S1: This podcast contains language that some listeners might find offensive. Beth Rakia found politics thrilling, but also a little bit terrifying. As a member of Louisiana’s Republican State Central Committee, she helped manage the state party from behind closed doors. Ricky liked watching the action from a slight remove, making droll asides about the frontline players. But sometimes she couldn’t resist speaking a little louder. Here she is, a 1991. In an interview for a radio documentary.
S2: I mean, I’m I get really angry if I think someone is getting stepped on, but I hate to be I hate criticism. I mean, I’m like this real sensitive person and it’s like this is not what I should be doing.
S1: Ricky grew up in a big house in Lafayette, Louisiana. And she had the bearing and the bouffant hairdo of a Southern debutante. She idolized her father, Horace Rickey, who died when she was young. Horace fought in World War Two and helped liberate the German death camps. He’d also been a key figure in the Louisiana Republican Party back when segregationist Democrats ruled the South. Beth grew up believing that the GOP stood for rectitude and morality before David Duke got elected to the Louisiana state House of Representatives. She still believed at. In 1989, Ricky was a 32 year old graduate student in political science at Tulane in New Orleans. She was also working for Duke’s opponent in that House race. John Treene, during that campaign, Ricky spent a lot of time reading up on Duke and the Tulane Library. The material that she uncovered shocked her.
S2: I come bounding up the stairs with all this as these book lists and writings and and I said, you know, my God, he’s a Nazi. He’s not only the head of the Klan, he’s a Nazi.
S1: The Treme campaign presented Ricky’s findings to voters. A photograph of Duke in Nazi regalia. Duke’s claim as a college student that Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was the greatest piece of literature of the 20th century. His long standing embrace of eugenics.
S2: So we thought that if you get the message out about David Duke, people would be shocked and they wouldn’t vote for him. I don’t think the strategy worked.
S1: When Duke won the seat, Ricky felt shaken and discouraged. But she wasn’t ready to give up her fight. Two weeks after Election Day in March 1989, she followed Duke to Chicago. He was going to speak at the National Convention of the Populist Party, the fringy far right group that had backed his run for the presidency a year earlier. Rickey wanted to hear what David Duke said when he was among friends. Hanging out with a bunch of Midwestern fascists was a sure fire way for Duke to sully his cleaned up image. But these were the people who had rejuvenated Duke’s political career and who had helped bankroll his successful run for the state legislature. Duke decided that he couldn’t turn his back on them. Ricky had registered for the Populist Party convention as a journalist in Duke’s speech, was closed to the media to get into the room. Ricky went undercover as a member of the party.
S2: Guards at the door, I found out later they were with the American Nazi Party in Chicago, if I’d known that, I don’t know if I’d be so brave now. But they I pretended when I was a friend of mine said, hey, how you doing? How’s your family? How’s the wife? I’m glad he was married.
S1: Ricky got past the guard and found herself among skinheads and neo-Nazis in front of this crowd. David Duke felt comfortable talking strategy.
S3: Oh, he said, I may be a Republican, but I always be a populist or something like that. And then they all cheer. Felt like I was in on a dirty little secret. Ha ha ha. Look what I did in Louisiana, pull the wool over their eyes. And he was using the Republican Party. And that just made me mad.
S1: After that closed meeting, Duke was photographed shaking hands with a man named Art Jones. Burns was the vice chairman of the American Nazi Party. That picture would run in newspapers all over the country. Wasn’t the image the Duke wanted to project? He got back to Louisiana. He whined that the media had treated him unfairly. Luke said probably truthfully, that he’d never met R. Jones before, and he called Jones a Nazi kook.
S4: Duke also claimed, not at all, truthfully, that the populist party was simply an anti-tax organization. And Duke said he repudiated any efforts of extremist groups to capitalize on his electoral victory. Beth Rekey knew that last part was a lie. She’d been there when Duke had told a room full of extremists that he was one of them. She’d also heard Duke admit that he was a Republican in name only. Ricky had a clear mission stop the Republican Party from becoming the party of David Duke. She had no idea how hard that would be. This is Slow Burn. I’m Josh Levine. Episode three, The Nazi and the Republicans.
