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This podcast contains language that some listeners may find offensive. First of all, just so that I can inform the listeners where we are, would you tell us where exactly are you?
That's Peter Robinson. It was the summer of 1990, and he was working on a public radio story about David Duke's campaign for the United States Senate.
Well, you know, you're at the Hilton and what you call his head of island. And whereabouts are we headed? We're headed to a place you can't get to by land is called the Blind River Bar.
The Blind River Bar was in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, in swampland about 40 miles outside Baton Rouge. On this morning, 300 people were heading there to eat and drink and cheer on. David Duke played Robinson caught a ride to the bar on a motorized houseboat full of Duke supporters. Dukat staged a different kind of rally in Livingston Parish in 1975. Back then, Duke, the Klan leader, had burned a 40 foot cross, shouted the N-word and threatened black Americans with violence.
Give us liberty, he said, and give them death. By 1990, Duke had learned to use softer language, but the politician and his followers were still focused on the same enemy.
What is it that brings you out here today in support of David Duke? Oh, in support of David Duke, because I was a small businessman at one time. I got run out by minorities.
The man Peter Robinson was speaking with identified himself as an unemployed boiler repairman. He said America was moving in the wrong direction and the Duke could steer it back on course. I've been out of work for a year and a half and I'm still sending three contributions, they were small, but I sent them doing. Did it make you feel uncomfortable to see the photograph of him dressed in the brown uniform of a Nazi stormtrooper? It would have if I haven't if I didn't hear his explanation and believe it, but is it fair to say that you want to believe in him?
Oh, yes. Yes, it's fair. The people gathered at the Blind River Bar felt the same way the boiler repairman did, they wanted to believe in David Duke and they were tired of the media telling them that they should know better than to vote for a Klansman.
Have you ever seen an article about David Ridiculous and super size me down. Do you think anybody in the state didn't know that by now?
But Duke wasn't running away from his association with the Klan. At another speech a few hours later, he presented his Klan days as an attack on Newscaster's. She said to me, she said, Representative Duke, she said, Don't you think that it hurts your credibility that you were once in the Klan? And I answered and I said, look, man, I said, I think it proves my credibility. It proves that I'm a person that's going to stand up and say what you really think, ladies and gentlemen.
Duke was praising himself for his supposed commitment to authenticity. He said he was the only candidate who understood how white people in Louisiana truly felt.
I'm going to stand up and do I know is right. And I'm want to fight for you, to speak for you say the things. Oh, wow. That you say in your heart. Do your friends, your neighbors, a church of work. I'm saying all that out loud. I hope I'm speaking for you. And if I want to do that, I want to ask you where you do something for me and show you how to put a bumper sticker on your car.
You did. When you raise your hand and you do that for me, I want to say. That thing about bumper stickers wasn't just a line in a speech for Duke, it was an imperative. He said his fans needed to slap them on their cars and boats and trailers, no matter how much blowback they might get. A lot of Duke backers thought it was too risky to make their legions known, some who did support Duke publicly complained they'd been targeted for their political views.
One of Duke's local coordinators said yard signs were getting torn down and pelted with bullet holes. A woman outside New Orleans reported that one of her Duke signs got stolen and set on fire. And in Shreveport, Duke's campaign headquarters got tagged with big black swastikas.
I've talked to some guys who say I can't put a bumper sticker on my car. I might get a flat tire, might get a window knocked down. There's an 82 year old woman who lives in the black section of big old bumper sticker on the car yards on or from. And I know some strapping young men who put a bumper sticker on my car. No one put a bumper sticker on it.
I was 10 years old in the summer of 1990, and I don't remember following all the ins and outs of that year Senate campaign. But I'll never forget Duke's campaign signs. They were always really simple, blocky, white text on a dark blue background. In 1990, the sign said David Duke, U.S. Senate. The letters D. Uki were way bigger than everything else. Those signs and bumper stickers weren't just simple expressions of political preference, they were a way to mark territory to show who was welcome in certain parts of Louisiana and who wasn't.
