S1: This podcast contains language that some listeners might find offensive. It was comforting to imagine that the David Duke phenomenon was an illusion or a fad that people would get wise. The Duke would hit a ceiling. Plenty of people thought that.
S2: But in the fall of 1991, Duke’s movement just kept building.
S3: Louisiana politician David Duke has a new listing on his resumé. He is not only a former grand wizard in the Ku Klux Klan, he is also now a runoff candidate for governor.
S4: He was repudiated by both state and national Republican Party. Yet finished a strong second with 32 percent of the vote.
S5: We have no support from a lot of the major publications and newspapers. We had the endorsement that counts for this state endorsement of the people.
S6: There were four weeks between the primary and the governor’s race in the November 16th runoff for Duke. Those 28 days were his best chance to become a real force in American politics.
S1: Duke was running as a Republican against Democrat Edwin Edwards, who’d served three terms as governor in the 1970s and 80s. Edwards had long been accused of running Louisiana as his personal fiefdom, using his position to enrich himself and his friends. Republicans who’d been on the rise in the state for more than a decade despised Edwards in the style of politics he represented. David Duke looked at the power Edwards had wielded and wanted some of it for himself in this state.
S7: The governor is like a king. He basically does what he wants. So I have the opportunity to make great changes if I’m elected.
S1: And that’s what I want to do for everyone fighting to keep David Duke from gaining that kind of power. The runoff was the time to make a final stand to convince the people of Louisiana that this was an emergency.
S8: In my mind, you had to vote for Edwin Edwards even if you didn’t want to. Because without that vote, then David Duke would win.
S1: Kirby Newberger lived in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie and he worked in wealth management when Neuberger’s candidate, the reform minded Republican Buddy Roemer, finished third in the gubernatorial primary. He was left with two unappealing choices.
S9: But for Neuberger, it was an easy call, and it was the morning after the election. When I called my printer and I said, I would like for you to print up for me a thousand bumper stickers. They’d say, Vote for the crook. It’s important. He said, I’ll do it. I said, Do you need to know the color scheme? He said, no. I got it.
S1: I said, Gray, the color scheme was white text on a blue background, the same as David Duke’s campaign signs. Neuberger says it cost him about eight hundred and twenty dollars to print those backhandedly pro Edwards stickers. He plastered the first one on the bumper of his old mobile Cutlass convertible.
S9: I would be driving around and people would hold their horn and say, That’s a great bumper sticker. Where did you get it? And I’d say, Do you want one? And I’d pull over and open my trunk and take one out and hand one two down.
S1: There were other anti-drug slogans. No. Duke’s Newk Duke. David Duke for fear. Vote for the lizard, not the wizard. But it was Neuberger’s message that took off. Vote for the crook, it’s important, captured the dark comedy of an election in which the least horrifying candidate was a guy widely seen as the quintessentially shady Louisiana politician. But the bumper sticker also made it clear that this race wasn’t a joke, that the stakes for the state had never been higher. Neuberger was trying to reach people in his own demographic, white conservatives who weren’t sympathetic to Duke’s bigotry but who had defined themselves in opposition to Edwards. Together, the Republican candidates had gotten 64 percent of the votes in the primary. If those votes stayed with the GOP, then David Duke would be the next governor. Neuberger was asking his fellow Republicans to recognize that some things were even more important than vanquishing Edwin Edwards. The outcome of the governor’s race wouldn’t just be decided by Kearby Newberger types. Ken Smith was the student body president at the historically black Southern University in Baton Rouge.
S10: Just felt like that we had to get engaged in kind of water that was not on our watch, the kind of things. As a student, even then, it was kind of this can’t be happening.
S1: When Duke made it to the runoff, Smith joined his fellow students and marching to the state capital.
S6: He also helped organize a voter registration drive with entertainment provided by the Southern University marching band.
S11: We’re talking about over a thousand people, you know, in line. And the concern was that they would leave when they saw the lines being so long to register. And so you’ll have a new band there. The band for Saturday night is a really, really big deal, and it made all the difference in the world. And so it became a festive gathering of positivity, if you will.
S6: The students at Southern University weren’t alone. Close to sixty five thousand Louisianans would register in the two days after the primary in Jefferson Parish. David Duke’s home turf. More than two thousand people were still in line when the office was scheduled to close at eight p.m. with three weeks to go until Election Day. The race looked extremely tight. One poll showed Edwards with 46 percent of the vote and Duke at 42 percent.
S1: Twelve percent of voters still undecided. Lance Hill hadn’t expected Duke to make the runoff, and he found Duke’s strength at the polls profoundly worrying. Hill was the executive director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Naziism, the state’s most prominent anti Duke organization. He’d read most everything that Duke had written, and he’d heard Duke disparage blacks and Jews in the harshest possible terms. He was constantly thinking about persuasion, about how to convince as many people as possible to see David Duke like he saw David Duke during the month long stretch between the primary and the runoff. Hill got to talking with a man at a bar, a white working class guy who said he liked Duke and what Duke stood for. Hill tried to sway him. He said that Duke admired Adolph Hitler and that as governor, Duke would follow Hitler’s playbook, winning power at the ballot box, then demolishing democratic institutions.