S1: Billy Nungesser, is loyalty to the Republican cause was boundless, and he couldn’t help expressing it. Here he is with radio reporter Gary Corvino in nineteen ninety one. Three years after Nungesser became chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party.
S5: Tell me what that big thing is in your parking lot. That’s an elephant that I bought some years ago. That is. LifeSize. Have you noticed you tow it around? Yeah, yeah. Hey, told. I have someone tow it to where we want it. I bought it in a weak moment one time.
S1: Nungesser grew up working class in New Orleans. He became a self-made millionaire. The proprietor of a seafood canning company and a catering firm for oil rig workers. The writer, Quin Hillyer, says Nungesser was the life of the Republican Party.
S6: So he had this persona of this rough neck and he was a burly guy and strong. But if he was at a wedding or something, you might see him in a all white suit with a bright pink shirt and a bright orange tie. Very excitable, very pithy, very earthy and all in this one big package of energy. He was like like nobody I’ve ever known.
S1: When Nungesser was elected chairman of the state party, he told his fellow Republicans, we are the good guys. David Duke joined the party less than a year later. During Duke’s race against John Treene, Nungesser said that a victory for the Klansman would be a disaster for the party, the state and the nation. When that disaster came to pass. Nungesser had a decision to make. He could either disavow an elected Republican officeholder or he could embrace the most notorious bigot in American politics. The chairman of the National Republican Party, Lee Atwater, made his position on David Duke very clear.
S7: And this man’s got a 20 year history of participating in Klu Klux Klan Nazi activities. There’s no place for this Republican Party, not as long as I’m chairman.
S1: During the state House race at water, Ronald Reagan and the newly elected George H.W. Bush all denounced Duke after Duke got elected. The Republican National Committee voted to censure him and to deny Duke any form of aid and assistance. Atwater called this an excommunication.
S7: I don’t care what he’s been elected or not. This is something I feel very strongly about and I’m letting my moral compass take over rather than my political compass. So I’m going to.
S1: Coming from Lee Atwater. This was an unexpected move, a little like Satan saying he was installing central air conditioning. Atwater was notorious for his vicious racial politics in a nineteen eighty one interview released after his death. Atwater explained that Republican politicians hid racist policies behind race neutral codewords.
S8: You start out in 1954 by saying, nigger, nigger, nigger. By 1968, you keep saying that that hurts your back. So you say stuff like a fourth person, steak’s white and all that stuff, and you get to show abstract. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes. And all of these things you’re talking about are totally economic things in a by product that will make blacks get hurt worse.
S1: Like Atwater had been George Bush’s campaign manager in 1988 when he ran for president against Democrat Michael Dukakis. That election turned on a campaign ad about a felon named Willie Horton, who is black.
S9: Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekend passes from prison, Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend. Weekend prison passes Dukakis on crime.
S1: The Bush campaign didn’t make the ad, but Atwater loved it. He said he wanted to make Horten Dukakis’s running mate. Before nineteen eighty nine, Beth Reekie had never criticized the Republican Party’s racial politics, but she told the independent radio journalist Plater Robinson that the rise of Duke made her re-evaluate her views.
S10: The Republican Party has a platform for a number of years of being opposed to affirmative action and minority set asides and has appealed to the white Southern voter. In a veiled way, Willie Horton, Willie Horton is a classic example of that. But their greatest nightmare was that some out and out racist would come along and say. This is the home of the Republican Party is for racist.
S1: For Billy Nungesser, David Duke was a different kind of nightmare, one that was threatening to rip apart the Louisiana Republican Party, elected officials in Louisiana had to choose sides very quickly. Just before Duke was scheduled to take his oath as a state representative, an independent legislator named Don Back A raised an objection. Baquet said the Duke had violated the state’s residency requirements that he hadn’t been living in Jefferson Parishes District eighty one for long enough. That meant his victory was illegitimate.
