Slow Burn: David Duke

Season 4: Episode 4

A Silent Army

What message did David Duke’s voters send to everyone else in Louisiana?

Illustration depicting a female with a microphone

Listen longer

Slate Plus members get ad-free versions of all Slate podcasts, plus extra segments, bonus episodes, and more. Try it free today.

Join Slate Plus

Episode Notes

David Duke wasn’t content being a state representative. He wanted to go national, and in 1990 he expanded his base of white voters to try to attain that goal.

In Episode 4 of Slow Burn: how David Duke made himself a political sensation—and the message his supporters sent when they cast their ballots.

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

Sources for This Episode

Books:

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

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

Saslow, Eli. Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist, Anchor Publishing, 2018.

Film:

Carrick, Bess. Backlash: Race and the American Dream, 1992.

Articles:

Bell, Michelle. “Voting for a Symbol of Hatred,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 28, 1990.

Berry, Jason. “Duke Keeps American Nazis in Spotlight,” Baton Rouge Advocate, Jan. 11, 1990.

Boyd, Richard. “Sign Vandals Stymie Campaigns,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Aug. 22, 1990.

Bridges, Tyler. “Disputed Company Is Owned by Duke,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Aug. 9, 1989.

Bridges, Tyler. “The Duke Dilemma,” 64 Parishes.

Bridges, Tyler. “Duke Working Hard to Overcome Past,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Aug. 26, 1990.

Carrick, Bess. “KKK Wizard David Duke’s 1990 Run Foreshadowed Pro-Trump Passion,” the Lens, March 13, 2017.

Carter, Tammy Collins. “Blacks Rally Against Vandals,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 12, 1991.

Carter, Tammy Collins. “Trying to Understand Duke Voters,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Nov. 23, 1991.

Gyan Jr., Joe. “Duke Has Damaged GOP, State Party Official Says,” Baton Rouge Advocate, Nov. 2, 1990.

“How ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ Almost Happened in Louisiana: A Study of the David Duke Phenomenon in the 1990 Senate Race,” Garin-Hart Strategic Research, the Center for National Policy, March 1991.

Kelso, Iris. “The War of the Numbers in an Intriguing Senate Race,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 14, 1990.

Maraniss, David. “Campaigning in Code,” Washington Post, July 1, 1990.

Marcus, Frances Frank. “After 22 Years, the Girls Are Where the Boys Are,” New York Times, Sept. 20, 1988.

McMahon, Bill. “Direct Mail, Rallies, 900 Numbers Pay Off for Duke Senate Campaign,” Baton Rouge Advocate, Aug. 15, 1990.

Morris, John. “Minority Groups, Communism Attacked at Klan Gathering,” Baton Rouge State Times, April 5, 1975.

Nauth, Zack. “Lawmakers: Duke Flunked Freshman Term,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 16, 1989.

Paasch, Rolf. “Spelunke in den Sümpfen des Mississippi,” Taz.de, July 25, 1990.

Ridenhour, Ron. “Observers Fear Symbol of Racist Far-Right Wing,” Rocky Mountain News, Jan. 28, 1990.

Riegel, Stephanie. “The Selling of David Duke,” Louisiana Political Review, November 1990.

Thomas, Greg. “In St. Bernard, Routine Racism,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 7, 1990.

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

Tye, Larry. “Duke’s Strong Run Surprises Analysts,” Boston Globe, Oct. 9, 1990.

Vickery, Hugh. “State Welfare Safety Nets Don’t Catch Everything,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 20, 1990.

Whalen, Bill. “Ex-Wizard Tries to Turn Back the Clock on Voters’ Attitudes,” Washington Times, Jan. 15, 1990.

Wills, Gary. “David Duke’s Addictive Politics,” Time, Oct. 1, 1990.

Zeskind, Leonard. “David Duke Is More Than a Former Klansman,” Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, Aug. 2, 2016.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

What It’s Like to Play David Duke

Actor Topher Grace on portraying an infamous bigot for Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman.

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.

All episodes

Host