St. Bernard Parish is a working class, predominantly white community just outside New Orleans, when schools in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward began to integrate in 1960, white families swarmed to the still segregated St. Bernard. They did so at the urging of the parishes, virulently racist political boss Leander Perez, who told white parents, don't wait for your daughter to be raped by these Congolese. In 1990, St. Bernard still had the feel of a white separatist enclave, and David Duke's name was wielded there as a threat.
When word got out that a black family was buying a home in a St. Bernard subdivision 13, David Duke for Senate signs popped up around the House overnight. A black pastor also had bricks thrown through his windows and David Duke written across the windshield of his car. Tammy Barnea wrote about that break incident for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Barny was the newspaper's St. Bernard bureau chief, the first black journalist to have that role. A requirement of the job was that I live in St.
Bernard Parish, and so I started looking for a place to live. I found a two bedroom house. I moved all of my things in and went to stay with my parents in New Orleans for the weekend. I came back on Sunday and when I got back to the home, my electrical wires had been cut, my cable wires had been cut, and someone had spray painted on the back leaf inward in big black letters. Barney says that when she called the sheriff's office, they told her it was just some kids and nothing to worry about.
Barney didn't let the racists run her out. She stayed in St. Bernard for three years, and she later wrote a column asking why so many white people in the parish felt an attachment to David Duke.
I actually received a letter from a gentleman who said that he lived in New Orleans and that. There were things he thought and felt about the black community that he couldn't say in New Orleans because New Orleans was run by black mayor because his neighbors were black, but that David Duke said those things for him. Duke gave a lot of people a voice, but it wasn't clear how far that voice would carry in his first statewide election. When Duke announced his run for the Senate, he'd been in the state legislature for less than a year and he hadn't accomplished anything of note there.
But he wasn't interested in biding his time on the lower rungs of the political ladder, Duke had national ambitions and a growing grassroots following what he lacked was institutional support. Duke's fellow Republicans in Louisiana hadn't taken a stand against him as the activist Beth Rickey had urged them to. But they weren't eager to be seen boosting Duke either, and the party wasn't backing him financially. The official Republican candidate was another state legislator, Ben Bagert, in Louisiana's open primary system.
Both men were running against Democratic incumbent Jay Bennett Johnston, the clear favorite. One August poll showed Johnston with 52 percent of the vote, Duke with 24 percent and Bagert in the single digits. But the pollsters had been wrong about Duke before, and it was possible they were getting it wrong again, as he barnstormed across the state, a sort of Duke mania began to take hold among white voters in Louisiana when Duke addressed his clamoring fans. He made it clear that this wasn't just a campaign, it was a cause.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, I look around this country. I love this country. And I remember thinking, I know where you once were. I want to make this great again. Ladies and gentlemen, we got to stand up for this common.
How did David Duke make himself a state wide sensation? Was he striving for political power or just for personal gain? And what message did his supporters sent to everyone else in Louisiana? This is a slow burn. I'm Josh Levine. Episode four, A Silent Army. Now is the time to catch up on the podcast you've always wanted to listen to, so many of them are available on Luminary. Luminary is a subscription podcast network with original shows you won't find anywhere else.
One of their new shows is Murder on the Towpath, a captivating true crime miniseries hosted by award winning journalist Soledad O'Brien. Murder on the Towpath explores the 1964 murder of Mary Pinchao Maya in the neighborhood of Georgetown in Washington, D.C.. Her death resulted in a trial that rocked the country in the became a time capsule of all the racial tension, scandal and distrust of the 1960s. It remains one of the most fascinating unsolved cases in U.S. history. Listen to murder on the towpath, only on Luminary Good, a luminary datalink towpath and get a seven day free trial of luminaries original podcasts.
That's luminary Linga Towpath. Cancel any time terms apply. I was in high school the first time a white friend asked me, why is everything about race with you? And I said, because everything is about race.
It's still true, especially in this election year.