S11: If the people of District 81 want someone like that. To be their representative. That’s their right. That’s America. They can vote for him as long as it is legal. And if it’s not legal and it wasn’t, then no matter how they voted, he should not have been seated.
S1: None of Duke’s opponents in that District 81 race had challenged his residency. Baquet was raising the issue now because he hated everything Duke stood for. He was using parliamentary procedure to take a moral stand and the Republicans in the state House hated him for it.
S11: What did you hear from your legislative colleagues kind of behind the scenes? It was stupid. There was no way that I was going to win. Why put them through making a vote if they have to vote there on the record?
S1: Bakkies colleagues were right. He didn’t come close to winning. Sixty nine state representatives voted to give Duke his seat. Thirty three voted against Duke. Only three of them were Republicans. Duke was now officially a state representative and a member of the Republican legislative caucus. It was easy to denounce Dig’s victory. From Washington, it was much harder when his message was resonating in your own backyard.
S12: Nungesser didn’t want Duke to gather strength, but the Republican chairman also knew that attacks on Duke were creating a backlash in Louisiana because the press in every case comes on and says this Nazi disco Klux Klan. And people expect when they start paying attention, they expect him to talk about where they’re going to lynch a black tonight. Maybe where they’re going to gas a Jew. And he does knew that. And when they don’t hear that, they are more receptive when he comes on with a legitimate message. I say this guy and burn in houses are churches. You’re warned about Duke. And then when you don’t turn out to be this monster, you give him more credit for not being a monster. And then you would give somebody who’s never been a monster.
S13: If Nungesser excommunicated Duke from the Louisiana Republican Party, he’d risk losing every voter who liked what Duke was saying. And that could be a lot of voters. All of that was a non guessers head when Beth Rickey came to speak with him in March 1989, when Rickey told the chairman about David Duke speech to the populist party. He advised her to keep quiet. Nungesser said that making a big stink about Duke might give him the attention he craved.
S14: That Rickey didn’t want to define Billy Nungesser, but she continued gathering intelligence on David Duke. She had help from a two lane page student named Lance Hill. Hills had been monitoring Duke for a long time.
S1: In the early 1980s, he started looking into Duke’s so-called civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of White People.
S15: I subscribe to his paper under a phony name, and then I even went out and met him. He had two sets of literature and one on one side of the wall was the NWA, WP, the new improved racism. And on the other wall was all the Nazi stuff. He kept trying to push the NWA w piece stuff on me. And I’d say, you know, what about this book over here about did six million really die? I said, well, don’t worry, the judge just read this for now. You know, it was kind of a bait and switch, you know, get me hooked on the milquetoast racism. And then he’d dropped the real stuff. Later.
S1: In April of 1989, two months after Duke took office as a state representative, Hill placed a call to the in double. The person who answered the phone said, David Duke. District 81.
S15: Well, that’s odd. And so I called Bath and I said, I bet he’s still selling all of these Nazi books out of his basement there in Metairie. Right. With his legislative office.
S1: To confirm their suspicions, Hillin Rickey’s started placing orders for books popular among white supremacists. Here’s how Ricky told the story to Plater Robinson.
S10: Lance, call and ask for The Turner Diaries. And they said, oh, sure, we have it. So I went in and bought it.
S16: In me at that point. Then over a period of three weeks, I sent in other people. I had someone call and asked for it. Do you have Hitler was my friend. I had to Booklist. And they said, just a minute. We’re out of that. But we do have mine. I’ll never forget that. I thought that was so funny. So we bought all these books and then they gave us because we were such good buyers. Bonus these little books on eugenics, on breeding a master race, you know, so it’s kind of a long yob is called around here. A little extra.
S1: Key now had clear proof that the new David Duke was really the old David Duke. So she reached out to Billy Nungesser again. But Nungesser, his position hadn’t changed. He said that she was stirring up a hornet’s nest in the going public, would just give Duke free publicity. He was at an impasse. He didn’t want to add fuel to Duke’s movement, but she knew what she believed. And she had hard evidence to confirm those beliefs. What Ricky needed was guidance and a path forward. She got it from an unexpected source, a Holocaust survivor who’d never thought of herself as an activist. On June 6th, nineteen eighty nine, and Levie got on a chartered bus to the Louisiana state capital in Baton Rouge.
