Editor's Note: This transcript was automatically transcribed, so mistakes are inevitable. You can contribute by proofreading the transcript or highlighting the mistakes. Sign up to be amongst the first contributors.
This episode is brought to you by Wire Cutter, the product review service from The New York Times. Like everything in twenty twenty, this back to school season is a little off. It's hard to know what school supplies to buy, where to get them, if you'll be able to use them and whether you even needed them in the first place. That's where wire cutter comes in. Wire Cutter is full of in-depth buying guides on everything you need to start this bizarre school year, right?
The best laptops and webcams for kids learning from home, the best backpacks, lunch boxes and water bottles for kids heading back to school in person, and all of those dorm essentials for college freshmen. They answer the questions you have and the ones you haven't thought to ask. Also, you don't have to worry about what you're buying or run all over the Internet looking for the best price. So whether you're sending a college freshman across the country or a kindergartener across the hall, check out wire her first.
To be sure you're getting the very best recommendations for any school situation. Check out wire cutters, back to school coverage and more at NY Times dot com, back to school.
Hey, slow burn listeners. We've got something different for you this time out. This week, you'll get to hear a preview of our bonus episodes for Slate Plus Members special shows where we go deeper into our story.
Stay tuned for excerpts from my conversations with and leave the Holocaust survivor who confronted David Duke in 1989, Eli Saslow, who wrote a great book about the modern white nationalist movement, and Topher Grace, who played Duke in the Spike Lee film Black Klansmen. But first, I want to introduce you to someone you've probably never heard of. Her name is Joanna Burnett, and I've been thinking about her a lot as I've been working on this season of Slow Burn.
Joanna is three years older than I am. And like me, she grew up in New Orleans. In 1989, when she was 12, she did something really gutsy. It all started when she noticed that one particular story was dominating the local news.
I remember it was almost every single day there was coverage on this former Ku Klux Klansman who was running for office in an American city.
Joanna was looking for a topic for her school's social studies fair when David Duke won his race for the state House of Representatives. She knew what she wanted to do. I just found his name and number in the White Pages, and I think I was surprised it was just right there. On March 12th, 1989, she grabbed a tape recorder and her parents speakerphone and headed out to the garage and then she started dialing.
Hi, my name is Joanna Burnet after David Duke's number several times today. And I've gotten was. A telephone right after about 10 tries, somebody picked up, is David Duke over there? Yeah, he is. This is David Duke, huh? Yes, sir. This is David Duke. Yes.
Like like this is David Duke. Really? Finally, OK. And then I just immediately start asking questions.
How do you think you got elected, huh? How do you think you got elected? I got people away from the government for what I said. OK, but OK. You say you're not like, you know, like a bigot anymore, but everyone was thinking, OK, but you call yourself a racialist myself a right of a right, because I believe in equal rights for what I call Joanna is black.
And she knew that Duke had been in the Ku Klux Klan, but she says she wasn't afraid of him. I think I was just still really puzzled and trying to understand, you know, this person's type of thinking. Duke, in turn, wanted to get inside. Joanna's had to do that. He needed to know who he was talking to.
Do you think that you should be for the Louisiana legislative? Of course. I think one of her important work is for the social studies project. What's. I've been Mansori over 12, Duke spoke in a calm, even tone. He told Joanna that he opposed forced integration of education. He said that the best qualified people should get jobs and promotions and scholarships and that racial discrimination goes on today in America against white people in those areas. When Joanna asked if he'd really changed since leaving the Klan, he turned the question back around.
Well, I think that we all change and I think that we all grow. And I think that my statements have been recorded and photographed. I think I'm sure there are some things in your life that maybe you change if you could, but you've done or to individuals or your parents or teachers or from. Joanna was skeptical she'd heard a lot of stories about Duke's past and she wanted answers. She asked him about his use of racial slurs, whether he'd been affiliated with a Nazi group and if his wife had left him because he was in the Klan.
Duke denied everything.
He was defensive and cagey and manipulative. He also criticized the 12 year olds interviewing technique.
All you're doing this interview repeating allegations made against me by the media.
Duke went on a three minute diatribe complaining that the media didn't focus on positive things like his academic record. He said that any important person has things in their past that would be controversial, never compare myself to his face.
