Slow Burn: David Duke

Season 4: Episode 1

White Knight

The year that David Duke, America’s most famous white supremacist, went mainstream.


Episode Notes

In the first half of the 1980s, it looked like David Duke’s career as a professional racist was over. But the former Ku Klux Klan leader had a comeback plan: He was going to keep quiet about his most hateful beliefs—and run for the Louisiana House of Representatives.

On the first episode of Slow Burn’s fourth season: the campaign that changed David Duke’s life, and that made him a threat to take control of Louisiana.

Season 4 of Slow Burn is produced by Josh Levin and Christopher Johnson. Mixing by Paul Mounsey. Slow Burn’s production assistant is Madeline Ducharme and Sophie Summergrad is the podcast’s assistant producer.

Sources for This Episode


Bridges, Tyler. The Rise and Fall of David Duke, University Press of Mississippi, 2018 (originally published in 1994).

DeVore, Donald E. Defying Jim Crow: African American Community Development and the Struggle for Racial Equality in New Orleans: 1900-1960, Louisiana State University Press, 2015.

Maginnis, John. Cross to Bear, Dark Horse Press, 1992.

Zatarain, Michael. David Duke: Evolution of a Klansman, Pelican Publishing Company, 1990.

Zeskind, Leonard. Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.


Applebome, Peter. “Duke: The Ex-Nazi Who Would Be Governor,” New York Times, Nov. 10, 1991.

Applebome, Peter. “Klan’s Ghost Haunts Louisiana Vote,” New York Times, Feb. 16, 1989.

Berry, Jason. “David Duke: Building a Nazi Base in Louisiana,” St. Petersburg Times, June 25, 1989.

Berry, Jason. “David Duke: Triumph of the Image,” TV Quarterly, January 1992.

Berry, Jason. “How David Duke and the Born-Agains Wrecked Louisiana’s GOP,” the Alicia Patterson Foundation, 1992.

Bridges, Tyler. “John Treen, staunch GOP activist who lost big 1989 race to David Duke, is dead at 94,”, April 21, 2020.

Branley, Edward. “NOLA History: When Canal Street was ‘The Mall,’ ”, Dec. 2, 2013.

Burnett, John. “Larger-Than-Life Sheriff Rules Louisiana Parish,” NPR, Nov. 28, 2006.

“Duke: Anatomy of an Upset,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 5, 1989.

Duke, David. “David Duke replies to James Gill,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Jan. 10, 1989.

“The Duke Embarrassment,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Feb. 20, 1989.

Extremist Profile: David Duke, Southern Poverty Law Center.

Gaillard, Frye. “New Ideas Cloak Past for David Duke: Without Denying Klan Days, He Scores on Present Issues,” Charlotte Observer, Feb. 26, 1989.

Gill, James. “The blighted tenure of Sheriff Lee,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dec. 12, 1986.

Gill, James. “David Duke’s affable-yuppie pose,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Jan. 6, 1989.

Gill, James. “Here comes candidate David Duke,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dec. 16, 1988.

Jeansonne, Glen and David Luhrssen. “David Duke,” 64 Parishes.

Jordan, Pat. “The Duke of Deception,” Southern Magazine, October 1987.

Jordan, Pat. “Evolution of a Bigot,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Feb. 10, 1991.

‘Like Hitler’: Duke on Extermination, the Right Package, and a Bengal Tiger,” Texas Observer, Jan. 17 and 31, 1992.

Maginnis, John. “Media frenzy gives Duke a boost,” Alexandria Town Talk, Feb. 2, 1989.

Maraniss, David. “Duke’s Obsession: White Supremacy with a Plan,” Washington Post, Nov. 10, 1991.

Maraniss, David. “Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana Make Slow Comeback from ‘86 Oil Bust,” Washington Post, Nov. 18, 1990.

Maraniss, David. “Winning Support With a White-Power Image,” Washington Post, Feb. 14, 1989.

Pompilio, Natalie. “There’s Something About Harry,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 2, 2000.

Powell, Lawrence N. “Read My Liposuction: The Makeover of David Duke,” the New Republic, Oct. 15, 1990.

Powell, Lawrence N. “Slouching Toward Baton Rouge: The 1989 Legislative Election of David Duke,” in The Emergence of David Duke and the Politics of Race, University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Reed, Julia. “Hate with a Pretty Face,” Vogue, November 1991.

Rich, Evelyn. Institute for Historical Review: Notes from a visit to IHR Conference with David Duke, Evelyn Rich Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Rich, Evelyn. Ku Klux Klan Ideology 1954-1988, Evelyn Rich Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Rich, Evelyn. “Setting the Record Straight: Longtime Partner of Jared Taylor Addresses White Nationalist Criticism,” Southern Poverty Law Center, May 4, 2016.

Serwer, Adam. “The Nationalist’s Delusion,” The Atlantic, Nov. 20, 2017.

Truscott, Lucian K. “Hate Gets a Haircut,” Esquire, Nov. 1, 1989.

Turque, Bill. “The Real David Duke,” Newsweek, Nov. 17, 1991.

Woods, Keith. “What makes Harry Lee possible,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 20, 1994.


David Duke and Joe Fields, Culver City, CA, 1986-02-17. Evelyn Rich Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Tom Metzger with David Duke, Los Angeles, CA, transcript. Evelyn Rich Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.


About the Show

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a white supremacist became an American political phenomenon. David Duke’s rise to power and prominence—his election to the Louisiana Legislature, and then his campaigns for the U.S. Senate and the governorship—was an existential crisis for the state and the nation. The fourth season of Slate’s Slow Burn will explore how a Nazi sympathizer and former Klansman fashioned himself into a mainstream figure, and why some voters came to embrace his message. It will also examine how activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens confronted Duke’s candidacy, and what it took to stop him.

The season is hosted by Josh Levin, a longtime Slow Burn editor and native Louisianian.

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