Add to the growing list of candidates considering a bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012 America’s most famous white-power advocate: David Duke.
A former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and Republican executive-committee chairman in his district until 2000, Duke has a significant following online. His videos go viral. This month, he’s launching a tour of 25 states to explore how much support he can garner for a potential presidential bid. He hasn’t considered running for serious office since the early '90s, when he won nearly 40 percent of the vote in his bid for Louisiana governor. But like many “white civil rights advocates,” as he describes himself to The Daily Beast, 2012 is already shaping up to be a pivotal year.
Former (and current) Neo Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Confederates, and other representatives of the many wings of the “white nationalist” movement are starting to file paperwork and print campaign literature for offices large and small, pointing to rising unemployment, four years with an African-American president, and rampant illegal immigration as part of a growing mound of evidence that white people need to take a stand.
Most aren’t winning—not yet. But they’re drawing levels of support that surprise and alarm groups that keep tabs on the white-power movement (members prefer the terms “racial realist” or “white nationalist”). In May, the National Socialist Movement’s Jeff Hall hit national headlines in a bizarre tragedy: his murder, allegedly at the hands of his 10-year-old son. But before his death, he had campaigned for a low-level water board position in Riverside, California. The swastika-wearing plumber who patrolled the U.S. border paramilitary-style walked away with almost 30 percent of his community’s vote. “That’s a sizable amount of the vote for a person running openly as a Neo Nazi,” says Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. While Hall’s political future—and life—has been cut short, Mayo points out that we should expect more white supremacist hopefuls next year.
Mayo and others date the current spike to 2008, and the election of the country’s first African-American president (an historic marker accompanied by a surge in the percentage of U.S. children born to minorities in 2008—48 percent, compared to 37 percent in 1990). “The immediate reaction after Obama was elected was of rage. They feel if a black man can get elected to office, why can’t someone who represents white interests?” Just a few weeks after Obama’s election, Duke gathered followers in Memphis to expressly strategize what to do next. The solution? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Billy Roper, at the White Heritage Days Festival (left) on September 18, 2004. Former Ku Klux Klan leader and congressional candidate David Duke speaks on "Meet the Press." March 28, 1999 (right)., Photos from left: David S. Holloway / Getty Images; Richard Ellis / Getty Images
What followed in 2010, say extremism watchers, was the biggest electoral push by white supremacists in years. “We’ve seen increasing numbers of white supremacists and others on the radical right running for electoral office for several years now and we likely had more in the last election than in any other in recent memory,” says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Although extremely few of these people are elected, especially if their views become known during the campaign, the fact that there are so many openly running for public office reflects the growth of white nationalism over the last 10 years.”
Potok’s group tracked 23 candidates in 2010 with radical right-wing views, nine of whom they described as white supremacists or white nationalists. (The others had extreme immigration and world-conspiracy views but did not specifically have links to white organizations.) One candidate, the neo-Confederate Loy Mauch, won a seat in the Arkansas House of Representatives, and another, James C. Russell, who has denounced interracial marriage, garnered 37 percent of the vote in his quest for the New York House of Representatives. Some candidates benefited from a new umbrella organization—the A3P, or American Third Position—which was launched in 2010 by a handful of wonkish-looking professors and corporate lawyers to, as they wrote in their mission statement, “represent the political interests of White Americans.” One of their political hopefuls, Atlee Yarrow, who has filed paperwork to run for Florida governor in 2014, says the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed A3P as a hate group “but it has open membership that mirrors the NAACP. They can have identity politics, but if white people do, it’s considered racist.”
“Many of our people are involved in the Tea Party,” says Black. “But much of their leadership is skittish when it comes to talking about racial realities. The Tea Party is a healthy movement but many are too conditioned to run like scared rabbits when called racists.”
Disappointed with Ron and Rand Paul and other leaders who they feel are close, but not close enough, to their views—the A3P has fielded candidates like Harry Bertram, who ran for the West Virginia board of education last fall, pulling down 14 percent of the vote. He’s now angling for governor. “My platform is conservative like the Tea Party but more racialist inclined,” Bertram says. Another A3P candidate won 11 percent of the vote in a recent run for a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Those numbers are small, but hardly laughable, especially for a new group explicitly running on a white-interest ticket. “We’re just beginning,” says board member Jamie Kelso, who says the group’s platform includes a complete moratorium on immigration. “But we’re filling a void.”