S17: I was there was a whole lot of people from New Orleans, some survivors, and we just went there to visit to see the exhibit.
S1: The exhibit had been brought to the Capitol by a Jewish human rights organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center. It was called The Courage to Remember, and it showed the history of the Holocaust and photographs. There were pictures of burning synagogues and starving children. For an Levie, this exhibition was deeply personal Leave was born in Woods, Poland, in 1935. The German army invaded her homeland four years later.
S17: Happy times that I remember is right before the war. Walking with my parents, getting ice cream and balloons on a Sunday afternoon, and that stopped abruptly.
S1: Less than one percent of Jewish children in Poland survived the Holocaust. By the end of World War Two, the Nazis had killed at least three million Polish Jews. Levie, her younger sister and her parents faced horrifying deprivations, but miraculously, they all made it out alive. They may actually be the only nuclear family to survive the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto. They lived in part because Levie and her sister managed to stay hidden for 12 hours every weekday for as long as five months.
S17: There was like a dowry chest. So you lifted the top and you could store things in it. So my father made a false bottom. And on the top, if you lifted the top, are you so was old rags and old newspapers. And in the morning before they went to work, my sister and I would go in there and it was totally dark and cold, dark.
S11: And you just spend the day.
S17: We just sat there. I don’t know how it did it, but circumstances and a different time in the world. We knew we had to do what we were told.
S1: Levie was a very small child during those years in Poland.
S17: People think that just because I was so young, how could I ever remember when I so with my own eyes, what happened to people when they died in a street, for example, the head closing on them? It would be gone. I remember seeing these dead bodies naked and somebody would come by and maybe cover that body with a newspaper. How could you forget that? I don’t care how old you are.
S1: Levie and her family escaped the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 or 1943 and passed as Christians until the war was over. But and still had to stay out of sight as her curly hair and olive complexion gave away her Semitic heritage. When she made it to America in 1949, she did her best to leave the past in the past.
S17: You have to realize that when we came here as survivors, it was like, okay, forget what you experienced in Poland and you put up this shade and you start a whole new life in nineteen eighty nine.
S1: And Levie was a 53 year old New Orleans grandmother and she owned and operated an antique store with her husband. She’d started to open up very tentatively about what she’d lived through during the Holocaust. But when she got on that chartered bus to Baton Rouge, she wasn’t expecting to get involved in any kind of conflict. She was going to look at the photographs in the Capitol Rotunda and to listen to a speech from Louisiana’s governor, Buddy Roemer. But then Levie saw someone she didn’t expect to see.
S17: What I noticed David Duke coming in and I couldn’t imagine what he was doing there.
S1: The Wiesenthal Center had brought its exhibit to Baton Rouge because of David Duke. The images on display at the state capital refuted Duke’s core beliefs. They showed very starkly what exactly Holocaust deniers were denying. Duke, it kept quiet about the Holocaust when he ran for the state House. But after the election, a New Orleans TV reporter confronted him about his views.
S18: The hoax of the twentieth century, talking about the Holocaust being a hoax. Yeah, saying that the atrocities were exaggerated in Europe. Do you believe that they were. I think it’s possible that some of the atrocities were exaggerated.
S1: And Levie had been following Duke’s rise to power with increasing horror. She wasn’t sure why he’d come to the capital.
S19: Maybe he’d wanted to prove he couldn’t be intimidated by a bunch of Jews. Whatever the reason, she wanted to keep an eye on him.
