David Duke and the Modern Movement
S1: Hi, I’m chatty and welcome to the first bonus episode for Slow Burn Season four, which is covering the political rise of white nationalist TV in the late 1980s. In these late plus only episodes, I’ll be chatting with host Josh Levine and producer Christopher Johnson about the making of the series.
S2: And we’ll have some exclusive or extended interviews that didn’t make the cut and dive deeper into the season subject matter. Today, we have a really fascinating interview with journalist Eli Saslow about the connections between Duke and the modern white nationalist movement.
S3: But first, let’s talk to Josh and Christopher. Hi there. Hey, Joe. Hey, Joe. Hey, guys. So slow burn season four. I just wanted to start off with you, Josh, and ask you about why you wanted to cover this specific era and why you thought it was apt for the slipperier treatment.
S4: Self obsession. I think would be one reason. I grew up in New Orleans, as I say in the podcast. And this was something that happened when I was a kid. I was born in 1980. And so David Duke and his rise to prominence was, you know, one of the first things that I experienced that gave me a kind of political consciousness. We weren’t the most political family growing up, but this was a story, an event, a thing that happened that was a huge story and that had potentially a major effect on the state, on our family personally. You know, I I knew some of the details, but it was more just the feeling around it that I really remember the sense of foreboding, the sense of fear, the sense of confusion around who this guy was and what he meant. And as far as you know, why it’s apt for the slow burn treatment. You know, one of the things that we have thought about and focused on in the first three seasons of the series, like what are events that are just very interesting as kind of text? Like we want to know what happened. We want to remember what happened. We want to know about the characters and who they were and what they did, but also that have deeper resonance, that say something about America and that say something about the time we’re living in now. Even though they happened three decades ago in this case. And so I think this story for me checks all those boxes.
S3: Yeah. Have you I mean, you’ve been adrenalin’s for a while. Like, have you been looking into certain things about this story for a bit or this is it kind of your first big opportunity to start digging into it?
S4: It’s been on my list for a long time. I think most journalists have a list of stories that they’re going to get to and then they don’t actually get to them, or maybe journalists who are more efficient and productive than I am get to their their stories. But it’s like a wish list of things that, oh, when I have time, I’m going to really devote myself to figuring out what was going on with David Duke in the late 80s and early 90s. And so it had been something where, you know, when I read something about, you know, Duke running for Senate in 2016, Duke being in Charlottesville, the whole, like, weird and gross situation with Trump pretending that he didn’t know who David Duke was like. Every time he is in the news, it’s just like another pang of like, OK. I really should be doing something about that. I really should be thinking about this. So it was less that I had done work on it and more that it just like the world kind of seemed to keep nudging me in this direction. And I’m glad that I was able to have the opportunity through slow burn to really explore the story and the kind of depth that I think it requires. Because, you know, when you’re writing about white supremacy, white supremacists, writing about a political movement like this, there are a lot of ways it can go wrong and you can screw it up either intentionally or unintentionally. And so I’m really glad to have Christopher, who is somebody who I trust so much to get any story right, and particularly on this one. His instincts have been so great and so sharp. And so just being on this team has been made. Made me feel confident that we’re going to get the story right.
S3: Right. Christopher, this is your second season working on Filburn. And so the team started working on this season on David Duke awhile ago. But obviously recently we’ve been working through this pandemic. And, you know, appropriately social distancing going into the officers studios together. So how is all of this affected the production on this season?
S5: Yeah, so first, Joshes ridiculously high. It’s a mutual appreciation society here. He you know, we of course, Josh and I worked together on the last season and on season three and. We’re able to, you know, get to know each other through some of that process. But this is so much more intimate, of course, because he is the host and the producer. And it’s just been I was telling him this yesterday, telling the group this yesterday that it really has been a masterclass in research and writing and metabolizing information and keeping track of all of the twists and turns and details of Duke’s story and then transforming it into art. I mean, Josh is a master and it’s just impressive to watch. And I’m honored to really be helping him shape this story. That is also a personal one. In addition to it being this big political and kind of cultural story, it also feels very personal. And so I just that’s a tremendous amount of respect. And also, speaking of making this season, also got to give a shout out to the rest of our crew. Of course, Madeleine. Sophie Lowe in the game. Especially the two parents in the group dealing with all of the challenges that have come when it’s come to sort of, you know, homeschooling and dealing with the kids and all that kind of stuff and making this massive documentary. And so some of the challenges, one has been just the homes, the home setups. It’s also been coaching our guests. And I’d give Madeline Ducharme, one of the producers on the team, a massive amount of props for this. You know, our guests are our elders. They’re seeing as many of them, and they’re not technophobes. But, you know, it definitely has taken some coaching and well, some of them actually Artec. But most of them, it’s just required some coaching. And we’re also learning because so much of this is new for us. And so we’re learning together with our guests how to get them to record themselves at home, make sure that recording is actually happen and send it to us. All of that stuff we’re kind of learning in real time. And unfortunately, we’ve lost some things, not a lot, but a few things here and there. Unfortunately, we’ve been able to recover, I think pretty well. You guys can tell us when you hear that show. Do you think anything is missing? But so there’s all that logistical stuff and some of the practical stuff. And I can’t speak for Josh on this one, but I know for myself, it’s also been a different experience processing all of this stuff. So I am black. I’m a black man. And, you know, David Duke story, I think, should trouble any human being. But for myself as a black man, obviously Duke, as a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan and a neo-Nazi and has a particular residents for black Americans. And so, you know, listening to his speeches and listening to him talk about white power and white rights and whiteness and white supremacy every day, just, you know, listening to that tape and not just hand it, but kind of being immersed in his world, and especially as we’ve done this big production push. My friends have said to me, I’m sure that it leaves us a Star Wars reference, but that there’s some carbon scoring on on on the soul. And so I don’t know what it would have been like in the before times to be processing that. I’m sure it still would have been hard to doing that. And it kind of more stationary way doing it at home. And for the most part, doing it not by myself. I have people around me, but in a much smaller sort of social circle has not been easy. Yeah. And then being never separate. Right. Right. And so that was like when the pandemic really like we’d lock things down in New York. And then in the last, of course, a week or two, there have also been protests. And literally last week, as I’m cutting tape and going through tape, there’s a massive protest march going right down my street. I live in a pet store in Brooklyn, New York. I love it and support it. But it’s also very intense. And so, you know, that’s the moment that we’re in. And in some ways, it’s probably helped the way that I think about this. But it also has taken I’ve had to like call on some extra engines to be able to keep some of this stuff from doing any more damage, I guess.