But imagine what you could have written about Christ if you were a person that didn't like him. And in fact, Christ lied about that. They crucified the man and made people hate him so much.
Duke told Joanna that she needed to have an open mind. He suggested that she place an order at his bookstore, the same place where Bath Rickey would purchase Nazi books.
A short while later, the title he recommended was Race and Reason. Duke had read it when he was about Joanna's age. The author, Carlton Putnam, believed that black Americans were genetically inferior to whites. Did you ever pick up the book Race and Reason Now? No, I haven't.
No, no. Duke, talk to Joanna Burnett for 20 minutes that night. She's not sure why he stayed on the phone that long. She thinks the Duke may have thought she was white and that she'd pass on his talking points to her parents.
Joanna's parents weren't Duke supporters. They did believe in good manners, though, and they asked their daughter to write Duke a thank you note. Duke printed Joanna's letter and her home address in the newsletter for the National Association for the Advancement of White People.
I received at least three letters that I remember from prisoners, from inmates telling me that they were, you know, five foot whatever or six foot whatever, brown hair, blue eyes and, you know, there Aryan.
There's a moment at the very end of Joanna's tape that really got to me, it comes when our conversation with Duke is over, but before she stops her recorder. Thank you. You're very welcome. You heard it. Maybe not quite well, and that you can look at two sides of every sign. He was just getting his points through, you should look at two sides of every story. Joanna Burnett was puzzling through her conversation with David Duke in real time.
Like, I mean, this is saying I should get the foot race and reason and you should learn and listen to both sides of an argument. Yes, but should I really be letting David Duke tell me this? Yeah. Should we be letting David Duke give us his side of the argument? I've thought about that question a lot as I've been doing my own research. It's standard practice in journalism to reach out to any subject you're reporting on. For one thing, people have a right to respond to accusations you're making against them.
Plus, a story typically benefits from the perspective of its main subject. But David Duke is not a typical subject. Consider Tom Snyder's interview with Duke on NBC's Tomorrow show in 1974, the one you heard in Episode two, where the host in the White Nationalists sounded almost chummy. I got about five of the biggest classman that I know of, a couple on the football team. We saw your brothers playing football in over the holiday in the Ballgame game in May have won.
One of the black guys tell you that? You don't have to tell me that. Snyder introduced Duke to a huge new audience, and I don't think he understood the gravity of that choice. The thirty seven year old late night host wasn't as prepared as the 12 year old Joanna Burnett, he allowed Duke to define himself and to spread his white nationalist message nationwide. Other TV anchors have done a much better job confronting Duke. You'll hear about one of them later in our series.
But sometimes the best choice is to keep someone like Duke off the stage entirely. And that's why I won't be interviewing David Duke for this season of Slow Burn in the episodes we've already released. You've heard plenty of Duke's voice. I don't think there's any doubt about what he believed in the 70s, 80s, 90s or today. Duke told Joanna Burnett that we all change and grow, but he's still using whatever platform he has to foment racism and anti-Semitism.
Duke is also congenitally dishonest. He made himself a mainstream political candidate by lying about his views and his background, his goal in interviews isn't to explain himself, it's to manipulate the record. I'm doing this series because I think the Duke phenomenon warrants close scrutiny and because the ideas he espouses are still with us and still dangerous. But Duke, the politician, is not currently a threat. Yes, he attached himself to the Unite the right rally in Charlottesville.
And yes, he supported Donald Trump's run for the presidency. But the last time he ran for office in 2016, he got three percent of the vote and a run for the US Senate. Talking to him now would serve no one's interest. But David Duke's will be sure to include Duke's responses to allegations leveled against him. But his core beliefs that black people are inferior to whites, that the Holocaust never happened don't deserve to be debated. And so on this podcast, we're not going to hand him the microphone.
We'll be back in a minute. What's the number one sign of a bad home security system that it's so complicated you never use it? That's exactly the type of security system that simply safe has been a decade fighting against. They believe that simple is safer, and that's why simply safe is the home security for right now. Simply safe was designed to be easy to use while protecting your whole home 24/7. Order online with the click of a button, open the box, placed the sensors, plug it in and your home is protected around the clock.