S20: He was going from posted posts. Looking at these horrible pictures. And it was also his demeanor with his hands behind his back. Like, it kind of flashed back what the German officers used to walk around like. And he had the same mannerism as hit Hitler’s henchmen. And that’s what stayed in my mind. And that’s what came to my mind at that particular moment. I thought I had to speak up. It took off on my body and I just had to do it. I tapped him on his shoulder and nothing happened. He then ignored me. I did that three times. And finally. He turned around and I just said, got to ask. What are you doing here? Why are you looking at these posters? I thought you said it didn’t happen. And that’s when he turned around. Sort of a foul mood. He said, I didn’t say it didn’t happen. I said it was exaggerated. Well, I lost my cool a little bit because for him to tell me that it was exaggerated, I realized demanded. Nobody was talking. And when that happens, he started walking off and I tried to follow by him. But his lies are much longer than mine. And he just laughed.
S19: The press took notice of dook skirmish with the Holocaust survivor. Journalist Jason Berry was in Baton Rouge that day.
S21: He got out of that part of the capital as fast as he could. And I managed to trail around and find him. And I went up to him and I said, What do you think about all this? And he said, Well, I’m being accused of Orwellian thought crimes, which I thought was quite a striking statement.
S19: When he was cornered by reporters, Duke said, I know there were terrible atrocities against the Jewish people, but he insisted that it was fair to question certain aspects of the Holocaust.
S1: And he said that he rejected the politicization of the whole thing. If Duke had gone to the exhibition to show he couldn’t be intimidated.
S14: His behavior proved the exact opposite. He didn’t want to talk about the Holocaust and he didn’t want to talk to a Holocaust survivor and Levie as a family friend.
S13: I’ve known for a long time that this moment in Baton Rouge was important to her, but I didn’t understand how important.
S22: I never wanted to be in the papers and I never wanted to make a nuisance of myself. But it was something I found myself a nuisance to. David took that I didn’t mind. I was this meek varya in the back. Person that doesn’t speak up really to change my life. It changed because I know my children look at me differently because I did speak up leave.
S13: His encounter with David Duke wasn’t just consequential for her personally. It helped shape the entire A. Duke movement. Beth Rickey heard right away about what an Levie had done. She thought the Leavey had showed tremendous courage in exposing David Duke in public. She wanted to back Levie up to summon the same kind of strength and conviction confronting Duke directly. Also seemed like smart strategy. It clearly through Duke off his game and it was sure to draw attention from the press.
S14: The next day, Ricky brought the Nazi book she purchased to the state capital. She met the media outside the Louisiana House’s committee rooms. Later, she did an interview standing in front of the Holocaust exhibition, an absolutely outrage.
S7: This man has the gall to put forth literature that says the Holocaust was a hoax.
S1: The New Orleans media thought Beth Rickey was onto something.
S23: Duke says the books that were available at his office don’t necessarily reflect his views.
S9: This is not the issue. This is not what I’m doing in the legislature. This is not the issue that I’m that I’m standing up for, but I do not. Another reminder, CBS shirts, again, this book right here, this part over the weekend. This book right here, you find Doubleday bookstore.
S24: Duke would ultimately vow to stop selling Nazi books, part of his never ending project to present himself as a changed man. But Rikki’s exposed had worked. She’d embarrassed Duke and laid bare who he was. You’d think David Duke would have seen Beth Rickey as an implacable enemy. You’d think he might have worked to discredit her or maybe just ignored her. Instead, he did something surprising. He tried to win her over.
S1: Two weeks after Beth Ricky publicized David Duke’s Nazi bookselling operation, she invited a couple friends over to talk about where the antique Duke movement should go next. Around 10 p.m., the phone rang. It was Duke. Beth, Ricky and David Duke spoke for three hours that night. He told her that Iceland had a superior culture and he talked about sperm banks and his love of nature in the background. He played the song Silent Running by making the mechanics on repeat. That was the first in a long series of phone calls in the summer of nineteen eighty nine. Ricky thought it was bizarre. The Duke wanted to talk to her, but she saw it as an opportunity, a chance to get him to open up and reveal his true intentions. Ricky didn’t quite understand who she was dealing with. David Duke started working on her right away.
S2: They would do things that were very disarming. You know, he would say, hey, there’s someone TV I think you’d find interesting, and I would say to him on occasion, please don’t tell me anything that you don’t want repeated. Oh, I know you wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. We’re you know, we’re gonna be friends. And it was very clever of him.