S12: And the guy said he was incredulous. He said, well, he he can’t do that.
S13: I said, well, what do you mean he can’t do it? Well, this is America you eat.
S14: You can’t just get rid of democracy. And it really sunk in to me that aside from the racism of Duke’s move and how it attracted people, they also believed that democracy was always safe. And that’s very difficult objection to overcome in an argument.
S15: What arguments did David Duke’s opponents make? Who did they hope to persuade? And what did it mean in those four weeks and nineteen ninety one to stand up and be counted?
S16: One of the most divisive elections any state has seen in a long time, Louisiana will tell us a good deal about the state of race relations and middle class frustration everywhere.
S17: Somehow, the word has gotten out that there’s a possibility that this could happen anywhere in America.
S15: This is Slow Burn. I’m Josh Levine. Episode six, A Concerned Citizen.
S1: There were two big stories in Louisiana on the weekend of October 19th, 1991. The first was David Duke and Edwin Edwards clinching spots in the gubernatorial runoff. The second was New Orleans is undefeated pro football team.
S18: One by one. Opponents fell as the Saints raced their way to the top of the NFC West as they did. Who dat sprang up each victory with a call to glory that was heard loud and often, Judge James.
S1: On the day after the primary, the Saints had a home game in the Superdome against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Keith Woods was the city editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The newspaper’s highest ranking black journalist. He was a Saints season ticket holder, along with some of his colleagues at the paper at that game. He was also surrounded by Louisianans. He knew only in the context of their shared fandom, the people who cheered alongside in the Superdome for years.
S19: There was a ruckus and you heard a roar. And then a few minutes later, it erupted again. Except now it’s a little bit further around the Superdome from where it was the last time. And maybe by the third time I heard the roar. I realized that what was happening was that David Duke was coming out into the main stadium from the breezeway that encircles it, turning and waving to the crowd and going back in. And the roar was this mixture of cheers and jeers every time. And I just remember the experience, the anxiety that rose in me as he made his way further, closer and closer to our area, because I knew that I was going to learn something about the people around me and I was afraid of what that was going to be. But here he came into our space and behind me and in front of me, there were people who cheered. They were part of our community. And your sense of that community is shattered permanently by that experience.
S1: For David Duke, that victory lap at the Superdome was an attempt at coalition building to win the governorship. Duke needed to woo the white conservatives who’d cast ballots for Buddy Roemer to get them to vote for the Klansmen, not for the crook. Duke declared that he was taking up Roemer’s pet cause fiscal reform. Though the Times-Picayune reported that Duke gave no details. Edwin Edwards was at that Saints game, too. He ran into Duke outside one of the Superdome luxury boxes and told him, you ran a better second than I thought you would. But Edwards didn’t seem worried. He told reporters that he felt very confident and very comfortable. It’s going to be an easy election, he said. If nothing else, Edwards would have an easy time raising money now that he was the only person standing between David Duke and the governor’s mansion. After the primary, the journalist Stephanie Riegle went to an Edwards fundraiser at a mansion in uptown New Orleans.
S20: The crowd was full of old line Republicans and it had the feel of just a funeral. These people had hated Edwin Edwards. Edwin Edwards to this group represented everything that was wrong with Louisiana politics, and they were just so unhappy to be there. But that’s what it had come down to.
S1: Money poured in from those uptown mansions and from all over the country. The question was how to spend all that money. Raymond Strother thought he had the answer. Strother, who’d been Buddy Roemer’s political consultant, was also in the Superdome. He watched the Saints twenty three to seven victory and Governor Roemer’s private box.
S21: And I looked over to my left. There was a pipe divider and there was Bill Morgan, my closest friend from college, a guy who had worked for me for years and who had done the media for Edwin Edwards and outlined to him the economic message, how you went down the very bottom of the blue collar spectrum and threatened people’s jobs. That would be Duke’s base. You could make some inroads.
S1: Strother believed that everyone in Louisiana had already made up their minds about Duke’s Klan ties and Nazi views. He thought the only message that had a chance to break through was one that appealed to voters financial self-interest. Other Louisianans had come to the same conclusion.
S22: I went through my Rolodex and started calling everybody I knew, saying we had to do something about this.
S1: That’s real estate developer Press Kabakov. In the primary, Kabakov supported Buddy Roemer. After Roemer lost, he donated five thousand dollars to Edwin Edwards. Kabakov believed that if Duke won, Louisiana might get hit with a national economic boycott.
S22: I can remember getting up in a forklift, being elevated above one hundred and fifty workers and explaining to them that whatever your your position is politically, if David Duke is elected, the next job that you’ll be looking at and we’ll be looking to do won’t be available.
