Republican frontrunner Donald Trump received a controversial “endorsement” from David Duke in late February. Duke, a self-described “racial realist,” is a former Grand Wizard, or national leader, of a Louisiana-based national Ku Klux Klan organization, and served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1989 to 1993. Trump only denounced Duke and his endorsement after severe media pressure, and Duke maintains that he endorsed Trump’s hardline immigration stance rather than the candidate himself, but has said that whites not voting for Trump were committing “treason to [their] heritage.”
Here’s what you need to know about him:
David Duke’s Activism
Duke founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a Louisiana-based organization claiming to inherit the legacy of the original Klan, in 1974. Duke’s Klan became notable for a radically different approach, ditching the white robes for a shirt-and-tie look. Duke also softened, somewhat, the group’s ton, allowing women and Catholics full membership and describing himself as “pro-white” rather than racist. His activity, however, remains firmly anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant, providing financial support to Holocaust deniers and calling immigration a threat to “the very existence of our genotype.”
David Duke left the Klan in 1980 over an inability to stop Klan violence, founding the National Association for the Advancement of White People. He also regularly coordinates with Don Black, founder of Stormfront, an Internet message board described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as ‘the Net’s first ever and best-known American hate site.”
Duke’s Political Career
After a series of unsuccessful runs for state and national offices and a disastrous run for President in 1988, Duke switched from the Democratic to Republican Party and won a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1989. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Duke had an uneventful legislative career, unsuccessfully proposing bills to toughen drug penalties and drug-test welfare recipients.
After narrowly losing a gubernatorial race in 1991, Duke mounted a campaign for President in 1992 but was undercut by similar but less extreme proposals by Pat Buchanan. Other political campaigns have been largely inconsequential.
Prison & Europe
In 2002, Duke pled guilty to mail and tax fraud charges stemming from illicit fundraising activities. Duke told his supporters he was in dire financial straits and desperately needed money, eventually collecting nearly $50,000 from his supporters, which he used for personal investments and vacations. Duke was released in 2004.
Duke has since gained a large following in Europe, teaching and receiving a Ph.D. from the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management, described as both a “university of hate” by the Anti-Defamation League and a “diploma mill” by the United States Department of State. Duke refers to himself as “Dr. David Duke” on his website, citing this diploma.
Ukraine has been unusually warm to Duke among European countries: the Czech Republic arrested and deported him under its Holocaust denial laws in 2009, and Switzerland issued a ban on Duke’s entry throughout the 26-nation Schengen Area in 2009, resulting in his expulsion from Italy in 2013.