“David Duke has been a professional racist for his entire adult life,” wrote Tyler Bridges, author of The Rise of David Duke, a biography of Duke’s early years. “He deeply believes his anti-Semitic political philosophy, but it has also been a way for him to get money from his followers. It is how he makes a living.”
Duke has spent virtually his entire career living off the kindness of strangers-people who mistakenly thought he was championing their cause for no other reason than a desire to help whites. He sold and resold supposedly secret mailing lists, raised money under false pretenses, and lived off the proceeds of fund-raising for at least 10 different political campaigns. He womanized shamelessly and spent thousands on cosmetic surgery for himself, including liposuction to his buttocks. From his formative years as a supposed National Socialist right up to the present, David Duke’s foremost concern always has been David Duke. For 30 years now, America’s best-known white supremacist has engaged in a striking pattern of financial chicanery and self-serving rip-offs.
Duke Ernest Duke has one paramount skill which he has exhibited throughout his whole life: an incredible ability to re-invent himself. He does it every few years. From National Socialist, to Klansman, to suit-and-tie-racist, to state legislator and political wheeler-dealer, to quasi-intellectual author, to globe-trotting celebrity collecting meaningless honorary degrees from Eastern European universities no one ever heard of, to “prison martyr” to “elder statesman of the Movement,” Duke has packed a dozen lifetimes of bushwah into one.
Duke’s refusal to be fettered by any considerations of truth or honesty, combined with a total, complete, and utter shamelessness unparalleled even in the notably shameless White movement, have made him the Movement’s premier operator and public figure. He has lived a life of excitement, adventure, and luxury, and all on somebody else’s dime. Unlike Ed Fields, who practiced as a chiropractor for some years, and Dr. William L. Pierce who at least did a couple or years as an assistant college professor in the 1960s, at age 57 David Duke can honestly say that he has never worked a single day in his life. Duke has been in more tight corners than a feather duster. He has stolen what has to be millions of dollars down through the years, and he’s only done one short prison sentence.
David Ernest Duke began his racial career while a college student, as a member of Matt Koehl’s NSWPP for a brief period of time. Duke has always tried to disavow or deny this period in his life, but his enemies still to this day glory in publishing a photo of Duke taken in 1971 while he was picketing the student union at LSU, wearing a brown shirt and Swastika armband. When confronted with this photo in circumstances where he can’t slither out of it, Duke harrumphs and says his Nazi period was a “youthful mistake.”
During one of his trips to Arlington, Virginia, in about 1971, Duke stopped by to visit Dr. Pierce of the National Alliance across Interstate 95 from the NSWPP headquarters. According to Rick Cooper, Dr. Pierce offered to give David Duke the information regarding Matt Koehl’s homosexual background if Duke would publish this information in his Klan publication at the time, The Crusader. Duke refused, for reasons which remain obscure; why he would wish to maintain the secret of a highly placed homosexual in the Movement is unknown. After visiting Dr. Pierce, Duke visited Matt Koehl at the NSWPP headquarters.
Subsequently, Duke spoke with an NSWPP duty officer, James N. Mason, and told Mason of Dr. Pierce’s offer. Jim Mason, years later, told this to Cooper who then wrote to Duke, asking for an account, confirmation or denial that Dr. Pierce made such an offer. Duke never replied.
David Duke first got caught with his hand in the till in 1972, shortly after he temporarily dropped out of Louisiana State University to devote himself to full-time neo-Nazi activism, according to Bridges’ book. Police arrested Duke and three others for allegedly raising $500 for George Wallace’s presidential campaign and pocketing the money. The charges were dropped after an influential Duke mentor convinced Wallace campaign officials to change their story.
By 1974, Duke had founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and it wasn’t long before he became the media’s favorite Klan leader. Vowing to modernize the Klan, he urged his acolytes to “get out of the cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms.” After appearing on Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow talk show, he was able to use his newfound celebrity to recruit Louis Beam, Don Black and Tom Metzger, who each went on to play key roles in America’s White Nationalist movement.
During this same period, starting with a failed 1975 bid for the Louisiana state senate, Duke began a series of political campaigns. It appears certain they were at least partly funded with money taken from his Klan group’s coffers.