S24: Ricky found that Duke had no sense of humor and that he only wanted to talk about himself. He saw Ricky as a potential conquest intellectually and maybe romantically. Here she is with Plato Robinson.
S16: He was reading his book, Finders Keepers to me over the phone. I don’t like thinking I’ve got to do this for the sake of history. And he’s reading this How to keep a man and how to keep a man interested in you. He said one way to do it is to attack and publicly at the state capital. And I’m like I said, David, I don’t go out with Nazis or something like that.
S24: Dukan Rikki’s relationship would remain platonic that summer, Duke tried to convince her that he was a family man. One Friday night, he showed up at Ricky’s place with his two adolescent daughters, his children, from a marriage that it ended five years earlier.
S23: So he insisted he want to go to a bar. We had these two kids with us. Like, Daddy, we don’t want to go to a bar. And they were just like it was strange conversation going. He’d say to Erica, Tell Miss Beth about how I used to dress you up in a Klan robe is Akin. She said, Daddy. That embarrasses me. But you can’t ignore the children, you know. I had to give them money to go play video games. And it was it was just a real bizarre evening.
S25: Beth, Ricky had been trying to evict Duke from the Republican Party. She’d busted him selling Nazi literature. The only reason they were talking was because she’d taken it upon herself to unmask him. But as she explained to Plato Robinson, all these conversations were having an effect. She hadn’t expected.
S16: It’s like being held captive by somebody you get kind of goofy and start identifying with your captors, so to speak, and I would call people at night and say, look, deprogramming, you know, I’ve gotten all this stuff in my head.
S25: Ricky was still investigating Duke, digging into the identities of his campaign donors and his bogus claims about serving in the military during the Vietnam War.
S1: But she was also going on drives with him, listening as he sang along to the impossible dream from Man of Lamantia. Duke told Ricky that he wanted her to call another press conference and this time tell the world she’d been wrong about him. That wasn’t going to happen. But Ricky still needed to break Duke’s spell to remind herself what she was up against. That reminder came in August 1989 when Duke started chatting her up about the Holocaust.
S2: We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Metairie. Here we are at lunch having lunch, and we’re talking about bodies at death camps. And he was telling me how in sort of a conspiratorial tone leaning over and saying, you know, Beth, it really didn’t happen.
S23: And, you know, finally, one day I want finally known as David. He said, yeah, pass this on. Are you out of your mind? And a around me life is going on. You know, you’re like normal people sitting there eating Chinese food. And we’re talking about him going to visit one of the death camps in Europe madhouse and I believe scraping the walls. He’s a path. You know, he talks like this. Glendower is kind of breathy voice. Beth, is there been any gassings?
S26: There would have been a Reza do. On the walls called Prussian Blue. I went and scraped. There wasn’t a arrest. And he’s telling me this. And I wish I could convey to you this growing sense of horror. To be sitting there talking to this guy was just I just found it so offensive. And that was the last time we had lunch.
S27: When Ricky went public with the Chinese restaurant story a couple of years later, Duke would claim it was completely untrue. His denial is hard to believe, though, given what he told the graduate student Evelin Reg just a few years earlier.
S28: You know, there was you know, I said, what do you do about the testimony of survivors? Well, there really isn’t much testimony. In fact, they survived themselves tremendous arguments for the fact that extermination didn’t take place.
S27: Duke was always bragging to Rickey that he had an IQ of one hundred and seventy one. But for a guy who thought of himself as highly intelligent, he did a lot of really dumb things. He went places he shouldn’t go and said things he shouldn’t say to people. He shouldn’t say them to Beth Rickey at a theory about that.
S26: There’s a self-destructive streak in him that I see. He has this sense of religious mission about his his calling. He almost has a, you know, a Jesus complex, I’d call it, or something like he’s untouchable.
S25: As of the fall of 1989, Duke had good reason to think he was untouchable. At that point, the Louisiana Republican Party had done nothing to hold him back. For David Duke, the Louisiana State House wasn’t a place to pass legislation. It was a performance space. As a freshman state representative, Duke proposed a bill to require drug tests for welfare recipients.