S1: Duke said these were just scare tactics and that Louisiana would hold up just fine. Under his leadership. But Edwards and the group supporting him latched on to this economic message in the run up to Election Day. Voters in Louisiana saw ad after ad portraying a Duke governorship as a financial dystopia.
S17: Fifteen thousand conventioneers canceled their convention in New York and 15000 chicken. I like king dinners are no longer needed.
S16: Do you know how many jobs you got to leave Louisiana and come to Texas if Duke is elected back?
S23: That last ad was masterminded by Republican operative Floyd Brown three years earlier. Brown had made the commercial connecting Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis to a violent felon named Willie Horton, who was black. That ad became a symbol of Republican racial fear mongering. Now its creator had turned his sights on David Duke. But Floyd Brown’s ad didn’t tell the people of Louisiana to vote against Duke because Duke was a racist. It told them to vote against Duke because other people thought Duke was a racist and those people would shun Louisiana if he became governor. It wasn’t a moral argument. It was a pragmatic one. Brown would later say that out of all the attack ads he’d ever made, this one. The hot damn one was his personal favorite.
S1: A lot of Republicans were prepared to cross party lines to support Edwin Edwards. Others were going to vote for David Duke because they liked him or because he was the only Republican on the ballot. The chair of the Louisiana Republican Party, Billy Nungesser, had been dithering about Duke for years, declining to censure him, but also refusing to support him. Now, none gets there, had to make a decision. He wouldn’t say what it was.
S7: I haven’t told the press and I won’t tell them my choice because it would you know, there’s no way of stopping it from being associated with the Republican Party. Maybe there’s something to be said for the guy in Louisiana. Couple of years ago, a guy tried to get his name changed and none of the above and then get on the ballot, say it because he figured he’d win.
S1: But none of the above was not on the ballot in 1991. And behind the scenes, at least, some state party officials were choosing sides. Michelle Schauer heard from them after David Duke made the runoff shower. Who you heard from in our last episode had not supported Duke in the primary. She’d been a paid staffer for Governor Buddy Roemer, making calls on his behalf from an office in New Orleans when Romer lost people she knew in the Louisiana Republican Party. Asked if she’d be interested in joining up with the Duke campaign, and they invited her to a Duke rally.
S24: I saw, you know, one of the people from the state party that I recognized and they said, oh, hey, hi, how you doing? He says, I’m going to take you to where everybody is. And I said, What do you mean where everybody is? They said, I thought, you know, this was it. He goes, No, no, no. So behind kind of a curtain, you know, it’s an auditorium at the foldable walls.
S13: And in one of the photobook walls, there was a door.
S24: And I walked through the door and there were more state people, elected officials. I think I like my job, probably actually, you know, opened and was like, what?
S1: Shower was wary of Duke and what he stood for. But if other Republicans were helping him, then she felt okay about helping to. Shower worked alongside Duke’s campaign manager, Howie Farrell, making fundraising calls to Romer supporters not long after she started, Farrell asked if she’d like to get to know Duke himself.
S24: And I said, sure. You know, he was pretty famous. And I thought, when are you ever going to get an opportunity to do something like this again? Better to take an opportunity than to shut one down.
S1: Shower met Duke upstairs at his campaign headquarters in the part of the building he used as his private residence.
S24: I think for the first 15 minutes, in my mind, I was like, oh, my God, I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking to David Duke. Oh, my God. I can’t believe we’re sitting here talking to David Duke. I do think I blurted out at one point. Were you a part of the KKK? And he just kind of looked at me for a second and probably didn’t answer my question directly. It was interesting. I’m glad I did it because I can say I met him.
S1: Schauer says the Duke didn’t sway her to his side in that meeting. She also says that he came off as well-spoken, well read and polite. But there were other people hanging around the campaign office who made her feel a lot less comfortable. People who felt emboldened by Duke and what he represented.
S24: There is one gentleman. He goes, we’re starting to put a plan together for utilizing the Superdome. And I said, Oh, yeah? For what? What kind of rally are you going to have in the Superdome? He goes, well, we’re going to figure out how to get all the black people. And of course, he didn’t use the word black people into the Superdome. And then we’re gonna blow it up. And I just I looked at him like, are you crazy? And he was not crazy. He was serious. And talking about it like this was something that he could accomplish. And I just remember sort of turning around and going, wow.
S1: Shower walked away from that conversation, but she didn’t quit the Duke campaign.
S25: But I think a lot of people would say I never would have worked for that guy no matter what. What would you say in response to that?
S24: You know, obviously, it’s not something I talk about a lot. Looking back and thinking on it now, I should have taken a careful, more careful look about who he was and what he had done. And of course, it doesn’t make me feel good. I you know, I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed. What I choose differently, potentially. I don’t know.
