David Duke Guilty of Corruption, Continues Cons
The guilty plea of white supremacist David Duke for corruption is only the latest episode in the life of a voracious con man
By Martin A. Lee
David Duke knew exactly what he wanted when he strolled into the Washington, D.C., area office of the neo-Nazi National Alliance in the mid-1970s. It was his first meeting with William Pierce, the Alliance's founder and Duke's senior by nearly 20 years, but the rising star of the Ku Klux Klan wasn't shy about what he was there for: Would the former physics professor share his membership list?
The answer, of course, was no. Pierce had promised to keep his supporters' names confidential. And anyway, mailing lists are the stock-in-trade for hate group leaders, critically important to building a movement and especially to raising money. Virtually no white supremacist is ready to give away his financial lifeline.
But Duke was not to be deterred, according to an associate of the Alliance leader. As soon as Pierce left for lunch, the handsome young Klansman talked Pierce's secretary into making him a copy of the list. When Pierce returned, he was furious. Pierce, who died last July, would never fully trust Duke again.
There was a time when David Ernest Duke was headed for superstardom as America's leading extremist, a neo-Nazi-cum-Klansman-cum-radical-populist who astonished the political world by winning 670,000 votes — almost 55% of the state's white ballots — in a 1991 bid to become governor of Louisiana.
He was described as "the most effective spokesman for disaffected whites since Alabama Gov. George Wallace," a white supremacist who had the potential to win major elective office, the man who had moved the Klan from white sheets to dark suits and ties. Just last fall, a close associate lionized Duke as a key "rallying figure" for racists.
Those kinds of accolades were once quite true. But today, thanks to his habit of ripping off even his ideological comrades, Duke's world has collapsed.
On Dec. 14, after more than two years of avoiding prosecution by living in Russia and a series of other European countries, David Duke returned to the land of his birth. Four days after paying a visit to his ailing father in New Jersey, he 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 the one-time globe-trotting jetsetter would admit sheepishly in court, he had cynically raised money by using a series of lies — and then blown it at casino craps tables.
It was only the latest episode in the life of a man who has never really worked for a living. "David Duke has been a professional racist for his entire adult life," said Tyler Bridges, author of The Rise of David Duke, the definitive 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."
As it turns out, Duke, 52, 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.
From his formative years as a university neo-Nazi 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.
"He is a consummate confidence man," a law enforcement official involved in building the latest case against Duke told the Intelligence Report. "He gets people to believe that he's doing their work with their money. And he's not, period."
Money, Sex and Celebrity
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, the book said.
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 racist underground.
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 would grow weary of his self-serving personality. 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 what would soon become Duke's notorious womanizing.
"I idolized Duke when I was younger. I looked up to him," the Rev. Johnny Lee Clary, who served as Duke's bodyguard in the late 1970s but later became an anti-racist activist, said in an interview. "He would get up and wave the Bible around and talk about Christian values. But when I got to know him on a personal level, I saw what he was really like, and it disgusted me. ... I traveled alongside Duke and I watched him at work. I saw him take a Klansman's wife to his hotel room."
Duke, then a married man with two children, pursued female sex partners so avidly and so openly that it embarrassed many of his closest colleagues. Metzger, then Duke's state leader in southern California, became livid when Duke showed up for a 1977 Klan anti-immigrant "border watch" stunt and immediately started hitting on women.
"We used to tell people, 'When Duke comes to town make sure your wife is safely locked up and don't let him near your daughters,'" Metzger recalled.
Duke did have his limits, however, generally confining himself to "Aryan" types. One legislative aide told John Maginnis, author of the Duke profile Cross to Bear, how she learned of Duke's amatory preferences during a bizarre date in Baton Rouge.
The two were having lunch, she said, "when he started explaining to me that blond, blue-eyed Scandinavian-looking people were God's chosen people, that they were made in his image. He said that God didn't want to dilute this perfection, so we should only mate with others of our kind. He then asked me if I wanted to mate with him. It was the weirdest come-on line I've ever heard."
Duke would also develop a life-long weakness for gambling. Maginnis quotes a Las Vegas regular who once spotted Duke on a Mississippi gambling cruise boat. "There was David Duke," the man told Maginnis. "But he looked like Edwin [Edwards, the corrupt Louisiana governor who would later go to prison]. He had a babe on each arm and he was shooting craps and betting pretty heavy."
Duke tried to cash in on his alleged expertise beneath the sheets by writing Finders-Keepers, a sex manual for women ("You must love sex for its own sake," he wrote). Published in 1976 under a pseudonym, this tawdry guide advocated one-night stands, adultery, and anal and oral sex. A bestseller it was not, but the Knights' imperial wizard had other fundraising scams up his robed sleeve.