S3: Yeah. Yeah. Crew through. What did you know about do before or in the season? Like, I know for a long time ago when we were in office that there was a lot of fun to have. Yeah.
S5: So I’m in my mid 40s. And so, you know, I’m old enough to remember to have heard about David to kind of in the background through the eighties when I was growing up. So I wasn’t unfamiliar with him. And I knew the Nazi part of his life and I knew about the KKK part of his life. I did not know as much about the kind of political nuances and the horse race of his life. I knew about the sort of things on the national scale. But I didn’t know as much about the more local and state level stuff. And so learning that stuff, that was a big hill to climb because he does a lot in a little bit of time. And so taking all of that in and keeping track of all of that stuff in my head. It was a big learning curve. I guess the other big things for me today, I hadn’t wrap my head around. Now I’m much, much more about his lies. I sort of came to really understand how he adapted to the moment, how he read the moment. I really try to kind of read the cultural and racial moment in this country. And schist the appearance of this message and shift his language and switch to this kindness. Dog whistling. That was very much in keeping with the language of the 80s and how he did it with, you know, some success. And so, like that piece kind of watching him adapt and adjust and seal out the moment and try to find ways to insert himself to both get his message out there, but also to accumulate supporters and accumulate tenants following all of that. Listen to me. I mean, it’s just tons of other things, but those things really stand out to me.
S3: You guys have a recommendation for, like a book or something to read on?
S5: Certainly one of the books that we has looked most closely at, Tyler Bridges book The Rise and Fall of David Duke. It’s like that’s a pretty solid primer on at least a portion of the story that works like this.
S4: Yeah, it’s really useful in that Tyler was the guy who was following Duke around for the Times-Picayune for a bunch of years, and he did the really hard work of going through Duke’s life and separating fact from fiction because Duke is a inveterate fabulist. He invents sort of self aggrandizing stories. He shifts the narratives around and in ways that are really difficult to check. And so when you’re trying to tell the story of who this guy really was and what he really did, having a resource, having somebody who’s, you know, talked to a lot of people, Gonta archives is really useful. And so I’m grateful. You know, the Tylor did write that book.
S3: So sleep off members have been able to listen to episodes one, two and three so far.
S2: But let’s just focus on episode one at the moment, which is focused on Duke’s nineteen eighty nine bid for a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives.
S3: So do you think that at the time of Duke’s run, which took place in Jefferson Parish. Did that feel like an outlier at the time?
S2: Like. Were people nervous that Duke’s run there would make an impact on the rest of New Orleans or Louisiana?
S4: Yes. So just kind of coming off of what Christopher said. I was a lot more familiar with the politics side of Duke coming into this than the Klan and Nazi past. What I knew about his Klan in Nazi past was that he had one. I didn’t know that much about it specifically. But, you know, having lived through this and seeing all of this play out, I was familiar with, you know, what Duke did in Louisiana politically. That being said, this race in 89 was for, you know, a seat in the state legislature. He ended up winning with, you know, somewhere north of eight thousand votes. It was a much bigger deal in terms of what it represented for him and for the country. I think it was a race that was decided by a small electorate. And so, you know, taking a long way around, answering your question, I think there is a split opinion there where some people would say that this was a fluke. He won for no particular demographic reasons because he ran in essentially an all white district. You ran against an opponent who was not particularly formidable for reasons that we get into an episode one. But then other people say actually that people who don’t live in Louisiana don’t live in the all white New Orleans suburbs trying to say it couldn’t happen here or make themselves feel better about themselves by casting aspersions on other people. And so, you know, in a quote that I found really interesting, and this is just an example of the kind of stuff you read and marked down and then ends up, you know, being something you have to cut because it was Arkia long episode. But this really great reporter for The New York Times named Wayne King did a piece in June of nineteen eighty nine. So about four months after Duke won, where he interviewed the author, Walker Percy, famous New Orleans writer, and Walker Percy said, If I had anything to say to people outside the state, I’d tell them, don’t make the mistake of thinking. David Duke is a unique phenomenon confined to Louisiana rednecks and yahoos. He’s not he’s not just appealing to the old Klan constituency. He’s appealing to the white middle class. And I don’t think that he or somebody like him won’t appeal to the white middle class of Chicago or Queens.
S3: Do you think Jefferson Parish or that area? It’s kind of still thought in the same way as it was back then that at the time it was kind of the perfect district for Duke to run in like it does that still stand?
S4: So, I mean, people that have been elected from that area, Senator David Vitter, Steve Scalise talking about like from that, you know, U.S. House of Representatives seen I and there was a, you know, reporting within the last couple of years about Scarless and how, you know, speaking to white supremacist groups and about his views. And you can kind of like draw some lines there between Duke and folks who have represented that area since. So, you know, one thing that I think it’s worth clarifying in this space, and it was hard to get into some of this nuance in the episode, is that Jefferson Parish itself is not all white because about 20 percent black at this moment in time. There are areas within the parish that do not look like this particular district. District eighty one. But it’s a white flight area. And I was glad that we were able to get into that context. And, you know, we had the mayor, former mayor of New Orleans, Marc Morial, talking about it. It’s a place that grew explosively in the middle part of the 20th century, as so many areas did in this country due to racism, due to fears of whites about the encroachment of black people and in various ways about integration of schools and and all these things that Marc Morial talked about eloquently. And so in some ways, I think, you know, you can talk about Jefferson Parish, talk about District 81 as being representative. I don’t want to, like, flatten the nuance of the situation, because I do think that in a lot of ways, it’s a place that has a unique history. And there are unique reasons that, you know, Duke was able to succeed there. But I think that if people listen, they’ll be able to hear echoes of, you know, places that they live and are familiar with.
S3: Yeah. Growing up like what was your perception of Duke? Did you and your family. Do you feel like he was the credible threat?