Before long, several of Duke’s most intimate allies began to grow weary of his self-serving personality and his constant, unquenchable greed for money. William Pierce, who Duke had begun corresponding with when the Louisianan was still a teenager, admonished Duke to quit taking credit for an important Pierce pamphlet, Who Runs the Media? Others in the racist movement angrily responded to Duke’s notorious womanizing, which was almost pathological. Duke hit on any female he saw, literally within a matter of minutes of meeting her-single women, married women, female reporters, waitresses, women he saw on the street, it didn’t matter. His sexual obsession approached the medical condition known as satyriasis. Word soon got out that no one could trust their wives, daughters, sisters, or for that matter mothers alone in David Duke’s presence, and many Duke functions to this day turn into an elaborate dance or game to try and keep Duke away from any attractive females present.
Duke’s shady financial dealings grew harder and harder to conceal as well. As the 1970s drew to a close, with growing numbers of followers deserting his Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Duke was accused by several Klan officials of stealing his organization’s money. “Duke is nothing but a con artist,” Jack Gregory, Duke’s Florida state leader, told the Clearwater (Fla.) Sun after his boss allegedly refused to turn over proceeds from a series of 1979 Klan rallies to the Knights.
In 1979, after his first, abortive run for president (as a Democrat) and a series of highly publicized violent Klan incidents, Duke quietly incorporated the nonprofit National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP) in an attempt to leave the baggage of the Klan behind. But before he made it public, he contacted Bill Wilkinson, a former Duke underling who now headed a rival Klan group.
Duke invited Wilkinson to a remote Alabama farmhouse where he offered to sell for $35,000 his secret membership list-a cardinal offense for a Klan leader who had promised to keep his members’ names secret at all costs. Wilkinson had feigned interest, but secretly invited two reporters to witness the transaction. Duke and his disciple, Don Black, were caught on video and audiotape as they handed a brown paper bag filled with index cards with his members’ names to Wilkinson. Three days later, after Duke’s sellout had received national publicity, he publicly announced the formation of the NAAWP, attacking Wilkinson as he did so. He said he was trying to get away from “the Hollywood image” of the Klan.
In May of 1981, David Duke became involved in one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the White Nationalist movement, and considering the incredible profusion of bizarre incidents in our Movement, that’s saying a lot. This was the abortive invasion of the Caribbean island of Dominica by a team of “mercenaries” recruited from Canadian organized crime, as well as from Harold Covington’s North Carolina NSPA unit, all of whom were arrested on the word of an informer while passing through Duke’s New Orleans turf on their way to the “invasion.” Duke’s exact role in this bizarre fiasco has never been completely explained, but Duke was apparently the liaison between former [black] Dominican Prime Minister Patrick John and the “hit team.” John was seeking to overthrow the government of Eugenia Charles, and in exchange for the band of hired guns provided by Duke agreed to build a casino on the island for the Canadian mob. Presumably, somewhere along the line, Duke would have gotten a cut, or at least a line of credit. Duke’s fascination with Caribbean casino gambling appears to have roots a lot farther back than the incidents he eventually went to prison for.
Duke slithered out of this one by co-operating fully with federal prosecutors and testifying fully and extensively before a grand jury, spilling his guts under a grant of immunity. Afterward, as with so much else that is shameful and treacherous in Duke’s past, this episode was simply air-brushed out of the picture.
Tyler Bridges, who was then an investigative reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, revealed in 1989 that Duke secretly owned two companies. The first, Americana Books, sold racial books from his legislative office, in the basement of his home, which was technically illegal, although admittedly Louisiana legislators have always had a very laid-back attitude on legal matters. The second, Business Consultant & Enterprises (BC&E), was set up by Duke in 1978. Tax returns filed by the NAAWP showed that it had paid BC&E $119,625 from 1983 to 1988 for “mailing list maintenance.”
Duke’s short-lived 1979-1980 campaign for president, Bridges revealed, also had paid BC&E $19,900 to rent space in Duke’s home. “In sum,” Bridges writes in his book, “BC&E – i.e., Duke – from 1983 to 1988 [when Duke ran for president on the far-right Populist Party ticket] received $141,000 from the NAAWP and Duke’s [two] presidential campaigns.” The arrangement was apparently legal.