No technician or salesperson has to come and bother you, and you don't need to pay any outrageous monthly fees or sign a two year contract.
Simply Safe was named best overall home security of twenty by U.S. News and World Report and their 24/7 professional monitoring and emergency dispatch starts at 50 cents a day.
Had to simply save dotcom, slow burn and get free shipping and a 60 day money back guarantee that simply safe dotcom slow burn to make sure they know that our show saying. I'm Keegan Hamilton and I'm the host of a new series, Painkiller America's Fentanyl Crisis from Vice News and Spotify. It's about the deadliest drug in America, how we ended up in the middle of an opioid epidemic. Do you ever go to a doctor who said, no, I'm not going to give you pills?
Oh, yeah, all the time. So we just go find another one. And what happens now?
So often people struggling with opioid use disorder, they don't know how to get out. Listen to all episodes now free on Spotify. A small town, a brutal murder, the series witnessed stocks from Stitcher presents a journey into the heart of America's unfinished business. Their new podcast is called Unfinished Deep South. And it starts with one question who lynched Izidor Banks? Sixty six years after the murder of a wealthy African-American farmer in a small Arkansas town? This investigative true crime series attempts to restore the legacy of a World War One veteran who found a way to prosper in the Jim Crow South.
This story explores the system of white supremacy that surrounded banks, traced and forgotten court records, fading FBI files and testimony of elderly witnesses. It also aims to solve Izidor Banksia's murder before the case goes cold forever. Listen and subscribe to unfinished Deep South right now in Stitcher, Apple podcast, Spotify or wherever you listen. Making a show like Slow Burn requires a lot of research and interviews, material that we sift through and distill to produce our series when it's all done.
We have a ton of stuff that doesn't make it into our final episodes, but there's a huge amount of treasure and the slow burn vaults, amazing archival finds, loads of anecdotes and fascinating conversations. That's what we bring you in our bonus episodes for Slate Plus. And these weekly shows, Slow Burn producer Christopher Johnson. And I give you a behind the scenes peek at what it's like to make the show. We also run extended interviews with some of our sources so that you get to hear their stories in their own words.
Today, we're going to give you a preview of what we cover on Slate Plus. And hopefully you'll like what you hear and sign up to become a member. When I started working on this season, I knew I needed to talk to an Levie Levy as a family friend who I knew growing up in New Orleans, and I'd always heard about her famous confrontation with David Duke. What I didn't realize until our interview was how that and changed her life and how it transformed the anti-drug movement.
In this clip, you'll hear Levy talk about continuing to stand up to Duke because he threatened to win higher office.
After that, he started going around the city. You know, he'd be on the radio. And I remember I was in the car driving from the grocery store and I pulled up in front of our store and I told him I walked in and I said, Stan Getz was on the radio, David Dukes on the radio and he tenderizes. OK, go. OK, yeah. And so I went where he was speaking. And the funny part was I was sitting in the audience and as he came down, he nodded to me to say hello.
Evidentally I look familiar and I said, I'd like to talk to you afterwards, but he ignored me again. He left. He didn't want any part of me.
He was afraid of you or he didn't want the confrontation again. You know, to me, when I think about it, had he been smart, maybe he would have sat down and asked a few questions. Why was I following him?
But he didn't want any part of it, because at that time in his life and trying to be a politician, he was very actively trying to conceal what his beliefs were and what his past was. And you were kind of this reminder of who he really was.
Well, there was the whole idea. You know, he was portraying himself as one thing and we knew his history as something totally different. How could you get him to get away with that? A lot of people spoke out. I never thought I'd made such a big impression, but I guess I did. Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow was another person I really wanted to speak with. He wrote the book Rising Out of Hatred, which tells the story of Duke's godson and heir apparent, Derek Black.
Saslow reveals what happened when Derek began to question his worldview and chose to leave white supremacy behind as he followed Derek's journey, Saslow also learned a huge amount about the modern shape of white nationalism. In our conversation, which was exclusive for Slate, plus, we discussed how Duke still influences that world today. Here, Saslow talks about the strategies and language the Derek Black and David Duke used to try to build a white supremacist movement. I think the scary thing it's at the foundation for both of them is the realization that that audience is massive in the United States.