S4: So word Jewish knew that there weren’t that many Jewish people in Louisiana. There’s a, you know, decent sized community in New Orleans. But, you know, moving away and not living there, definitely people are like the Jewish people in Louisiana. That’s weird. It’s not something that’s considered like the normative, you know, demographic group. And so I think there is always a little bit of anxiety around, you know, my place or our place in this place. And the whole Duke thing just seemed unbelievable as it was happening. I must say, like, how could people vote for this guy as you sort of become more aware and less naive about American history than I think you start to understand it a little bit better. But, you know, I think a lot of people said this because it’s true is that you’re not born understanding prejudice or understanding racism or bigotry. It has to be taught. And it has to be learned. And it’s you know, it’s really sad that that is taught and learned and that as a kid, you know, that you don’t understand it and what could be motivating it and where it comes from. And you know what? Christopher, what you said earlier really struck me very deeply is that, you know, anti-Semitism is a huge part of Duke’s ideology. Anti blackness is as well. And I think the thing that really, really caught on in Louisiana was the anti blackness. Like that’s the reason that he was able to succeed at the level that he succeeded. Now, how aware was I. Of that at the time? I’m not sure. I don’t have a specific memory of that. It’s more just like feeling anxious and confused and nervous is kind of the best I can describe it to you.
S5: Yeah, I, um, I just this is reminding me, Josh, Josh, an eye on my side as a black man and Josh as a Jewish man, you know, having conversations about Duke’s ideas and about which part of his message had the most impact and most appeal at any given point in his arc has really been an education for me. And I think really helped us as having these conversations and just having conversations generally multiple times a day over the course of the last several months. It’s an unfortunate thing since it’s like an unfortunate conversation like which was David Duke, Martinets, I Samite or an anti black racist. But that’s what we’re kind of digesting here and figuring out how to articulate and how to kind of punctuate or pull back on at different turns and twists in this series. And I think that the series is that much more rich because we’ve been able to have those very personal and frank conversations about what these things mean in Duke story and also what they meant to us personally.
S4: Yeah, I mean, those conversations have been the same for me. Just super meaningful and also helpful in figuring out how we’re going to tell the story. And, you know, as you heard in Episode one. The lead of the entire series is about Duke. Talking openly about his hatred of Jewish people. And then as we get into the body of the episode, you hear him very consciously decide to obscure that and really lean into, you know, not even more more subtle than he was when he was in the Klan. But not like super subtle, racist, anti black platform. Another thing that, you know, Christopher and I have talked about a lot is like, how much do we care about what a duke really think? Why did he think these things? But I mean, I think that we can say a thing that we can say with certainty is that, you know, this is a guy who, you know, the gears were turning in there and he deduced correctly that this is what people wanted to hear. And, you know, that this message was incredibly potent. And that says a lot about, you know, not just the suburbs of New Orleans, not just about Louisiana, but about, you know, the views of white people in this country generally in the way that politicians play on those views.
S5: You know, just one other thing I want to sort of say about this. Since the announcement went out that we were releasing this state this season and what the season is about. We’ve gotten a lot of wonderful feedback, how people are super excited and interested and intrigued. But we also have gotten, you know, sort of the kind of read the room credit criticism from you folks out there and in the Twitter verse and out in the world. And I understand and and, of course, people are entitled to their own feelings and opinions about any of this stuff. But the sentiment generally is that this is not a time that people want to hear more about white supremacy and white power ideas in this country. I, of course, couldn’t disagree more. Not only because I have a personal stake in a professional stake in the show. It’s primarily because I think that that’s precisely what we need right now. I think it goes without saying that. I want to say that I think this is exactly what kinds of conversations that I think that we need to be having because we’re talking about police reform and all kinds of cultural reforms and such. What this story at its best, I think gets at is how deep in the culture, deep in American culture, sort of 400, 500 year old culture in the West. And it shifts from party to party. But antisemitism type black racism is such a part of a Western culture and American culture. And this David Duke moment really just brings that up kind of out of the soil. But it’s there and it’s very, very prescient. And I think that by looking at this, we see that. What do you guess? As Josh was just saying it like we get to see that he read our moment and he read something that was building up in society. There’s a bit of take in the second episode where there’s a TV debate between Jesse Jackson and David Duke. And Jesse Jackson says that he came on that show, the TV show, to debate with David Duke, basically to head him off at the pass, because what he’s understanding is like when people are experiencing economic anxiety that opens them up to, as Jesse Jackson says, does various logic of demagogues like David Duke and to these kinds of racist ideas. It’s into that crack that this cultural thing that’s been there for Sara a very long time. And it saturates our culture. It’s not just our QVC. It’s in us as a society. These things get to kind of rise up. So I just want to address that and say that I think this is precisely the time to kind of be talking about how much this is deep, deep, deep in our culture. And we see these moments where they get to flare up, but it’s there.
S4: We’ve heard from people who said this is the perfect time to be releasing that. Some people who said that the opposite, that it’s too much right now. But I mean, the folks that we’re speaking to right now are people that have opted in to listen to the series. And so, you know, thank you for going on this journey with us as it’s not the easiest one and totally respect people who feel like this is too much for them right now. Absolutely. So that’s that’s what I’d say about that. Thank you for such a good team. That’s right.
S3: So, yeah, I just think there’s never really a good time to talk about it. Yeah. Never an easy time. For sure. So I think another part of this season is just going to be about the role of New Orleans in general and what New Orleans is and means.
S2: Josh, you are a proud New Orleans native.
S3: And so I wanted to know something about New Orleans that most people don’t know that they needed.
S5: What do people what do you what’s the debit, D.M.? New Orleanian.
S4: Well, I think this isn’t why you’re asking. Exactly, and I’ll get back around to what you’re asking. But I think one thing that people don’t know, or I guess they know but don’t think about is that people live in New Orleans. A lot of people think of it as a place to visit. Right. Or they think of the things that people do and see when they go there. I do think Hurricane Katrina changed that. There was an awareness of New Orleans as a place where people lived in were suffering and where the huge disparities in the city manifested and how that tragedy played out. But, you know, for me, growing up, New Orleans was the place where I went to school, where I had my grandparents and cousins and, you know, lived in the city. But we would go to. Jefferson Parish is, you know, the place we’ve been talking about. We’d go there to go to the mall because it had the biggest mall and in the area. And Marc Morial, you know, we didn’t use this tape, but he talked about how they would go to the mall in Jefferson Parish, too. And that that’s part of the story of the kind of disinvestment and that and the city and Canal Street and where it used to be the the main shopping district. And so there is a way in which reporting on this story has helped me understand the more kind of like what I consider to be banal, like facts of my life and like why we did certain things and went certain places that there’s all this kind of history underpinning why I like would go to the movies at the Lakeside Mall. And yeah, you know, we would go to this restaurant called Bozo’s Seafood Place. There was kind of across the street from the Lakeside Mall. I didn’t know until later it had been a private club in New Orleans and it was a private club so that they didn’t have to comply with public accommodation laws. That, you know, that’s a very jargony way to say. So they didn’t have to serve food to black people. And, you know, they eventually moved to Metairie where the clientele was white. And so this is, you know, something that I didn’t know or or understand when I was a kid. And so that I don’t know if I did actually get around to answering the question. But I hope that I hope it was an interesting answer regarding some other questions now that make sense.