In 1987, Duke and Don Black traveled to Forsyth County, Ga., to take advantage of simmering racial tension between blacks and the Klan. After they were arrested and charged with reckless conduct during a shouting match with a black man, Duke set up a defense fund for himself that had an almost identical name to another fund set up to aid 62 white supremacists who’d been arrested earlier. After raising at least $8,000 from backers who mistakenly believed they were helping the 62 men arrested with Duke and Black, Duke ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. He was fined a grand total of $55.
It was in the late 1980s that Duke began a series of more serious campaigns for political office. He had enough political savvy to understand that parading around with a swastika armband, as he had done during his college days, would be counterproductive. So he toned down the vitriol and avoided the crudest rhetoric. He also dyed his hair blond and visited a plastic surgeon to reduce the size of his nose. A chin implant altered his profile and chemical peels removed bags and wrinkles around his eyes. On at least two occasions, Duke also had liposuction to his buttocks, since obviously we can’t have a Great White Leader with a fat ass, now, can we?
Duke’s 1988 Populist Party presidential campaign was a miserable failure, with him taking just 48,267 votes – 0.05 percent of the total. But he was not discouraged. And in 1989, masquerading as a born-again Republican, Duke ran for a seat in the Louisiana state legislature and narrowly beat a complacent incumbent. Up to then, a nose job was the only job that Duke had ever had. It was the beginning of David Duke’s heyday, the period when he would come to the attention of millions of people worldwide as he ran a series of high-profile political campaigns. In late 1989, just months after winning his state campaign, he announced his candidacy in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Over the course of the next year, he would raise a remarkable $2.4 million, part of it through a political advertisement that asked supporters to call a fee-charging 900 number.
In the end, he won 607,391 votes, or almost 60 percent of the white vote, but lost the primary. Duke regrouped almost immediately, running for Louisiana governor against Edwin Edwards in a campaign marked by one of the most remarkable bumper stickers in political history: “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important,” devised by anti-Duke forces urging a vote for Edwards. Running in a crowded field, Duke, came within two percentage points of Edwards, forcing him into a run-off. In the run-off, Duke captured 671,009 votes, but lost to Edwards by 22 percentage points.
During the gubernatorial campaign, Duke held rally after rally, passing large plastic buckets through the crowds to raise cash-a method of fund-raising that is illegal under both Louisiana and Federal law, which requires that officials issue cash receipts and keep records of donations. After a lengthy investigation, Duke was fined $1,111.
Next, Duke announced with great fanfare that he would seek the Republican nomination for president of the United States in 1992. But his campaign fizzled as most potential supporters backed right-wing commentator Patrick Buchanan, who espoused many of the same positions as Duke without carrying his baggage. Of course, Duke never stood a chance, but that wasn’t the point-he came out ahead no matter how he fared at the ballot box. According to Bridges’ book, Duke told an assistant that by running for president he hoped to double the size of his computerized mailing list, which by now included 125,000 names. The list would be the source of future income.
Over the years, Duke would run for political office no less than 10 times. After a while, the spectacle of Duke as a perennial candidate-a man who seemed more interested in campaigning, and living off his campaigns, than in actually winning-started to wear thin on voters. But he still wielded considerable influence in Louisiana politics. In some cases, merely dipping his toe into a political campaign gave him leverage and bargaining power with other candidates.
After briefly entering the Louisiana governor’s race in 1995, Duke dropped out and endorsed Mike Foster, a candidate who would go on to win the election. Duke’s endorsement may well have given the edge to Foster, who had cut a back-room deal with the former imperial wizard, ostensibly to rent his mailing list for some $152,000. One Duke aide, Kenny Knight, told Talk magazine that he had met Foster secretly to work out details of the deal. Knight claimed that Foster agreed to Duke’s three conditions: to switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party; to make his first act as governor the abolition of the state affirmative action program; and to never attack Duke. Knight said that Foster agreed to all three conditions. For his part, Foster did switch parties when he announced his candidacy, and then went on to eliminate the affirmative action program shortly after taking office.