Some candidates for 2012 are already filling paperwork. “White people need to wake up to the fact that we’re becoming a minority in our country,” says John Abarr, a 41-year-old former organizer for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, has filed to begin raising money for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat. He’s not worried that the Republican Party isn’t backing him: “I don’t think public opinion is all that much against us. Montanans are independent thinkers.” His key platform? Abolish the Fed, raise the military age to 21 to stop what he calls the “barbaric” practice of sending teenagers to war, end the death penalty, legalize marijuana (he doesn’t smoke or drink himself), establish a 5 percent flat tax, and help whites by fighting entitlements (like affirmative action and immigration) that he says favor minorities. He describes the Klan as a Christian, white civil-rights organization, and glosses over the brutality that has earned the group its bad name. “I can’t agree with lynching anybody for any reason, but that was a different time in our history.” He adds: “We already have a black president, and I’m not sure when we’ll have a white president elected again.”
Another self-described blue-collar, pro-white candidate is The Nationalist Party of America’s Billy Roper. After a long career in neo-Nazi organizations and failing spectacularly in his bid for Arkansas governor in 2010, Roper and a fellow “White Aryan” veep candidate are promising on their 2012 website to continue the fight “for the civil rights of Americans of European ancestry.” Now supported by the A3P, he ran as a write-in candidate for governor, he says, to learn the ropes for 2012. He’s faced censorship, and has come to see it as a political plus. “Let’s just say Facebook wasn’t founded by the Irish. Hundreds of white nationalists like myself have had our pages and profiles deleted, disabled, or frozen. It teaches newcomers that censorship really does exist, and just hardens our resolve.”
One key precinct for politically minded white-rights activists: Stormfront, the nation’s largest white-supremacist website, where thousands of “racial realists” talk about everything from homeschooling and the news to uniting into a single party. Stormfront founder and radio host Don Black tells The Daily Beast the strategy is to start from the ground up, “where we have a chance of winning. It’s impossible to get into the Senate or Congress but state legislatures or smaller offices can work.” Black says the Tea Party’s influence spurred hopes among his ideological soulmates—but that the initial excitement has given way to a realpolitik sense that the Stormfront crowd will have to go it alone. “Many of our people are involved in the Tea Party,” says Black. “But much of their leadership is skittish when it comes to talking about racial realities. The Tea Party is a healthy movement but many are too conditioned to run like scared rabbits when called racists.”
No office is too small. The Neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement’s “Sergeant” Harriet Paletti in Wisconsin, a bubbly working mom with three kids, only takes off her swastika when she’s at work. She’ll be running for her district’s alderman position in 2012 and has just sent in her résumé to the mayor of New Berlin, hoping to fill a seat on either the Crime Prevention Committee, Police and Fire Commission, or the Parks and Recreation Board. “These are volunteer positions which of course will boost my political résumé when I begin my campaign in late 2012.” If and when elected, she says she’ll represent everyone in her mostly white district, regardless of color. She just doesn’t believe in intermingling in private life, part of what she calls a “natural law of self segregation.”
Another NSM leader, Brian Culpepper, says his chapter in Tennessee may openly field a candidate for the state and U.S. House of Representatives. Culpepper describes himself as a “realist,” saying he prefers sneaking candidates into office under the radar rather than openly flouting the white-rights agenda. The same is true of the United Klans of Tennessee, which says it has several mayors and county commissioners serving who do not openly identify as Klan members. “We insert ourselves into the infrastructure of other established parties due to the bias against us and the difficulty of third parties getting ballot access,” says Culpepper. Unlike other Neo-Nazis in his group, these ones are not on NSM rosters and “have hair, no ink, no piercings, and increasingly are college-degreed” says Culpepper, who says he is also a “suit and tie” guy and does not favor bomber jackets. Some Neo-Nazis have also quietly been joining national campaigns and offices to start sharpening their political teeth, he claims. “We have people working with the most recent incoming class of freshmen in the House,” says Culpepper. “And they don’t even know it.”
A Duke candidacy could have a galvanizing effect. He has been living in Europe in recent years, but maintains a high profile—and stokes his fan base--online. Duke says there is nothing wrong with a white political bloc. “I have no hatred of anyone,” Duke says. “Just a love of my heritage and values.”