S3: You answered in a way of like what New Orleans means to you and how you this. Thank you. How is this going to change your way of thinking about New Orleans? And I think that’s fascinating. That’s that’s different for native, I’m sure.
S5: Yeah. And I think that, like, for me, one of the things that has been really great about working on slow growth the last season and this season is that so we have the thing that where we’ve come here to talk about, which is David Duke for this season. But you learn so much more, sort of built these concentric circles and built out this world. And along the way, I’m learning I’m getting this kind of like history class about New Orleans and about Louisiana. And a lot of ways the story of that city, that state, it resonates for me. I’m from the Washington, D.C. area. And a lot of it sounds familiar in terms of like sort of internal segregation inside of the city and inside of the area where the people are able to use politics to kind of cordon themselves off socially and culturally and every other way. All sorts of, you know, backlashes against demographic shifts and all those kinds of things are stories that are related to the Duke story. But they started well before him. He picks up the beat and keeps it moving. But I think some of my favorite parts of this season are when we zoom out and get a much bigger picture of the political and cultural moment in which Duke was able to spot especially the Jesse Jackson stuff.
S3: I look forward to talking to you guys about the festive season as we go along. But let’s go and talk about today’s let’s interview, which is with journalist Eli Saslow. Josh, can you tell us about who he is and what you guys like about Eli?
S4: Saslow is a really incredible journalist and storyteller. He’s been at The Washington Post for a long time. His piece on going to Washington with the Newtown families as they tried to get gun control legislation passed is one of the most gutting things I’ve ever read. He has an amazing ability to get you to really feel things when you read his stories. And yeah, I just can’t say enough about how powerful his work is. And, you know, during the pandemic as well, he’s been doing these ads told to stories that have just been amazing. But the reason that we wanted to talk to him for slow burn season four is that he wrote a piece for The Post that then became a book about Derek Black. Derek Black is the son of Don Black, who is maybe David Duke’s closest friend and ally. He was a Klan member. He took over Duke’s clan from him when Duke left the Klan. Black built the website Stormfront, the biggest racist Web site there is, and Black also married. Duke’s ex wife and Derek Black was Duke’s godson. And so Derek Black story in and of itself is really fascinating and important. It’s about how this guy, who grew up steeped in white nationalist ideology, ended up leaving that movement and the long and painful and drawn out work that that. Wired for him to do that. And as part of that story, Eli tells the story of white nationalism in the US from the mid 20th century to today. And you can draw connections between David Duke and Derek Black and people like Richard Spencer. And we thought it would be interesting to get Eli on to talk about the mark that Duke has left in this world and the ways in which his ideas have been influential. And yeah, I think it was an interesting conversation.
S2: Great. Yeah. That was super fascinating. Let’s listen to the interview.
S6: This is Eli Saslow and I’m the author of Rising Out of Hatred and who is the subject of Rising Out of hatred.
S7: The subject of the book is Derek Black, who is the godson of David Duke, the son of Don Black, who also is the head of the KKK. And both of those men sort of raised Derek within the very insular world of white nationalism and hoping that he would become sort of the next leader at the forefront of that movement. And Derek, in part because he was sort of indoctrinated with their ideas, but also because of his own ambition and began to invest himself in that ideology forcefully and very quickly. And, you know, by the time he was 10 years old, he’d been pulled out of the public schools in Florida where he grew up. And he was traveling around the country with Don and with David Deal Cam going to these white nationalist conferences and listening to these ideas. And by the time he was 12 or 13, he was a speaker at those conferences. He was building out a radio network for the Stormfront Web site, which is the major sort of racist Web site in the world through which these people communicated. And and soon, Dair had his own radio show where he was on the air every day, oftentimes with David Duke or with his father, Don Black, and railing against that, quote unquote, multicultural takeover of the United States. Derrick ran for public office in Florida with David Duke’s support and encouragement when he was 18 years old and going around and identifying himself not explicitly as a white nationalist or a white supremacist, but talking in the coded language of race. And and by doing that, he won 60 percent of the vote and got a seat on the Republican Committee in Palm Beach, Florida. And he was really sort of the rising star of this movement. Then he went to college for the first time in his life, sort of had a little physical and mental distance from from sort of the white nationalist world. And over the four years that he was at college, through sort of a remarkable amount of first rejection from the students on that campus once they discovered who he was. And then also through outreach, engagement and people pushing to change him. He gradually began to confront the massive amount of damage that he he had done and then devoted himself to fighting back against it, which has meant fighting also back against not just white supremacy, but against David Duke, his godfather to whom he no longer really speaks, and also his father, Don Black, who still is at the forefront of that movement as well.
S6: So David Duke and Don Black saw Derek Black as the heir. He was sometimes referred to as the heir. What was it about David Duke that Derek tried to emulate and that Don and Duke himself wanted Derek to emulate?
S7: I think that both Don and David Duke thought that they wanted to turn Derek into the more mainstreamed face of this movement. And, you know, David Duke was very proud in his own awful way and for sort of mainstreaming some of these ideas through politics. But he thought that he had made this catastrophic mistake early in his career that he ascribed to sort of youthful enthusiasm or zeal and by being sort of too overtly Nazi. Yes, by celebrating Hitler too frequently and things that sort of stained him and kept him from having the political career that he thought he deserved and should have had in Derek. They saw somebody who at who is not speaking in slurs, who is incredibly smart, whose test scores were off the charts and whose curiosity was off the charts. And also somebody who, like David Duke, was really ambitious. And and I think what Duke saw was a protege like here’s a chance to sort of implant some of the lessons I learned myself in my own life and to mold somebody in my image as almost like a David Duke to point out.