S1: The Times-Picayune was a daily companion for the people of New Orleans. Two thirds of adults in the city read the newspaper every weekday. The Picayune could play kingmaker when it chose to. In September 1987, the paper had endorsed Buddy Roemer in a Page One editorial calling Edwin Edwards his tenure a disaster for the state. In stumping for Roemer stable political leadership, donations to Rohmer’s campaign surged and he rocketed up the polls. He beat Edwards a month later when David Duke won his race for the state House of Representatives in 1989. The Picayune published a different kind of editorial. That column, which ran deep inside the paper, called Duke’s Victory an embarrassment. But it also said the Duke should be given the chance to grow. To change. To see the errors of his ways. That editorial was everything the activist Lands’ Hill was fighting against.
S12: And I printed that out and pinned it on our bulletin board for, you know, 20 years at work and saying this is how fascism wins.
S1: During that 1989 race, Hill fed the Picchi and all sorts of research on Duke’s past. But the newspaper’s leadership wasn’t interested in printing it.
S12: And their position was they didn’t want to cover him as a subject of investigative journalism because that would give him an audience. What happened was he got the advantage of politically growing in a in a vacuum of criticism from the media.
S1: After Duke won, the Picayune filled that vacuum, assigning Tyler Bridges to cover Duke full time. Bridges broke a huge number of stories on the Duke beat on his self dealing. His failure to pay property taxes in his annual birthday party for at all. Hadler Bridges spent a lot of time interviewing Duke.
S26: I think he viewed me as the enemy. I was on a mission of finding out who he really was investigating him, and he knew it. And so there was no real pleasantries. He was not somebody who would tell funny stories. He had got a bland personality. Actually, just the overriding feature of him was his neo-Nazi ideology.
S1: Bridges coverage was thorough and relentless. But the Picayune was still wary of giving Duke excessive attention. The paper’s top editor, Jim Amos, who took over during Duke’s run for the U.S. Senate, wanted the Picayune to be perceived as a trustworthy chronicler. He was hoping to inoculate it against criticism that it was attacking Duke gratuitously or for ideological reasons. Anti Duke activists thought that meant the newspaper wasn’t being nearly aggressive enough, that it was burying important stories for declining to publish them at all. Keith Woods became the Picayune City editor at the very end of that Senate campaign. He says that the newspaper’s leaders shouldn’t have been so fixated on fairness, playing the Duke story down the middle.
S27: That meant missing the larger story, a huge consequence of our decisions on how little to cover. Duke was that we also didn’t cover the opinion that accompanied Duke.
S19: The morality or absence of it that existed across the state that what he had exposed is the mainstream nature of a lot of his thinking among white voters in the state of Louisiana.
S1: When Duke made the runoff, the Times-Picayune top editors called a special meeting. They decided it was time to take a new approach to treat Duke less as a politician than as a threat.
S27: It’s like, you know, discussing the impact of a hurricane on the ecosystem in a larger environment. Yeah, all of that’s true. But what you’re concerned about right now is whether it’s going to blow your house away.
S1: The Picayune would assign around 40 reporters, editors, artists and photographers to cover Duke and his movement. But the paper didn’t just change its newsgathering philosophy. It also chose to make its position on Duke explicit.
S27: The title of the series was The Choice of Our Lives.
S1: The Choice of Our Lives was a collection of editorials in those columns. The newspaper focused on Duke’s inveterate lying, his hatred of blacks and Jews, and the potentially dire consequences for Louisiana if he became the governor.
S19: This was a major move to be taking such a profound moral position against bigotry, against racism and saying we are going to stand on our heads now. We are not going to pretend that we’re covering an ordinary thing.
S1: Four years earlier, the Picayune had used its front page to call for Edwin Edwards to get booted out of office. Now, the newspaper endorsed Edwards on page one. The choice isn’t easy. The editorial said. But it’s clear bigotry, even masked with codewords, eats at the ties that make us the civil community. It divides and diminishes us as the people. We must reject it at all costs. David Duke lashed out at the newspaper during the last week of the campaign.
S17: It’s just amazing to me how that the media has not been fair in this campaign. The Times-Picayune has attacked me day in and day out.
S1: This kind of rhetoric wasn’t new for Duke. He’d railed against the Times Picayune even when it barely covered him because attacks on the press played well with his supporters. But this time, the Picayune didn’t worry about the consequences of going after Duke. The paper was more worried about the consequences of not telling its readers the truth. David Duke had started talking about his Christianity during the primary in an attempt to win over conservative voters during the runoff. He leaned even further into religiosity.
S28: Duke says the cross means something different to him now. I’m a Christian person and I believe that for the power of Christ, in fact, how your faith and just by growing up and getting more richer in life, that you can certainly become more moderate.
S1: Some of Duke’s opponents questioned his sincerity.
S28: Lance Hill heads the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Naziism.
S29: There’s no doubt in my mind that David Duke is using Christianity. His professed belief in Christianity is as a mere gimmick to win votes.