Foster, who never used the list during his 1995 campaign, had attempted to hide his payment to Duke, routing it through intermediaries. After it was finally disclosed in 1999, the state Board of Ethics fined Foster $20,000 for failing to disclose the deal. Duke, meanwhile, was confronted by federal agents who asked him why he had failed to pay taxes on the income. Duke claimed his accountant had made a mistake, and hurriedly paid up his long-overdue taxes and penalties.
The high price of the mailing list-newspapers pointed out that it sold for much more than such lists normally do-raised suspicions about what it was that Foster had actually bought. Some critics suggested Duke was being paid off to stay out of the race. In any event, a federal grand jury looking into Duke’s finances queried him two times in 1999 about the mailing list he had sold to Foster. Instead of answering, Duke took the Fifth Amendment.
Duke, realizing he was a target, was worried. He confided to Lori Eden, his girlfriend at the time, that he had lost at least $50,000 at the gaming tables. “I would ask him if he wanted to go to the casino,” Eden told the Intelligence Report, “and he would say, ‘No, I can’t, because the FBI may see me, and they’re on me.’ “He knew way ahead of time that he was going to get in trouble. He made a comment to me once, ‘I do love you, but I’m going to jail.’ He also tried to hint that he wouldn’t be around. What he meant was that he was going to Russia,” added Eden, who at the time was a 33-year-old swimsuit and lingerie model with her own adult Web site. “He knew they were coming after him. So he made sure to get the hell out of here before they actually picked him up to question him.”
Eden, who would break up with Duke when he left for Russia, said that at one point in the relationship she had a pregnancy scare. Duke, a self-described pro-lifer who has railed publicly against abortion for whites for years, suggested that they travel to Paris to get her the abortion pill that was then illegal in America. “He said, I know, I’ve been through this before,’“ she recounted. “He also said that it would kill him politically.”
It was during the 1990s, specifically between 1993 and 1999, that Duke was engaged in a long-running rip-off of his followers. FBI agents reported that Duke and his colleagues cooked up a series of false excuses for beseeching the faithful for evermore funds. In one letter, for instance, he claimed he was facing financial ruin and the loss of his home. In fact, he sold his Metairie home at a profit shortly after that letter and bought a larger residence in Mandeville, La. His staff “would laugh at the often untruthful excuses Duke concocted,” an FBI affidavit said. Some of the proceeds from these bogus direct mail appeals were deposited in a bank account that was under the name of an ex-girlfriend, but controlled by Duke, who maintained “in excess of 30 credit cards,” according to the FBI. During just one 16-month period, Duke collected $230,000 in small checks from his supporters.
Duke was simultaneously undergoing something of a political metamorphosis-or more accurately, a dropping of the mask. Since leaving the Klan, he had worked endlessly to put his Klan and especially his National Socialist past behind him. But in 1998, he self-published his autobiography, entitled My Awakening. The book, which Duke enthusiastically predicted would “change the course of history,” did nothing of the kind. One reviewer said of My Awakening, “It’s all right, the political and racial parts of it, although it’s all been said before and better by others. Large sections of it are basically just narcissistic bullshit with Duke breaking his arm patting himself on the back. It certainly doesn’t justify or ameliorate the harm Duke has done to the Movement with his constant financial and sexual misbehavior.”
This did not preclude Duke from starting in early 2000 the National Organization for European American Rights (NOFEAR), which purported to be a group devoted to pursuing “civil rights” for whites, not to hating anyone. The next year, after a sporting goods company sued Duke over the use of its name, NOFEAR would be renamed the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO).
On Nov. 16, 2000, a dozen federal agents raided Duke’s two-story home in Mandeville and carted away 22 boxes of papers, computer discs, credit card records and other documents. Roy Armstrong, his long-time bodyguard and chauffeur, was there during the search and termed it a mere “fishing expedition.” But Duke wasn’t about to be reeled in-he was in Russia on his fourth visit, and he would not return to the United States until reaching a plea agreement in December 2002.
From a safe distance, Duke insisted on his innocence. “Make no mistake about it,” he would write in a NOFEAR newsletter, “this probe is nothing more than a political assassination on the part of government officials who are seeking to silence my voice on our European heritage and rights.” In the meantime, he said, he was moving to Moscow “to struggle against people of other colors and Jews.”