S1: He also wanted to impose harsher punishments on people who sold drugs in public housing. These bills weren’t designed to become laws and they didn’t. They were written to get attention and to send a message about who Duke wanted to see punished. Some of Duke’s Republican colleagues helped show him the legislative ropes. Others found Duke’s beliefs abhorrent. I don’t want to be associated with that racist S.O.P. One Republican legislator told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. But that official wouldn’t be quoted by name. Here’s Larry Powell. He wrote a book about David Duke and an Levie.
S29: There was hardly anyone who was willing to step up and and speak out against him. They sense that his support, which is growing statewide, was stronger for him than I was for for them. I mean, all he had to do was go up there. And I went up there several times and and watched Duke. He would be at the back of the back rear seat in the state legislature and his desk would be piled with on Volos office and he’d be there slicing him over while people are debating and checks in and money was be falling out of it.
S1: As a member of the Republican State Central Committee, Beth Reekie was still pushing her party to do something, anything to condemn Duke.
S2: I was trying to compromise with the party leaders. And why don’t you just say you don’t like him? I mean, you know something? How about you wouldn’t have him home for dinner? I mean, you know.
S1: Ricky had one major ally on the state central committee, an evangelical Christian named Neil Curran.
S30: And further, as a matter of principle, we needed to stand against Duke. He really wasn’t a Republican at heart. He was a Nazi.
S1: Ricky and Karen work together to draft a motion to censure Duke. Just like the national Republican Party had done months earlier, the resolution wouldn’t do much. Practically, it wouldn’t kick Duke out of the state party. But Ricky Incurrence saw it as a clear statement of principles, a line in the sand for Louisiana Republicans. Billy Nungesser didn’t want his party to have to cross that line when the chairman found out what Ricky was up to. He flew into a rage. Here’s how Ricky described it to Plater Robinson.
S10: I had no right, no right to do this. I was grandstanding, trying to seek publicity for myself. I was also writing a book and getting publicity for the book, which was not true. I mean, and I said, look, you know, I’ve received two death threats this week from Duke people.
S31: I had a particular specific threat. If I got up and said anything about Duke, I was going to get shot. And when I said that to the state chairman, I said, you know, I think that if that doesn’t say for you how serious this is and how serious I feel about this, that I’m going and in spite of that, in his response.
S10: Well, you know, you didn’t want to get shot.
S1: Nungesser did allow Bath Ricky and Neil Curran to present their censure resolution. It said that Duke was still associating with neo-Nazis and Klansmen and that the Reagan administration had identified Duke’s National Association for the Advancement of White People as a racist group. Karen was the one who stood up and read the motion.
S30: And there must have been 30 television cameras there from all over the world. There were several from Germany, I know. And David Duke was standing in the back of the room, just his eyes burning. He was he was mad.
S1: The resolution came to nothing. Another member of the central committee, an ally of Billy Nungesser, moved to have it tabled. Nungesser had made a backroom deal, one that ensured that the Louisiana Republican Party wouldn’t have to take a public stand on David Duke. Nungesser, who died in 2006, argued that the committee had no choice. He said that Current and Riki hadn’t followed the rules.
S5: We have a procedure that anything that comes with a state, you have to give five days notice to have it go any resolution, there’s no procedure for Centerin. What would people all realize is there were and are in this party. People who hate David Duke in the past have hated him, but legitimately think that when you start centerin somebody, then you have to do it correctly.
S32: Beth, Ricky thought Nungesser was being totally craven, that no matter what the official rules were, he clearly didn’t have the spine to protect the Republican Party from David Duke when her resolution got killed. Ricky sent the chairman a note. Dear Billy, she said, you double crossed me. I will never, ever let you forget this.
S33: Plater Robinson interviewed Ricky a year later.
S31: As I look back now. I see that they see they are some sympathies for Duke also. I believe party leaders and this has come out now, the party leaders have finally admitted to me that the reason they didn’t come out against Duke is because they don’t want to alienate the Duke voters because they may need them.
