Not that you ever missed him while he was gone, but David Duke is back. After a year in federal prison, Duke was welcomed home over Memorial Day weekend by participants in a confab in New Orleans. Old friends, aging white nationalists and youthful Aryanists, 250 in all, gathered for two days plus and listened to a dozen speakers.
They treated the onetime Klansman and past Louisiana Republican candidate with respect and adoration–as if he’d been jailed for bravely attempting a putsch in Munich. Duke had simply bilked his own contributors, however, personally spending the proceeds at gambling joints. He pled guilty to mail and tax fraud. The mundane nature of his crime contrasted sharply with the heated rhetoric spewed from the airport hotel speakers’ platform. No fake conservative running for Governor here. That was yesterday. At this event Duke played the role he was meant for: a veteran white supremacist preparing for the battles ahead.
As a movement, white nationalism is at a turning point. The militias of the 1990s have largely disappeared. Skinheads that once served as street soldiers for the Aryan set currently behave more like a group of music industry entrepreneurs. Moreover, after Pat Buchanan led the Reform Party off a cliff in the 2000 elections, the possibility of a viable third party outlet has disappeared. In its place, a constellation of neo-Confederate and anti-immigrant activists and think-tankers are carving out a twenty-first-century white nationalism–without reference to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that have traditionally animated such enterprises. Into this vortex re-enters David Duke. Target the Jews, he said in New Orleans. While we’re at it, let us sign a compact: “no enemies on the right” and “zero tolerance for violence.”
To an outsider, the “no enemies” point sounds a bit self-serving. After all, Duke faces possibly stern criticisms from his own (former) contributors. Nevertheless, to organizations and personalities long at odds with each other, a signed agreement might end the bickering and denunciations that currently hamstring them. Similarly, deciding to formally eschew bomb plotters seems so elementary as to be unnecessary. In a movement whose heroes have been bank bandits and killers, however, the decision to regard any talk of violence as the work of agent provocateurs cannot but signal a different direction.
The newest initiative, however, is also the oldest: Go after the Jews. On this point, Duke is the reigning master. In 1998, he self-published a 736-page screed titled My Awakening. Then he sold foreign-language translations of the anti-Jewish chapters–which he relabeled Jewish Supremacism–and spent two years traveling in Italy, Russia, Ukraine, and other points East and Middle East. Duke now claims that over 500,000 copies are circulating in the Russian federation alone. The reprint has already been translated into nine languages, he told his friends in New Orleans, and when it goes into Arabic, sales “will go into the millions.” In a strange twist, Duke now believes that Russia might be the “salvation of the white race.” The one-time Communist enemy is increasingly “anti-Zionist,” he claimed.
Our task, he told the conferees, “is to get America on the same level towards liberation as our brothers in Eastern Europe.”
For this endeavor Duke will apparently rely on cadres from the National Alliance, the organization left behind by Turner Diaries terror novelist William Pierce. At this conference, it endorsed both Duke’s attack on “Jewish supremacism,” and the call for unity and “nonviolence.” Since Pierce died, the Alliance has lost some members. But it retains a cohesive infrastructure with a paid staff and several active propaganda outlets. And it has a significant international footprint, with members throughout Europe.
Duke has returned full circle to that moment in 1970 when he was just 19 years old and picketed the late radical attorney William Kunstler while wearing a brown-shirt uniform and swastika. Only this time around, Duke has dropped the uniform and picked-up a new set of friends across the globe. Duke’s white nationalism is now the “internationalist” kind.