S1: That suspicion got even stronger after the first debate of the runoff.
S6: If you could, could you tell us what church you attend, the name of the pastor there? And what was the last time you were there?
S30: I got to the evangelical Bible Church, and the closest pastor I’m to my life is Reven Rundstedt. It gives me an awful lot of spiritual advice and counseling, and I really appreciate him.
S1: And if you’re watching the evangelical Bible Church didn’t exist. There was no such place. Later on a radio show, Duke said that he didn’t go to a specific church, but instead attended a nondenominational Bible study. After that, Duke volunteered to undergo a theological examination by a group of evangelical Christians. One of the men who did that examination was Neil Curran, a leader at a conservative evangelical church in the New Orleans suburbs. Current had been the anti Duke activist Beth Rickey’s closest ally in her battle to censure David Duke. He’d seen stopping Duke. It’s his moral duty as a Christian. But when he heard Duke express his devotion to Jesus Christ, he called the candidate on the phone and said, I’m surprised pleasantly.
S31: David, if you’re really becoming a Christian, you know, we’ve been public, kind of, but I don’t want to be. If you’ve truly. Put your faith in Christ.
S6: So I’d like to talk to a couple of weeks later, Karen met Duke for that theological examination.
S32: Finally, at one point I said, David, you’re you’re talking about your faith and how it’s changed you. When did you become a Christian? And he said, I became a Christian when I was 13 years old. So that’s almost 30 years ago. So what happened to you? You’ve been a Klansman since then. There’s been a Nazi since then, very publicly in both cases. And I said, well, I guess I backslid current. Didn’t buy it to me and to the other pastors. We kind of felt that somebody had been feeding him the right phrases to use to what people think really, really was an evangelical Christian.
S33: After that meeting, Curran ran an anti ad on Christian radio that quoted Jesus, his words from Matthew seven. Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly a ravenous wolves, you will know them by their fruits. Curran got some backup a week before the election when a Duke aide named Bob Hawke’s quit the campaign and called Duke a fake Christian. Here’s what Hawke said about Duke in 1992.
S34: And I never saw any good works, good Christian works coming from David Duke except when he was state senator. Now, that’s on television. Our platform at a rally are being interviewed by the press. Other than those times, Jesus Christ and Christianity was never mentioned.
S33: Duke denied Bob Hawke his allegations. He also claimed, without citing any evidence that Hauck’s had been planted in his organization to discredit him.
S35: Live from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Public Broadcasting presents Debate Ninety Won the governor’s race.
S1: A second televised debate between Edwin Edwards and David Duke took place on November six, nineteen ninety one. That was 10 days before the election. Duke and Edwards sat on stage in a TV studio with a moderator between them. For political journalists had been brought in to ask them questions. One of them was Norman Robinson. Robinson was one of New Orleans is best known and most respected news anchors. He was also a black man. He’s considered for a moment not taking the debate assignment. But Robinson decided that he owed it to himself to meet David Duke head on.
S36: I considered it in the final analysis to be a challenge, to be a challenge to to face and to confront him and compartmentalize my my anger.
S1: Robinson had been suppressing his rage for as long as he could remember. He was four years old in 1955 when Emmett Till was lynched in his home state of Mississippi. He was five when he saw the photos of Till’s disfigured body and when his parents told him that’s what some white folks will do to you. He was living in Mobile, Alabama. Eight years later, when Klansmen bombed a church in Birmingham murdering four black girls who are just about his age.
S36: It was an emotional time in our household. We were stunned. We were almost immobilized physically and mentally. I think there’s something that I tried to bury. But, you know, it’s still there. Never go away.
S1: For Robinson, David Duke’s rise and Louisiana felt like a scab getting pulled off an old wound and he was done hiding his injuries.
S37: Our next question comes from Mr. Robinson. And it is directed to Mr. Duke. Mr. Duke, I have to tell you, I am a very concerned citizen. I am a journalist. But first and foremost, I am a concerned citizen. And as a a minority who has heard you say some very excoriating and diabolical things about Nazis, about blacks, about Jews, about Hispanics. I am scared, sir.
S1: You made yourself vulnerable?
S36: Yeah, exactly, because I wanted to talk to him as a human being. I wanted him to see me as a human being, not as some journalist.
S1: But Robinson was a journalist. And on that stage, he showed that he could be both things at once, a human being who felt threatened by Duke and a reporter who could expose who Duke really was. Robinson had prepared for the debate using research from the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Naziism. He chose to focus on Duke’s own words, statements he’d made to the graduate student Evelin Rich in 1986 and in his televised debate with Jesse Jackson in 1977. Robinson didn’t get his question approved in advance, and it wasn’t until he was sitting in that studio watching Duke deflect and evade that. He decided exactly how he wanted to phrase it.