S6: You write in the book about how this was an argument between David Duke and Don Black about whether the so-called youthful exuberance, which, you know, in reality is Duke wearing a Nazi uniform, Duke being a leader in the KKK. Whether that helped Duke or hurt him and Duke seems to believe believed that it hurt him and that he would have become the governor of Louisiana. He would have become president of the United States if it hadn’t been for these photos of him, if it hadn’t been for some of these things that he said in his past. Whereas Don Black seems to believe that actually the Nazi stuff, the Klan stuff helped Duke. And he said there’s something to be said for maintaining some edge as long as you’re still in control.
S8: Absolutely. And, you know, I think prior to the last five years in this country, I would have thought that Don Black was right and maybe David Duke even would have thought that Don Black was right, because the fact that David Duke had been the head of the KKK has led to insane amounts of print about him. It has led to biographies. It’s made him famous around around the country and around the world. Is that he would podcast. And in ways that he wouldn’t have been. Had he not been such an outright bigot, an extremist on. Flip side, I think we’ve seen over the last years in this country in particular, that there are ways to sort of have a tepid dance with racism in coded language without announcing yourself as a white nationalist or a racist and still tap into that ideology. And I think David Duke has seen that done really effectively believes that it’s been done by the president of the United States in terms of having that dance with supporters, sort of growing their racist instinct, speaking to those instincts and managing to get elected without the sort of history of photos and robes and things like that. So I think, if anything, David Duke feels more certain now than he ever has before that that could have been him if he had been able to sort of rein himself in a little bit more earlier on in his career. I would also say that David Duke is a, you know, an egomaniac who believes himself capable of almost anything. So, you know, I wouldn’t take his word for it.
S6: Well, I came to think of Duke’s Klan days as a kind of tailwind for his career as a professional racist, as a white supremacist leader. I guess another way to think of it is that it’s sort of like a rocket booster. It allowed him to become very famous very quickly. But that fame kind of burned out. And it was a way for him to reach a particular height, a particular ceiling. But then I do think that there’s an argument that it that had held him back, that that fuel burned out very quickly and it gave him a kind of infamy. That and from the very beginning. Right. He wanted to be a national leader. He wanted to be a political leader, that this shortcut did end up hurting him.
S9: Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, the bigger and maybe more salient truth also is that that early version of David Duke, I think is is who he is. You know? It wasn’t that and what he was doing when he was 18, 19, 20 to 25. That those were mistakes. He was representing himself in ways that he didn’t believe. If anything, what he later figured out to do was, how do I take these beliefs, these things that I really feel, this hatred that I really feel, and this certainty about white superiority and white supremacy that I really feel and package them in a way that is more acceptable to the white audience that I’m trying to reach. You know, it became an act of how he sold his true beliefs, not in terms of that was the true version of himself. You know, I think I think that the foundation of who David Duke is. And and I hope the foundation of how he will always be remembered in American history is how he acted in those early years and frankly, not how he acted in his later years was. Was any more palatable.
S6: Yeah. I mean, the period in which he was a mainstream political candidate was the operation in terms of what he said and how he expressed himself, because after those years in Louisiana were over, he went right back to openly expressing Holocaust denial and any number of other things so we could list. So, yeah, to the extent that it was a mistake, it was only a mistake in terms of calculation. Right. Like those early years were kind of in some ways, his fullest and most honest expression of who he was and what he believed.
S7: Yeah. He doesn’t regret any of the ways in which he acted. And if he regrets anything, he regrets it only as a matter of strategy.
S6: So speaking of strategy, we see in the book as we’re following Derrick before he cut himself off from white nationalism, doing this sort of tactical thinking, figuring out how to talk to white people in a way that might convince someone who’s like. You know, I’m not racist, but like that is his kind of target audience and we see that that’s Duke’s target audience also in the 70s and in the 80s as he’s trying to build a movement. Can you just kind of speak to the connection and movement building between, you know, Duke in the 70s and what Derek was trying to do during his white nationalist days?
S7: I think the scary thing that’s at the foundation for both of them is the realization that that audience is massive in the United States. I mean, polls in the country consistently show still that about 40 percent of white people in the United States believe that they suffer more discrimination, more prejudice than people of color or Jews. And that is insane. It’s inaccurate by every measure that we have. But the fact that that degree of false white grievance continues to exist in this country means that there is a huge audience for these racist ideas if they’re packaged in a way that doesn’t announce themselves as explicitly racist. And, you know, most people don’t like to add to consider themselves racist. I think that’s what’s that’s certainly is what David Duke and Don Black and people like that think have held this movement back for years. Is that there sort of his and and ugliness in acknowledging yourself as hateful? But if instead people like David Duke and then later as a teenager, Derrick Black can go around to their neighbors when they’re campaigning, as Derrick did, and say, hey, isn’t it too bad that there are all these signs now in Spanish in the neighborhood? Doesn’t that seem sort of like essentially un-American? And don’t you think it’d be better if we prioritized having more immigrants coming in from from Europe and sort of doctors from Norway and not people coming in from Africa, places like that? Have you noticed that there’s more crime in the inner city? And isn’t that maybe because of the kind of people who live in the inner city, all of these kind of coded, awful, insidious racist ideas when they were package that way? Even for Derek running against an incumbent, he was able to win 60 percent of the vote. So I think, like the truth is, and it remains true for Derek now, even now that he’s a prominent anti-racist on the other side, he still feels sure, frighteningly sure that the ugliness within our country exists and make these ideas powerful enough to drive movements and to get people elected to the biggest office in the country.
S6: One of the passages in the book that I found so interesting, given my thinking about Duke in the 70s, was you’re writing about Don Black during that same period, saying the same thing over and over again. People will begin waking up here in the next few years. The tide is going to turn. It’s just about to happen. He says the first in 70, the second in 75, the third in 1978. And as you write all the while, he’s driving in circles around the same rural territory of the Deep South, lighting up crosses at KKK rallies in the same parks, and Birmingham and Nashville giving the same speech to the same audience of a few hundred supporters. So one of the things that I kept kind of rolling around in my head was. Is this just a small group of people talking to each other? Is this a massive movement? How scary and dangerous is it? And there are parallels there between, again, the 70s and there that you write about the 2000s.
