’t think they can live among themselves, I really don’t.David Duke, in an interview w/ Evelyn Rich (Feb. 1986)
Insinuating that the Jewish people “deserve to go into the ashbin of history,” Duke is referencing the Holocaust in such a way as to dog-whistle his audience. He is using a familiar phrase to remind his audience how close the Nazis came to successfully killing all of the Jews in Europe. Four years later in 1990, in an interview with Ros Davidson that would not be published until the November 13, 1991 issue of The San Francisco Examiner, Duke notes that “The Jews are trying to destroy all other cultures…as a survival mechanism…the only Nazi country in the world is Israel.”
Allegedly, Duke sold the Klan’s mailing list for $35,000. At least, that is what Klan leaders said as their organization collapsed with Duke’s exit. After he left the Klan, Duke founded the National Association for the Advancement of White People in 1979. Using the Klan’s mailing list, and knowing that racism had more targets than black people, he began to pluck other strings familiar to his melody. He promoted Holocaust denial literature such as Did Six Million Really Die?: The Truth at Last (1974) and The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry (1975). These works inspired him and so he returned to writing under his own name with My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding in 1998, Jewish Supremacy: My Awakening to the Jewish Question in 2001, and The Secret Behind Communism in 2013 (spoiler alert: the secret is Jewish control).
For perspective, yes. I have read Hitler’s Mein Kampf. It’s a rambling, ahistorical mess. Yes, I have read all three of the above titles written by David Duke. And while Hitler’s incoherency meanders into the tragic, Duke feels pathetically juvenile. Remember, this is the same man who wrote marriage manuals for women under a false identity as a woman, a “failed Feminist.” This is the same man who wrote an “expose” on black culture under a false identity as a black man. He used both of these fictious works as proof that women were “meant” to be subservient to a man and that black people were intellectually inferior – his own grammatical mistakes were used to prove this, attributable to his fictional blackness. With this in mind, Duke repeats his familiar argument In My Awakening that
We [Whites] desire to live in our own neighborhoods, go to our own schools, work in our own cities and towns, and ultimately live as one extended family in our own nation. We shall end the racial genocide of integration. We shall work for the eventual establishment of a separate homeland for African Americans, so each race will be free to pursue its own destiny without racial conflicts and ill will.David Duke, My Awakening (1998)
The difference is that he is not arguing any longer for a white society apart from a black or mixed society. Rather, by the time My Awakening is published in 1998, he had turned his attention away from blacks as the source of problems in American society. In his estimation, black people are not mentally strong enough to compete with whites unless there has been outside interference. In My Awakening, he writes,
They 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. They can coalesce against any state that resists their power, whether it [sic] economic extortion of a billion dollars from Switzerland or the violent carpet bombing of Iraq. The cohesion of the Jewish people is indeed the context of the New World Order, and with it they propose to extend their totalitarian denial of free speech from Europe and Canada to the nation that was once the most free in the world: the United States… Jewish power is ubiquitous. Every politician is so aware of it that he knows he cannot dare mention it! Jewish organizations, Jewish media and Jewish political agents ruthlessly seek their perceived interests without remorse and without introspection. Just as single-mindedly as they once orchestrated the Russian Revolution, they now coordinate their power over the goyim. No Jewish leader has to direct his minions to seek political control of Gentile nations; they do it as naturally as the Blue Jay appropriates another bird’s nest. No one has to tell Jews to destroy Gentile pride, heritage, honor, loyalty, tradition, while at the same time building up their own. It is in their programming.David Duke, My Awakening (463-64)
Even as someone who grew up in the same areas as Duke and then, in turn, grew up in an environment he helped create, I cannot help but laugh at his simplicity which is neither elegant nor profound. The entirety of his views on Jewish Supremacy can be boiled down to his simple definition, “Jewish chauvinism, suspicion, and anger against Gentiles.” His understanding of history is facile when it too is not entirely, laughably, dismissible. Even his repeated denial of the Holocaust over the last four decades rests on two dubious claims: One, that there were no witnesses except those Jews who were liberated by British, American, and Russian forces. So the only people who saw the camps were those who survived them or non-German military forces. Two, and almost comical in how pathetic it remains, is that Jews were profiting from the Holocaust. In a 1982 interview with Hustler magazine, Duke reasoned
Obviously, Jews gain certain advantages by promoting the Holocaust idea. It inspires tremendous financial aid for Israel. It makes organized Jewry almost immune from criticism. Whether the Holocaust is real or not, the Jews clearly have a motive for fostering the idea that it occurred. Not only do they have a motive, but they have the means with the media domination they now hold.Interview w/ David Duke, Hustler Magazine (August 1982)
According to Duke, the only motive to education around one of the most significant events of the Twentieth Century, an event that changed foreign policy and how textbooks were written, which demanded the attention of the entire world to learn how to prevent it from ever happening again is to turn a profit. The Jewish people do this – naturally – by exercising control over the media. Oy vey! Here we go again with the racist tropes of Jews loving money and world domination!
To their credit, Hustler tried to offer Duke a chance to revise his comments. Instead, he chose to double down on them.
Hustler: “Do you really doubt the Holocaust occurred?
Duke: “Let’s put it this way. I question whether six million Jews actually died in Nazi death camps. There are two major sources for Holocaust stories. One is the Nuremburg war-crimes trial, which has been shown by all honest historians to be a farce of justice. Another source is the great body of literature and media work, and at least 90% of that material is from biased Jewish sources.”ibid.
Denying what has become one of the most well-documented exterminations of human life in the Twentieth Century is not only tragically pathetic, a desperate attempt at racial coercion, it is incompetent and base. It shows not only a disregard for human life, but a disregard for history, authority, evidence, and for the experience of those who survived concentration camps. It entirely disregards the accounts of American and British servicemen who liberated the camps. It disregards the historical reckoning of the German people, who would have had a legitimate reason to try and forget and move past the atrocities they committed and ignored. Holocaust denial speaks to a tragic bend in the human condition: that we will deny the undeniable to protect our own identity. In the face of incontrovertible evidence, we will maintain a lie and do everything in our power to both sustain the lies that have been told and, over time, build them up, to reinforce them in the retelling.
The absence of critical thinking is pitiable of course, but the effort to deny reality is comical. This two-handed approach – the refusal of truth on the one hand and the construction of a lie on the other – is symptomatic of the mentally deranged, even deplorable. Yet it became characteristic of Duke’s adherents and, later, those who would come to support Donald Trump in his bid for the presidency of America. Detachment from reason, accountability, and multiple avenues of critical thinking has become a terrifying development in America.