S25: Ricky herself began to speak out against Duke. A lot more loudly.
S32: She became one of the leading voices in the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Naziism, the state’s most prominent anti Duke organization. While Ricky criticized the Republican Party and increasingly harsh terms, I don’t believe she ever publicly renounced it. But Ricky said in 1991 that her fight against Duke and against the party she’d grown up with took a significant toll.
S34: It’s fractured many relationships, I’m having to find a whole new circle of friends, and it’s been very difficult because I don’t want to lose people I’ve worked with for 20 years.
S35: She was a lone voice, you know, in the woods.
S32: Here’s Lands Hill again.
S35: And she was Villamizar, and she was not you emotionally. You know, the most secure person, though, she was capable of some very courageous things. She was a vulnerable person. And I believe she she really paid a price.
S33: Ricky began to decline physically after she contracted an illness on a mission trip in the mid 1990s. From then on, her life was marked by instability. She moved from place to place, struggled with money and was often in poor health. In 2009, Ricky was 53 years old and living in a motel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She told the newspaper there that she had been through a lot with the Duke situation and that she needed to get away from the insanity. Her friend Quin Hillyer asked a woman in New Mexico to look in on Ricky.
S36: Knocked on the hotel room door. Nobody answered. She called. Nobody answered. And so she called the authorities and they opened the door. And she was famous for loving homemade instant iced tea. And she had a pitcher of iced tea in her hand or spilled iced tea in her hand as she fell to the floor and she was dead.
S33: Beth Ricky died of pneumonia and heart disease. In his obituary for Ricky, Hillier wrote that she was one of the bravest women you could ever meet. When it made a huge difference to a state gone haywire, he said, Beth more than answered the call. In nineteen ninety one, radio journalist Gary Corvino asked Beth Rickey a simple question that she had a very hard time answering.
S3: Do you hate David Duke?
S2: I hate what he stands for. I really hate the fact that he has a high IQ and he knows better. He should know better.
S1: During the years she spent battling Duke Beth, Ricky was continually alarmed that other people were not alarmed by him. She knew how charming he could be and how ambitious. Duke saw the Louisiana legislature as a stepping stone in December 1989 after less than a year in the state House. He was ready for his next move.
S18: The media and establishment is scared to death that we are going to have a Senate jury, at least one voice has been sent there, a stand down by Joe.
S1: Even at this point, with Duke as a Senate candidate, a lot of Republicans in Louisiana didn’t think he was a problem. When Ricky spoke with Plater Robinson in 1990, that campaign had yet to play out.
S16: But what if he goes to Washington as a Republican senator? You know, it just puzzles me why these people can’t look ahead and see the damage over a Republican legislator. Tell me, you know, come on back. What does he get? What damage could he possibly do in the US Senate? And I just looked at him like, are you nuts?
S4: If you’re hearing this episode of Slow Burn, that means you’re a slate plus member. Thank you so much for your membership. The fourth episode in our series on David Duke will be out on July 8th. But starting next week, you’ll get bonus episodes with extra interviews, plus more material we’ve uncovered in our reporting. We’re excited to bring you that bonus content and the rest of slow burn season four. We really appreciate your support. And we couldn’t do this show with you. Slow burn is produced by me and Christopher Johnson with editorial direction by Lowe and Lou and Gabriel Roth. Madeleine Ducharme is our production assistant. Sophie Summer, gratis, slow burns assistant producer. Our mix engineer is Paul Manzie. David Gross composed our theme song. The artwork for Slow Burn is by Lisa Larson Walker. The title of this episode, The Nazi and the Republicans, comes from an essay by Beth Ricky published in the anthology The Emergence of David Duke and the Politics of Race. Larry Powles book about Duke in and Levie is titled Troubled Memory. Special thanks to Jordan Hirsch, Jessica Seidman and Slate’s Chow to Katie Raiford, Laura Bennett, Allison Benedikt and Jared Holt. Thanks for listening.