S7: That’s a really good question. I would say that white nationalists, that sort of politically active group, which is probably not all that dissimilar, frankly, from the group that Don and David Duke were going around to have Klan rallies with and in the Deep South. I think it’s a fairly small group. I also think that it’s a group that is growing in its own ways and that also is becoming more and more dangerous. I mean, we’ve had many massive terrorist attacks in this country by young white people who have radicalized in the darkest corners of the Internet for the most part, and have done awful things and then are talking to each other through their manifesto. So even just this sort of like an activist terrorist group, I think it shouldn’t be underestimated because the consequences are real and scary. But I think the bigger thing, frankly, is that it’s a group that is by a few degrees removed from a lot of white America that continues to share a lot of the same ideas that are talked about on Stormfront and whether those are ideas about immigration and building a wall or the United States becoming too diverse or changing fundamentally from what it’s been. And there is a wide sense in the country that this is a white country and that white culture is the priority. And that’s because our history bears out. That’s what we’ve been and reconciling with, you know, these white supremacist ideas means reconciling with with what this country is foundationally. So, you know, I think what these white nationalists have done very effectively is try more and more to sort of scrub their rhetoric of its real history of violence and to talk more and more in the language of mainstream politics to reach these wider audiences.
S10: And, you know, David Duke was one of the most instrumental people in doing that when he was getting frustrated going to this Klan rallies. One of the things that he decided to do was to start a Klan border watch and say, you know, hey, people are kind of fed up hearing about black and white issues in the south. Why don’t we move the Klan down to the border in Texas for a few weeks and we’ll try to bring some national media with us and we’ll talk about immigration and how that’s changing the the quote unquote, gene pool of America.
S9: And we’ll introduce this idea of building a big wall on the border. And, you know, I think they’ve always been searching for ways to reach a wider audience and a wider white audience. And like you said, waiting for the moment in which people will wake up in their terminology.
S6: It was so much harder, as you talked about in this episode, for Duke to find his people. Back then, there wasn’t the Internet. He had to write letters to the former American Nazi party. Right. And there’s this connection that Duke is kind of the fulcrum in some ways where Don Black creates what would become Stormfront as a Web presence for the Duke. Some of his electoral campaigns. And then that becomes the vehicle for this kind of connection, these connections that are so much easier to make now. And so we just see this kind of evolution from Duke and Don Black having this sort of, you know, letter writing campaign to the web, being used as a vehicle for Duke. And then the Web kind of becoming a way for this larger movement to grow and people to encourage and feed off each other.
S8: I think if you’re looking for reasons why, say, David Duke and Don Black are and are more optimistic at this moment about white nationalism than they have been in the past. And also, frankly, reasons why, you know, at least for myself, I’m more scared that they’re right now than I have been before.
S9: It’s because not only have they managed to connect more easily through the Internet, through Gabb, through all of these various mechanisms, it’s easier for them to talk to each other. It’s easier for them to try to build an audience. And but the bigger thing is also the climate in the country is so different than it was in terms of their aim to to sort of get more white people to think explicitly along white sort of political lines. You know, if you think about when David Duke and Don Black were first joining this movement and trying to reach other white people, at that point, the schools were still segregated. You know, white supremacy in the country was almost entirely unchallenged in many ways. Now, you know, the demographics of the country have changed. And I think David Duke and Don Black believe that there is a growing number of white people in the country who feel like fundamentally the country has shifted. And so messages like it’s time to take our country back and, you know, let’s make America great again. Let’s go back to some place that we were are more effective because more people recognize that America is not as white as it was. That fortunately, I would say some of the power structures have begun in subtle ways to shift and to change and to be challenged. And for the people that. They’re trying to reach. That’s actually very useful. I mean, it’s not a coincidence that the greatest night in the history of the Stormfront Web site, the biggest recruiting boon in the history of this movement was the night that Barack Obama got elected. I mean, it was a very clear signal to a lot of people who had an, you know, inherent racist ideas that something had changed about America. And for the people that didn’t like that, it drove them to places like Stormfront and to sort of become more politically aware racially, I think, than they were before in ways that are scary for the country.
S6: How is Don Black and Duke and other leaders in this movement? How is their thinking evolved on Donald Trump since Trump first emerged around the 2012 election with birther ism? How have they shifted in how they perceive Trump and how they feel about, you know, what Trump’s philosophy is and how he is leading the country?
S8: I think that none of them would call Trump a white nationalist. And frankly, I think, you know, David Duke and Don Black would say that Trump is sort of a vacuous businessman who’s gone back and forth on many things. And, you know, they would not trust his instincts about race to be theirs. And but what they certainly think is that he realizes that the audience for sort of racial resentment is huge and is powerful and and is a big part of sometimes what fuels his base. So, you know, for them, it’s a relationship that’s hugely mutually beneficial. I mean, Trump sort of came politically onto the scene in recent memory with sort of catering to the Tea Party, with suggesting that President Obama was inherently un-American, was not born in America, you know, questioning the legitimacy of his grades, of his degree and, you know, attacks that were, I would say, overtly racist.
S10: But at least overtly racist that, you know. And I think that immediately caught Don and David Duke’s attention. And, you know, I also think that he provided a massive platform for their movement during the presidential election. He was retweeting explicitly white nationalist accounts, accounts for the handle, was at white genocide, which is a straight up white nationalist conspiracy theory. And so I think that they feel like he moved the timeline of their movement ahead by decades. They certainly don’t agree with all of his policy ideas. They would never say he’s one of us, but they think that maybe what he is is a stepping stone to a more explicitly white nationalist political party that has real viability. Because I think that they believe he’s pushed many of their ideas to the forefront. I mean, David Duke has said recently, you know, his platform has had more success in the last five years than it had in the 35 before that. I’m not sure if that’s exactly true. Again, he’s always a self aggrandizing. But I do think that many of the things that he was saying in the 70s and 80s are now things that many Americans are saying all the time in terms of the language of immigration, anti refugee rhetoric, and even talk of a president repeatedly tweeting about, you know, thugs and law and order and the age of Black Lives Matter.
S6: I mean, I think that these are things that were sort of the bedrock of some of David Duke’s ideas in an interview that I did with Lance Hill, the historian and an anti Duke activist. He talked about how Duke and those like him often see failure perversely as a sign of success. It shows the resoluteness of their beliefs and their willingness to fight what they think of as the good fight, even in the face of determined opposition. If we believe that to be true, that that’s where they’re coming from. It must be a real shift in terms of self perception or philosophy to then find a world that seems receptive. It just must be very odd for them. You know, after all those decades of opposition, it doesn’t strike me that they would have thought or conceived of an environment being as congenial as the one that we’re in right now.