S37: I’ve heard you say that Jews deserved to be in the ash bin of history. I’ve heard you say that horses contributed more to the building of America than blacks did. Given that kind of pastor, given that kind of diabolical, evil, vile mentality, Mr. Rob convinced me a question convinced me, sir, and other minorities like me, why they should entrust their lives and the lives of their children to you when the camera cut away from Norman Robinson.
S1: He was staring straight at David Duke when Duke appeared on screen. He cast his eyes downward before he began to speak.
S30: Mr. Robertson, I don’t think there’s a human being on this earth are in this state who hasn’t been at some time and tolerant in their life. And I think that’s true of white people. I think it’s true of black people. I think it’s true of everybody at one time or another. You know, I regret some of the things that I’ve said in my life. I have been too intolerant at times. No question about that. But that’s not how I live today. And I hope that’s not the way you live today. Maybe you’ve never said something in your life that be could be taken as racially biased or concerned. Everybody said thanks.
S1: Pressed by Robinson, Duke said he repudiated the Klan and any other racist or intolerant organization. This is how their exchange ended.
S30: And there’s a lot of racism that exists in all communities, not just the white community. There’s violence in our streets every day directed against white people as well as the other way around and as well as black even as well as against black people. Look, Mr. Robertson, I don’t think you’re really being fair with me. I don’t think you’re really being honest, sir. Well, you’re not. You know, you’re doing the debate here, aren’t you? You’re not even asking questions. You’re here to sweating me down, and that’s your prerogative.
S38: You had said that you wanted to make an effort to try to have a human connection with them. What did you think of that effort and then what did you think of his response?
S36: I thought we did have a human to human connection, and that’s what made it so significant that we got to the bottom of what it is that needed to be discussed.
S1: The television station that broadcast the debate got 150 calls after it was over. Most of them were from viewers complaining about Norman Robinson. The Times Picayune published letters chiding the TV anchor for his extremely unprofessional behavior and his lack of objectivity. And then there’s the mail that Robinson himself got.
S36: One letter said, We thought you were intelligent. We thought you were were of the same mind us. Now we see your true colors. You’re just a nigger with a suit.
S1: For months, Robinson didn’t go anywhere but work and home. And he started carrying a pistol, but he never regretted doing what he did.
S36: It was cathartic for me, in a sense. I got to confront a lot of demons that I’d been suppressing for a long time. And I think I think it was liberating for a lot of people.
S33: In the debate, Robinson hadn’t talked about the second order effects of a Duke governorship. How Louisiana’s reputation and economy might suffer because of how Duke was perceived. He called out Duke’s bigotry directly and unashamedly.
S39: I’ve never been prouder of somebody than I was of Norman.
S33: Keith Woods, the city editor of the Times-Picayune, watched the debate at home with his family.
S39: So much of the public discussion around this was asked in euphemism and from a distance. And Norman made this about him and David Duke in that space. At that moment. But Norman did it in the guise of utter politeness. And yet it had edges so sharp that it easily cut to the core. And I think moments like that, you know, rarely have the effect of having somebody who yesterday thought it was fine to vote for a clansman. To wake up and say, oh, now that I’ve seen this with Norman, I know it’s not, but it certainly connected to all those people who like me. You know, I didn’t have any doubt about how they were voting, but felt a little bit better about the place I lived and the people I lived with. That courage like that would come to the fore.
S16: Good evening. Rarely has our race for governor generated so much attention. Everyone has an opinion on their contest in Louisiana between former Governor Edwin Edwards and Republican candidate David Duke in the last days of the 1991 campaign.
S1: David Duke was his own worst advertisement on November 10th. Duke and Edwin Edwards made a joint appearance on NBC Meet the Press. They were questioned by Tim Russert.
S40: Sir, who are what manufacturers are the three biggest employers in the state of Louisiana? We have a number of employers in our state, but who are the three biggest manufacturers or the biggest employers in the state of Louisiana? I couldn’t give you their name right off, sir. You don’t know who the biggest employers in the state. I don’t have a statistic so far.
S24: So you’re talking about economic development.
S1: The correct answers which Edwin Edwards provided to a reporter afterwards, Evandale, General Motors and AT&T. It wasn’t just Duke’s present day ignorance that hurt him. He was also damaged by statements from his past. Beth Ricky had previously uncovered transcripts of Evelin Rich’s interviews with Duke. But the tapes would you heard an excerpt from it? The beginning of our series hadn’t yet emerged. Now they did. The Louisiana Democratic Party turned the audio into a 30 second commercial.
S20: The interview you are about to hear was recorded on February 17th, 1986. The voices are those of David Duke and Joe Fields, a California neo-Nazi.
S41: Maybe I wouldn’t go out and say I’m a Nazi, but I’d never deny it. Well, out of it because I’m a pragmatist. You know, Hitler started OK. Seven men. Don’t you think it could happen right now with the right package together? Most people aren’t ever going to come over until things get tough. That’s a very defeatist philosophy. This government, it may take decades to bring this government.