I mean, polls in the country consistently show still that about 40 percent of white people in the United States believe that they suffer more discrimination, more prejudice than people of color would use. That is insane. It's inaccurate by every measure that we have. But the fact that that degree of false white grievance continues to exist in this country means that there is a huge audience for these racist ideas if they're packaged in a way that doesn't announce themselves as explicitly racist.
The truth is, and it remains true for Derek now, even now that he's a prominent anti-racist on the other side, he still feels sure, frighteningly sure that the ugliness within our country exists to make these ideas powerful enough to drive movements and to get people elected to the biggest office in the country. So one of the things that I kept kind of rolling around in my head was, is this just a small group of people talking to each other?
Is this a massive movement? How scary and dangerous is it?
I would say that the white nationalists, that sort of politically active group, I think it's a fairly small group. I also think that it's a group that is growing in its own ways and that also is becoming more and more dangerous. I mean, we've had many massive terrorist attacks in this country by young white people who have radicalized in the darkest corners of the Internet for the most part, and have done awful things and then are talking to each other through their manifesto.
So even just as sort of like an activist terrorist group, I think it shouldn't be underestimated because the consequences are real and scary. But I think the bigger thing, frankly, is that it's a group that is by a few degrees removed from a lot of white America that continues to share a lot of the same ideas that are talked about on Stormfront and whether those are ideas about immigration and building a wall or the United States becoming too diverse or changing fundamentally from what it's been.
There's a wide sense in the country that this is a white country and that white culture is the priority. And that's because our history bears out. That's what we've been. And reconciling with these white supremacist ideas means reconciling with with what this country is foundationally. Finally, I'm going to share something from next week, Slate plus episode, which will feature my interview with actor Topher Grace, Grace played David Duke and Spike Lee's 2013 film Black Clansman. Here he is talking about the research he did to prepare for the role, including reading Duke's autobiography.
Yeah, I mean, I did a lot. I read my awakening, which was just terrible experience. If someone wrote a full book that gravity doesn't exist, it's just every page is like, you know, I'm pretty sure it does because me sitting here is evidence of it. So it's weird to read something that you feel like even just by reading it, you're complicit or something. But I thought the film was great and I wanted to do the best job I could.
I hadn't played a lot of characters that were not fictional, and even the ones I played that were based on real people weren't people that many people were aware of or were infamous. So I listened to his radio show, even though he was older when he did that kind of taught me a lot about how he spoke. You know, I showed clips of his in the 70s, read on articles about him. But then it was really I saw he had a couple of appearances on Donahue.
And I'm sure you've watched some of those, right? Yeah, that taught me the most about him because it was him interacting with the crowd. I mean, he was there for people to hate, you know, that's why Donahue brought him on. But what I noticed by the end of these episodes is that it wasn't like they were cheering for him, but he changed the temperature of the room. They were listening to him. And I thought, oh, man, this guy is a different kind of evil, like a new form of racism.
And, you know, it's not like whatever at the time was like the conception of a racist. It's a different thing. Where people are really starting to listen to him was the same thing. Black was trying to show us how that changed the course of racism in America. To listen to all of these interviews and fall and to learn more about the history we're uncovering this season and how the show gets made, you've got to sign up for Slate.
Plus, it's thirty five dollars for the first year. Fifty nine dollars after that. And your membership helps keep a slow burn running. You'll get bonus episodes for this and every other season of slow burn and you'll get to skip all the ads on all Slaid podcasts. Sign up now at Slate Dotcom slow. Burn that slate dot com slash slow burn. This week's episode of Slow Burn was produced by me, Christopher Johnson and Chow, too, with editorial direction by Lowe and Lou and Gabriel Roth.
Madeleine Ducharme is our production assistant, Sophie Sommer, gratis Laverne's assistant producer, our mix engineer is Paul Manzie. David Gross composed our theme song. The artwork for Slow Burn is by Lisa Larson. Walker, special thanks to Jordan Hirsch, Jessica Seidman and Slate's Katie Raeford, Laura Bennett, Allison Benedikt and Jared Holt. Thanks for listening.