S9: They never did. I mean, you know, I think for many of these people, the Charlottesville rally and Trump’s response to it were like a watershed moment, because the idea that he would say after something like that, that there were good people on both sides said that it was possible to be, for instance, and, you know, a racist activist, that a white nationalist agitator and be a good person on that side was something that they had never heard before. They’d never conceived that they would hear from either political party. I mean, it’s not like white nationalists prior to this moment preferred one political party over the other. And, you know, they thought that both were vapid and useless. And, you know, they never thought that the way ahead for their movement was going to be through. For instance, this early and a political candidate who had the backing of one of those two parties. I think it was always assumed for David Duke and for Don Black that the easiest thing to do as any politician was to condemn the obvious racist people like David Duke and Don Black. I mean, Don Black would tell Derek when Derrick was a kid. Hey, no matter what you do in your life, it doesn’t matter. The first sentence of your obituary is going to be Derrick Black, the son of a former KKK grand wizard. And, you know, it was a stain that they did not think could ever be lifted. And to suddenly have somebody in the primary position of power in the country and kind of playing footsie with their ideology, sometimes in very public ways, I think is, you know, feels to them like a huge, huge shock. And it’s one of the reasons why suddenly David Duke, who had not been, you know, politically active in terms of a mainstream party for a while in the United States was going to trump rallies and trying to attach himself to them in any way that he could. And in organizing robo callers to call early voters in Iowa and back Trump, I mean, I think they threw their weight behind him because they recognized how unprecedented some of this was.
S6: So Duke ran for the Senate in 2016 and got no traction at all. He’s hosting a show on the Internet. I think if we look at everything together, he feels like a fringe figure. It’s not like the rise of Trump has made him any more important or his voice carry anymore than maybe it would have otherwise. How can you reconcile those things?
S10: Because I think to a large degree, he’s still that person who is very easy to condemn.
S7: I mean, like during that Senate run, he tried to sell hats with, like, vote for Trump and do. He tried very much to tie himself to that moment. But I think, you know, the long term stain of being David Duke, thankfully, is still enough that even people who are willing to sort of identify with and connect to the coded language of our political moment, they can do that without having to support somebody like David Duke, who has a history of being in a in a Klan row. And I think Duke has sort of made peace with that to a certain extent by thinking of himself heroically, as he’s want to do as like a martyr or a sacrificial lamb. And you know what? Hey, if it’s if it’s me, myself who can’t be the one to advance these ideas anymore. What matters to me is that some of these ideas are advancing, you know. And I think that’s the way that he explains it to himself.
S6: I feel like if we were having this conversation a couple years ago, we would have gone to Richard Spencer by now. He was feels like more prominent and seen as more of a threat. We talked about Derrick Black being the heir after Derrick left white nationalism. I think Don Black saw Richard Spencer as being kind of Derrick’s successor, the person that would take the movement to where he thought Derrick would take it. Do you feel like the fact that these ideas, you know, as we’ve been discussing, have become more mainstreamed and are coming from people with who are less overtly racist than Richard Spencer? Has that kind of diminished his stature and standing or somebody in America that really has a platform right now?
S10: I mean, I think fortunately, Richard Spencer’s true colors shared pretty quickly.
S9: I think for a while he he was trying to walk that line that say, David Duke and set out for Derrick to avoid slurs, to try to sort of, you know, allow himself to have a political future, not by making those kind of mistakes. And but the first prominent event that he held in Washington, D.C. after the president’s election ended with tributes to Hitler. I think he’s stained himself, I hope, even for the wider audience that might have supported him. The bigger thing, I think, is that these ideas now like anti-immigrant, anti refugee ideas, the idea of trying to make America whiter in some way, trying to preserve the white culture and the whiteness that that America has always worked to preserve disastrously. Those ideas are widespread enough, again, that I would not imagine them being represented by, say, a lone white nationalist who’s going to come and take the helm of this movement. You know, if if the history of this movement tells us anything, it. That as it shifts more and more towards the mainstream to try to connect with the mainstream ideology. And it’s very good at shedding labels. I mean, like, you know, the Duke’s own history went from Hathway, calling himself the grand wizard of the KKK, to then becoming maybe somebody representing white pride or white power to then somebody who is talking about, you know, white supremacy to then somebody who is talking about white nationalism. And I would imagine that what will happen next is, you know, whether it’s a white people’s party, whether it’s some other different identification, it’s going to be something that tries to announce itself less. Because, you know, the single outside agitator, unfortunately, is not the platform that these ideas need. And they’re too relevant around us at every moment. So I think, you know, for anybody who’s going to take the mantle, the key is going to be to have enough distance from it to be able to represented and continue to make it palatable to kind of mainstream white Americans who unfortunately continue to hold a lot of these ingrained biases and racist ideas.
S6: And meanwhile, you know, Don Black, in the background, you wrote about how he was delighted by Trayvon Martin’s killing and the idea that race and an argument about race, a conflict, about race was at the forefront of Americans minds. Any event that triggers these sorts of racial conflicts and resentments is for people who are true believers in this movement, a great thing. Like for Duke, it was busing in the 1970s. You mentioned that the border watch, these are the things that they celebrate and try to actively stoke. Right.
S7: Right. I mean, conflict, chaos. That’s what white nationalists have spent their lives rooting for. You know, that’s that’s what David and Don have been doing their whole lives, is trying to bring about some kind of conflict that unsettles white people in this country believing that because America is what it is, those white people will still have the majority share of power and wealth that if they decide to do something drastic, be it with violence or with politics, they will still have the power to impress their, you know, their version of the world around everybody else. And, you know, and I think we’re seeing some of our we’re certainly at a moment of extreme chaos. And, you know, I think some of this is they root for recessions, they root for job loss. They root for things that are going to make people feel less and less secure living in the world and then hoping that when those people become less secure. One of the things that they will look for his answers is, hey, this isn’t happening because of me or I didn’t lose my job or I’m not feeling this way. I’m not feeling and disadvantaged or disenfranchised because of anything I did wrong. I’m feeling it because these people who don’t look like me are now coming here and are taking my jobs, changing the way the country is impacting what my children’s future will be. Those are the lies that they’re trying to sell to the white masses in the country. And I think now our news cycle is selling a lot of that for them. It’s one of the reasons why recently, I think, David Duke.
S9: The message that he’s been putting out to the people who listen to his radio show or follow him when it comes to like these events, demonstrations or riots happening in cities.