S13: Here’s Lance Hill. And to this day, remember that one of my board members from Monroe, Louisiana, told me that she had gone to get fish from our fish guy who was a Duke supporter. And she asked him, well, what about this governor’s race? I’m not going to vote for you. And she said, why not? He said, I heard him. He said, he’s going to take over America like Hitler took over. Germany has said. That’s hilarious. That’s, you know, proved sometimes the truth gets out.
S17: It said nine thirty five. I’m scooty in the morning, and whether you’re at work in your car or at home, please stay with us. Sitter the day before the election. David Duke, Edwin Edwards in the runoff. One of them tomorrow will be elected our new governor.
S42: I’d like just to see for one day for 24 hours this read the headline I’d to get elected just to see what the media would say. Then you just give out to black people, man, that’s all. I mean, we don’t even want to be on the street now. I mean, you know, in my neighborhood, they get Duke and we can meet. And I can tell you, this is the first time in 35 years. And I was born and raised in this state that I will not vote. I, in good conscience, cannot vote for either candidate. There are a lot of people that feel that way.
S43: And a lot I mean, there is no doubt about I was going to vote for Edwards every day, no matter what, as much as I detested Edwards.
S1: That’s the conservative columnist Quin Hillyer.
S43: I put my hand on the lever. They were lever machines. And then I literally atch after I made sure I had the right lever. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see myself pulling it.
S1: A lot of people didn’t have to close their eyes or hold their noses when they voted on November 16th.
S16: Many, like Angiolina Jackson, voted for the first time ever. She is 65 years old.
S18: I can’t put no. Oh no. But this time I have to come down here to stop.
S37: That’s why I’m voting today to start, David.
S1: After a flurry of public embarrassments for Duke, the polls going into Election Day showed Edwin Edwards’s lead widening. But given Duke’s history of outperforming the numbers, the outcome felt far from certain. Quin Hillyer watched the returns at Beth Rickey’s apartment, the stalwarts of the anti Duke movement had fought Duke during his run for the state legislature. Then again, when he ran for the U.S. Senate.
S44: Yeah, and we’ve been doing this for three years now. And obviously we expected. A close race. And then it was a landslide.
S31: Believe me, it is over now. And it wasn’t even close. The race for governor there in Louisiana after weeks of controversy, political passion and national attention. Edwin Edwards, a former governor, crushed David Duke. Edwards won 61 percent of the votes to Duke’s thirty.
S44: And you would have thought there would have been elation in the high fives and instead. They were like quiet smiles and exhales of breaths, sort of in a relieved way. They were sort of a sense of accomplishment and exhaustion.
S1: Edwards said his victory was vindication for his home state.
S45: I want all of those who for so many months have predicted with dark concern the possibility that a David Duke could be governor of Louisiana.
S1: I now think as a nation that we are better than that in Louisiana, Duke said he’d lost only because of economic blackmail, that people hadn’t voted for him because they were afraid they’d lose their jobs if he won.
S46: Saturday May, along with the Methodist, go down. Where was David Duke?
S1: Supporters hadn’t abandoned him. He took 55 percent of the white vote. More people cast ballots for him in the governor’s race than when he ran for Senate the year before. But this time he got swamped by the opposition, by people who were not going to let him win.
S47: Well, it became a movement for us.
S1: Ken Smith was the student body president at Southern University in Baton Rouge.
S47: But he woke up the sleeping giant in that particular election. We found a voice. We found a voice that ultimately had a say in what happened with the gubernatorial like.
S1: Methodist fellow students wanted to take down David Duke, but they were also fond of his opponent.
S47: Our conversations were send them around what’s best for the long term viability of us as a group. And clearly, we felt like Edwin Edwards provided that opportunity. And quite frankly, he had somewhat over track record of helping African-Americans, more so than other governor.
S1: The overall turnout and the governor’s race with 78 percent close to an all time record for Louisiana. For the first time in the history of the state, higher percentage of black voters had gone to the polls than white ones. Ken Smith’s voter registration drive had made a difference. So had Kirby Neuberger’s vote for the crook stickers and the message about economic damage to the state. Tyler Bridges reporting in the Times-Picayune editorials. Neil Curran’s ad on Christian radio, Norman Robinson’s debate question and Livy’s taps on David Duke shoulder at the Holocaust exhibit back in nineteen eighty nine. Beth Rikki’s Years of persistence. None of them individually were decisive. All of them collectively beat David Duke. Lance Iligan.
S12: A guy who is a dentist in Lafayette sent out a letter to all of his patients saying.
S13: I support Edwin Edwards, and though the criticism was not coming from top down. It wasn’t elites telling you what to think. It was your neighbor, your co-worker, your coreligionists. It was coming horizontally. And that’s the most effective criticism.
S25: What did he think of the vote for the crook, it’s important. Bumper sticker.
S48: We actually still have someone ask, what did you think about Vote for the Crook? It’s important.
