During his high-flying career as a professional white supremacist, David Duke made several trips to Europe in an effort to raise his international profile. Of all the countries he visited, Duke had the highest hopes for Russia, where he preached to the anti-Semitic choir about "the Aryan race's main enemy — world Zionism!"
Russia holds the "key to white survival," he declared while touring Moscow after the Cold War ended. Praising Moscow as the "Whitest" capital city in Europe, he added: "Russia has a greater sense of racial understanding among its population than does any other predominantly White nation."
If a "racially aware," patriotic party came to power in Russia, Duke effused, it could cause "a domino effect that would cascade through the whole world."
Duke traveled to Russia for the first time in September 1995. There he met Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the bombastic neofascist leader who played upon the wounded pride and deep despair that engulfed post-Soviet Russia, which was reeling from the whiplash transition from Communism to "savage capitalism."
Two years earlier, "Vlad the Mad" had shocked the world when his misnamed Liberal Democratic Party topped all other contestants with 23% of the vote in Russia's parliamentary elections. Zhirinovsky's prescription for Russia was simple: "We must deal with minorities as America did with the Indians and Germany did with the Jews."
Zhirinovsky exchanged views with his American guest and found they had a lot in common. "We're nationalists," Duke explained later. "And Zhirinovsky is very protective of what you might call the white race." The Russian demagogue commended Duke, calling him his favorite American politician.
With his legal problems mounting at home, Duke brought his snake-oil sales pitch back to Russia in August 1999. While in Moscow, he befriended several anti-Semitic leaders, including Gen. Albert Makashov, head of the ultranationalist wing of the Communist Party, who urged his followers to kill Jews: "Round up all the Yids and send them to the next world!"
It may seem odd that Duke, an ardent anti-Communist, should have found a soul-mate in Makashov, a Communist member of the Duma (Russia's parliament) who dreamed of resurrecting the USSR. Yet the two men got along famously when they discussed "the new world order orchestrated by Jews" at the editorial offices of Zavtra ("Tomorrow"), Moscow's main ultranationalist newspaper, where a young Russian aide could be seen wearing a David Duke button.
Duke returned to Moscow the following year to promote the Russian edition of his new book, The Jewish Question through the Eyes of an American. (Actually, the book was a translation of several chapters of Duke's 1998 autobiography.)
The first 5,000 copies sold out quickly and subsequent printings were available at kiosks and book stalls, along with dozens of other anti-Semitic titles, including Hitler's Mein Kampf and the notorious Czarist-era forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Duke's racist screed was even available in the bookstore of the Duma.
"It was a very big hit," Duke said in a December interview. "My book is sold all over Russia. You can buy it anywhere on the streets of Moscow."
Dr. Duke, I Presume?
While in Russia, Duke catered to the deep-rooted anti-Semitism that had long been a potent force in that country's history. At the time, widespread economic and social deprivation had strengthened the hand of neo-Nazi cadres and Skinhead gangs that terrorized ethnic minorities and foreigners in the Russian capital.
For the most part, Duke kept a relatively low profile, preferring to meet privately with extremist politicians and small groups of hard-core activists, such as Semyon Tokmakov, the shaven-headed deputy director of the People's National Party, a neo-Nazi youth group. Tokmakov, who typically wore camouflage pants, a black armband, and a knife on his belt, had served time in a Russian jail for severely beating a black Marine guard from the U.S. embassy in 1998.
Duke offered public relations tips to his Russian comrades on how to market hate. But his experience as "a well-known American patriot," as Duke was described on an Internet chat forum for Russian Skinheads, had only limited relevance to the political situation in Russia.
After hearing him speak and reading his book, Zavtra Editor Alexander Prokhanov, one of the most influential figures on the ultranationalist scene, concluded that Duke's ideas were hardly original. "All things that are said in the book are as old as time," Prokhanov shrugged.
Duke was on his fourth visit to Russia when his house in Louisiana was besieged by federal agents in November 2000. Fearing that he'd be arrested and sent to prison if he returned to the United States, he decided to remain overseas. Russian authorities never granted him a residency permit, but they allowed him to travel freely to other countries.