S7: He’s telling his people, stay away. The work is being done for us. US going there in any way, like having white nationalism more visible in this moment is going to hurt us. What’s better for us is to fade in the background. Let the chaos happen and then people will search for answers and we’ll be there.
S6: So the question at the center of your book is how do we respond to or deal with someone like Derek Black? Or I could say just substitute and David Duke for our purposes. You write. Was it better to shame and demonize Derek? Or was it more effective to somehow reach out to him? This was a question that, you know, fellow students of Dark’s were asking themselves privately and in public forums. And it just struck me as being so similar to the questions that were being asked and sometimes, unfortunately, weren’t being asked about David Duke as he rose up. Just people kind of not thinking about the platforms that David Duke was getting, not thinking about, you know, how he should be treated by the press, how he should be treated by individuals. And with Derek story, you know, it’s an optimistic one. It’s a story about how outreach can be effective. And so I’m curious for your thoughts on the connection between that story, that kind of hopeful story and the one we see with David Duke and how, you know, he’s been treated. He’s been handled by folks throughout his life.
S10: I think when it comes to confronting this ideology and the people who are trying to spread it, there are a lot of tactics that can be effective. And a lot of those tactics were necessary to change Derek’s ideology. You know, it wasn’t just one thing. I mean, for some students on that campus when they discovered who he was and what he thought and what. He’d been doing with the microphone. He’d been given they thought what they needed to do was reject him, was make him feel uncomfortable. Flip him off on campus, you know, push him as far away from their spaces as possible. They shut down the school, like through an organized protest for a day. And in an expression of sort of community distaste that his ideas and what he stood for and that campaign of exclusion was hugely successful. I think Derek felt, for the first time in his life, a little bit uncomfortable. He felt some of the fear that he had been making other people fear. And in the early part of his life. And that opened him up in some ways to the opposite efforts that came next, which were attempts at inclusion. And for some people, that meant, you know, a couple of Jewish students on campus who decided to sort of befriend him, not even in an effort to talk about his ideology, but just hoping that maybe if this kid gets to know us, he will see beyond some of his prejudices to the people and to the humanity and for other students on campus. It meant, you know, beginning to debate Derek rigorously, like arming themselves with the facts of race and having long debate conversations with him. You know, I think the biggest thing that people did with Derek, and I’m sure he would not have disavowed this movement without it, is they decided to do something like that’s the first basic choice, right, is when you hear somebody saying something or see them doing something that is racist, that is bigoted, that is not right. Do whatever you can in your power. Use whatever privilege you have to confront it. And so if the person sharing that idea is somebody that might listen to you, if you were a student on the LSU campus who lived in the same dorm as David Duke, and he might be somebody who would sit and have coffee with you, that I think potentially a good way to impact somebody is interpersonally through relationships, through conversations, through listening. If you, conversely, are not somebody that somebody is going to listen to or if you’re a person of color and you just don’t feel like it’s your it’s your work to have to try to change somebody who’s been making you feel and disempowered for your entire life, then I think finding a way to confront those ideas, finding a way to to share the fact that that is not OK through whatever means necessary is also a powerful way to impact somebody’s thinking. You know, I think it’s not as simple as one or the other. And it’s it is I think both confrontation and invitation can work to change somebody’s mind. I also think, like, unfortunately, the truth is that change takes a long time. And sometimes we hope that we will impact somebodies ideas about something through one conversation or one action. And the truth is, like for Derrick, it took three or four years of sustained work by the other people on that campus to get him to begin to confront his ideology and then confront his family. And, you know, I think that’s partly because Derrick was so steeped in this that he knew that if he disavowed white nationalism, he would never talk to anybody in his family again, including his godfather. But it took a ton of work. So I think the other thing for all of us who are trying to confront these ideas is as much as we can to be patient and to know that it is going to take sustained work and not like sort of a quick momentary burst of activism.
S6: Feels like a key difference there that I was just working out, as you were talking, is that for Derek, a lot of his ideology was so tied in with family and with relationships and with people that he cared about. And with Duke, seems like it’s all about himself. It’s so much an expression of who he thinks he is and not at all connected to being a part of a community or movement. He sees himself as at the top of a pyramid and kind of dropping knowledge down on an everyone else. It just doesn’t seem to me like it has any connection to people or or relationships and that might, you know, make it or have made it more challenging to ever change his mind.
S7: Yeah, I think that’s probably right. Whereas for Derek, it was all about relationships. Achieving success in white nationalism was the way that he made his father and his godfather proud. That was the venue in which his life took place.
S8: I think it would have been very difficult for anybody to grow up in that house with those two men sort of constantly around them and not emerge with seriously racist ideas. Yeah, I think Derek’s ambition and the fact that he pushed so hard and wanted to go forward so quickly was its own disaster and certainly worsened the damage. But for him, I think the foundations of the ideology were relationships. And you’re right that for David Duke, for Don Black, they came to the ideology oftentimes through reading and through their own search for ideas. Whereas Derek was given the ideas and then had to work to create sort of this paradigm and the structure in his mind to make himself feel like those ideas were right. And also like those ideas were OK.
S6: I think we’re both in agreement that Duke and his his rise in politics, that that wasn’t a cul de sac, that. Have ripple effects today. Do you feel like Duke success during that period, you know, was it a precondition for what we’re seeing today? Did it inspire, you know, people in his movement? Would the world look differently if David Duke didn’t exist or if he didn’t have that moment?
S10: No question. The world, the world maybe would look a little bit better. You know, I think David Duke would say that Donald Trump would not exist without him. I think that that’s too strong of a way to put it. But I think that absolutely. David Duke was a key stepping stone on this sort of journey to where we are in terms of figuring out, you know, after desegregation, you know, in this crucial moment in American history, figuring out how to take these ideas and package them in a way that sanitize the language from its very real history of violence and bloodshed, frankly, a history that David Duke himself had fairly recently been connected to. And so to then figure out how to turn some of those talking points around and put on a good outfit and go on TV and smile and sort of, you know, energize a massive amount of people, which he did. I mean, his rallies, I think largely were the precursor to what some of the Trump rallies look like in 2015, 2016 in terms of exuberance and energy and anger. And, you know, I think a lot of the things that he did we’re seeing parroted now. And I also think a lot of those first bridges that he built between this ideology and mainstream white America are still the bridges that people are traveling across.