It is clear that Duke understood perfectly that he was in trouble back home. That’s why he spent the next two years traveling in Russia and throughout Europe, giving speeches and hobnobbing with other extremists. For some reason which was never explained, the government never issued a federal fugitive warrant or asked the State Department to cancel his passport. Overall, he sought to give the impression that he was devoted to building a transnational movement. The reality, however, was that Duke spent most of his time selling his books, meeting privately with prominent rightists, and giving talks.
He was also desperately seeking a Russian or Eastern European woman willing to marry him, in order to obtain permanent citizenship in Russia or some other Eastern European country, before his passport expired and he was forced to either return to the United States or commit a clear federal felony by being abroad without a valid travel document, thus handing the government a handle on him and allowing them to issue a federal fugitive warrant. However, for once, Duke’s magnetic sex appeal seems to have failed him. Duke complained to his followers back home that while young and beautiful candidates for matrimony abounded, none of them wanted to remain in Mother Russia with him. Hard-headed, practical and every bit as mercenary as he was, those Russian beauties were all looking for a green card to come to America, not shelter a fugitive American back home in Bumfucksk with no solid source of income.
By late 2002, with his passport almost expired, Duke’s attorney was negotiating a plea agreement for his client, who had grown tired of being a nationalist without a nation. When news of the plea became public, Vince Breeding, national director of EURO, said Duke was pleading because he would surely lose in court at the hands of a mostly black jury. This is probably true. It is also certainly true that Duke was guilty as sin of embezzlement and monumental deceit and dishonesty, and he would have been convicted by an all-White jury as well. EURO communiqués painted the group’s founder as “a living martyr for our cause.” (Breeding, the former lead guitarist in a Satanic rock band called Acheron, was later expelled from Duke’s EURO organization when he was caught running an internet porno operation off the group’s servers–and not giving Duke a cut.)
On Dec. 14th, 2002, Duke slunk into a federal courthouse in New Orleans and pleaded guilty to tax evasion and mail fraud–ripping off hundreds of thousands of dollars from earnest white supremacist donors who thought they were helping Duke to save the white race. Instead, as Duke admitted in the allocution for his guilty pleas, he had cynically raised money by using a series of lies-and then blown it at casino craps tables. Under the terms of his plea bargain, he received a slap on the wrist sentence of 15 months in a low security prison.
It is a testament to the enduring quality of David Duke’s hokum that while he was in prison, he continued to raise money by mail. (This is what the Jews call chutzpah, and Duke has enough of it for a dozen rabbis.) When he was released in May of 2004, it was ostensibly to a halfway house that he apparently never even bothered to check into, and no one knows how he got away with that.
David Duke hit the ground running, and in one of the most ghastly and surreal episodes in Movement history, he was welcomed back into the fold with open arms at a gala event by 400 supporters, hosted at a New Orleans luxury hotel, while some of the biggest names in the Movement gathered around this self-admitted thief on the speaker’s platform and eulogized him to the stars. He was also spotted in a riverboat casino barely a month after his release, a dizzy blonde on his arm and rollin’ dem bones like there was no tomorrow.
How does he get away with it? It is difficult not to speculate that Duke’s surgically-enhanced handsome good looks have something to do with it, appealing to the homoerotic dimension that always lurks beneath the surface of the White Nationalist movement. It’s like an abused spouse who refuses to leave her abuser. He beats her, she sees the lipstick on his collar and smells the liquor on his breath, she knows he’s cheating on her and drinking up the rent money, yet she just keeps on bleating “But he’s my husband! He’s promised me he’ll change, and this time I believe him!” The man’s arrogance and his contempt for his supporters is nothing short of breathtaking–and they lap it up like candy and beg for more.
David Duke has been globetrotting around Europe again for almost two years now, living off donations he receives from the United States, sale of his books, etc. Precisely how a convicted federal felon managed to obtain a passport from the State Department is a question which the Movement has apparently decided not to examine to closely. Or examine at all.
Once again, David Ernest Duke is doing what he does best. He’s getting away with it.