Duke would spend the next two years in unofficial exile, a white nationalist without a nation, crisscrossing Europe, the former Soviet Union, and points beyond.
Wherever he went, Duke tried to pass himself off as a respected American author and politician. He found a gullible audience in Kiev, where Duke received an honorary degree in political science from the National Academy of Management, a private Ukrainian university with close ties to the Arab world. "They asked me to give a couple of lectures, which I did, and they published my articles in the university magazine," Duke said. "They also reprinted my book in Ukrainian."
Outside the former Soviet Union, Duke's main base of operations was northern Italy, where he lived part time. Through contacts among right-wing extremists in Verona and the Milan area, Duke found a publisher for a forthcoming Italian version of his book.
According to Duke, translations of the book will soon be available in several more languages. "I'm certain it will be published in Arabic," he said, "but nothing is settled yet."
Italy and Beyond
From his perch in northern Italy, Duke traveled to Austria, Switzerland, Romania, and other European countries where right-wing extremist parties have been flexing their muscles at the ballot box. He turned up in Germany at a convention hosted by the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) on Aug. 3, 2002. Two thousand NPD militants converged in Koenigslutter, Lower Saxony, for a day of rabble-rousing speeches, folk music, and various outdoor activities. For Duke, it was an opportunity to renew old ties and forge new contacts with neofascist leaders from Germany and elsewhere.
In France, Duke claims to have a good rapport with Front National leader Jean Marie Le Pen and his top deputy, Bruno Gollnisch, who currently serves in the European Parliament. A photo of Le Pen with his arm around Duke is posted on the website of EURO, Duke's Louisiana-based "white rights" organization.
Last summer, EURO announced that in the interests of free speech it was going to host the Web site of Radical Unity, a French hate group recently outlawed by the government after one of its members tried to assassinate French President Jacques Chirac.
Last year, Duke also attended an international "revisionist" conference in Moscow, where a rogue's gallery of Holocaust deniers took aim at the gargantuan Jewish conspiracy that supposedly rules the world. Jürgen Graf, a Swiss fugitive who currently resides in Teheran, chaired this event, which was co-sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Barnes Review. Duke spoke on "The Zionist Factor in the USA."
Another American author, Michael Collins Piper, claimed that Israeli spies were behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (Piper writes for the anti-Semitic publication American Free Press.) Several Russian speakers ruminated on globalization and the Zionist menace.
Ahmed Rami, a Moroccan native who now lives in Sweden and runs a major Holocaust denial Web site, thrilled the home crowd when he said that Russia is the only country that can stop the perilous march of globalization.
Inventing an Expert
In the wake of Sept. 11, Duke began touting himself as "one of the leading commentators in the world on the Mideast conflict." He became an avid purveyor of the conspiracy theory that Israel was complicit in the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Published by the on-line version of the Russian newspaper Pravda (the former mouthpiece of the Communist Party), Duke's essay about Israel and 9-11 found a sympathetic audience in Russia and parts of the Muslim world as well.
Most recently, Discover Islam, a group of businessmen and professionals eager to popularize Islamic culture, invited Duke to lecture in Bahrain, a small but wealthy Persian Gulf state, last November. Duke alleged there that "the Zionist-controlled media" was stirring up animosity between Christians and Muslims, who should work together against the Jewish archenemy.
He also trumpeted the usual medley of anti-Semitic canards when interviewed on Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite TV network, during his visit to the Persian Gulf. Duke's appearance on Al-Jazeera prompted a protest by the U.S. State Department.
As 2002 drew to a close, David Duke finally decided he'd had enough of his international travels, returning home to ignominiously plead guilty to two felony charges of tax and mail fraud.
But at least some staunch allies quickly leapt to his defense, despite Duke's admission that he had ripped off his supporters, spending their donations on personal investments and at the gaming tables.
Duke was prison-bound, according to EURO National Director Vincent Breeding, because the U.S. government wanted to silence him to keep the truth about Sept. 11 under wraps.