S1: That’s Edwin Edwards, his wife, Trina Edwards. You’ll recall from our last episode that she was passing along my questions because the 92 year old ex governor can’t hear very well on the phone.
S48: Well. That was something that. My supporters put out most people then and now are suspicious of politicians now. And I was very controversial and that’s what caused that.
S1: Edwin Edwards was a crook. He went to prison in 2002 for rigging casino licenses during his last term in office. The one he served after beating David Duke.
S25: Would he be interested in talking to David Duke today? What would he say to him if you talk to him?
S49: Would you be interested in talking to David Duke? And what would you say to him? It’s against the plan.
S48: Well, I have no personal regrets about him. I don’t like what he stands for, what he says, but that’s his business. I talk to him if he called me because, you know, I’m no longer running for anything and he’s sorry, I can’t run anything in Louisiana or in this country in my big.
S1: Less than three weeks after he lost the Louisiana governor’s race, David Duke announced he was challenging George H.W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. Duke wouldn’t win any delegates in 1992, but another Republican insurgent do surprisingly well.
S3: And our Western heritage is going to be handed down to future generations and not dumped onto some landfill called multiculturalism.
S1: Pat Buchanan ran on the same platform as Duke. Many people, including prominent conservatives, had called out Buchanan for trafficking in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. But he hadn’t been a Klansman and a never been photographed rang a Nazi uniform. Buchanan got a speaking slot at the 1992 Republican convention. Duke’s party on Super Tuesday drew just 20 supporters. A year after the runoff in Louisiana, Tyler Bridges checked up on Duke for the Times-Picayune. He’d been spotted at the New Orleans Convention Center selling Duke for president T-shirts and discount long distance plans. He looked sort of pitiful. One convention, Gore said no one was paying attention to him. Duke ran for the Senate again and lost again. He ran for the U.S. House of Representatives and lost that race, too. He went to prison for tax fraud. He spoke at a conference for Holocaust deniers in Iran. He supported Donald Trump for president in 2016, the same year he lost another Senate race. And he said at the Charlottesville Unite, the right rally in 2017. We are determined to take our country back. In Louisiana, Duke doesn’t make the news all that much anymore. But he hasn’t gone away.
S36: When he came into town. He would come to see me. I can’t explain. Norman Robinson. He would come to the front desk and ask the receptionist if I was in and the reception would call me and say, Mr. Duke is here. Would you like to see him? Is it okay if he comes in? I said, fine, yeah. Let him in. I’ll talk to him.
S1: Robinson remembers one visit about six years ago, not long before he retired as a news anchor. They didn’t talk about that moment in 1991 when Robinson helped crush Duke’s political ambitions.
S6: They’ve actually never talked about it in the almost 30 years since when Duke dropped in on Robinson. He came bearing a gift. A book about how Jews control the media.
S50: I forget the title because I threw it away. But, you know, I listened to him because I’m a humanist. I’m a human being. I just can not be rude and cruel to another human being. I can’t do it. So entertained is what he had to say. I listened to him and when he left, I’m discarded this book. And that was the last time I’ve I’ve seen him. I just think he likes attention.
S51: Slow Burn is a production of Slate plus Slate’s membership program. Every week, sleepless members get bonus episodes where we dive deeper into the history. We’ve been exploring this season. This week, you’ll hear an extended interview with Norman Robinson, the journalist who challenged Duke during a gubernatorial debate in 1991. We couldn’t make slow burn without Slate, plus we just want to say thank you again to all our members for their support. If you like this series and are able to contribute. Please consider becoming a member. It’s only thirty five dollars for the first year and you get a free two week trial. Good. A slate dot com slash slow burn to find out more. 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 Sommer, gratis, slow burns assistant producer, our mix engineer is Paul Mounty. David Gross composed our theme song. The artwork for Slow Burn is by Lisa Larson Walker. This is the last episode of our season. So we’ve got a lot of people we want to thank. Thanks to Jessica Seidman, S.E. Chambers, Holly Allen, Joel Anderson, Allison Benedikt, Laura Bennett. Bill Carey. Jeremy Chase. Serena Daniel. Amanda Godman. Jordan Hirsch. Jared Holt married. Jacob Derek John. Megan Karlstrom. Noreen Malone. Seth Maxon. Alicia Montgomery. Soung Park. Willa Paskin. Katie Raeford. Plater Robinson. Aisha Solutia. Rachel Strong. Maggie Taylor, June Thomas and Chao too for making slow burn possible.
S15: And thank you very much for listening.
S38: I still cannot believe that two could come and visit you after that. I’m now imagining, like, you know, you guys are about the same age. It’s like maybe ten or fifteen years now. Ducal, just show up at your door and still want to talk about the jeers and yell at a man and he’ll give you his new book. Yeah.
S36: And I’ll let him in. Absolutely. I’ll let him in and ask him where he’s been and what he’s been doing.