And for a lot of folks, that's just too uncomfortable to talk about. But I'm talking about it. I'm Rebecca Carroll. Check out my new podcast, come through from WNYC Studios and listen wherever you get your podcasts.
Best Karas spent 1990 following David Duke around Charac was making a documentary about Duke and his movement. After a while, all the rallies she went to started to blend together.
They had this blonde woman with a blue dress who absolutely was like the picture perfect Aryan super woman. And she sang the national anthem every time I went to a Duke rally.
Oh, say, can you see?
By the dawn's moderate words, perfect blond hair and lipstick in that blue dress and is singing the national anthem, and then he'd have, you know, some rabble rousers that would come on stage. And this one fellow, he would wind up the audience. Duke's warm up act was a former Democratic congressman named John Rearick. Rearick had represented the Baton Rouge area in the U.S. House in the 1960s and 70s. One black legislator called him the leading racist in Congress.
Pleader Robinson recorded Rearick speech at the Blind River Bar.
There's only one candidate that says he believes the whole civil rights bill should be changed to just say it's against the law. For an American to discriminate against an American wouldn't matter all the time. Yeah, Rearick, God, what a miserable son of a bitch that guy was, and you know, when when we would arrive and set up the camera, a lot of the people in the audience would, you know, get out of their seats. Everybody was very happy and they would jump in front of the camera and wave and carry on and say, you know, put me on TV, put me on TV.
Then once Rearick got them all wound up, the mood in the room would just absolutely become palpably tense and bitter and horrible.
David Duke didn't sound as angry as his followers were. He presented himself as a sorrowful patriot, a man who wanted to restore the United States to its former glory.
I know why I'm here and I know why you're here. We know that America cannot prosper and be safe and sound for all of its citizens and offer hope for all of our young people until we have a system that rewards people who work and produce the people that work and produce.
That was a not so coded reference to Duke's white base. And then there were the people that allegedly didn't work and didn't produce. Duke talked about them, too.
And finally they said, we've got to find a way to reduce the massive general welfare birthrate. Because I tell you, people on welfare, having children fashion, they raise our taxes to pay for the all. Before I started working on this season of Slow Burn, I wrote a book and made a podcast series about the origins of the welfare queen stereotype. When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1976, he told an exaggerated story about a woman named Linda Taylor, an anecdote that depicted poor black women as a drain on society in Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record.
She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veteran's benefits for four nonexistent deceased veterans, husbands, as well as welfare.
Her tax free cash income alone has been running one hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year during his 1990 Senate campaign.
Duke put his own spin on the welfare queen myth. The story he told was cruder than Reagan's and even more ludicrous, but the crowd reacted just the way Duke wanted it to pick up the phone, the doctor said.
He said, Representative, I've got a bit of information for you you might find interesting. He said, Right now I have a lady in my outer office is on welfare. She's in her 30s chance three teenage daughters, they're all born illegitimate. And this lady is pregnant now with an illegitimate child. And all three of her daughters are now also pregnant with my child. And he said, you know what else? And I said, I can't imagine what else he said as a woman.
And all three of the daughters are all pregnant by the same man. You that guy's jealous over there.
Telling stories was a new thing for Duke. His 1989 race for the state legislature had depended less on stagecraft than on knocking on doors and shaking hands. But in 1990, those priorities flipped. His Senate rallies were big and loud and for his fan base, extremely exhilarating. But even if the delivery was different, the underlying message was the same. Here's Marc Morial. In 1990, he was a candidate for Congress. He'd later become the mayor of New Orleans.
In any debate in those days, if you ask Duke a question about anything, if you asked him about hurricanes, you asked him about utility bills, you asked him about higher education. We asked him about health care. Ultimately, he found a way to inject welfare recipients. Has being the problem that the state faced? Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the program, commonly known as welfare, made up just two percent of Louisiana's annual budget. The state's monthly stipend for a family of three was one of the stingiest in the country.
One hundred and ninety dollars. But for David Duke, the reality of welfare wasn't important. What mattered was the message he sent by demonizing it. The people at Duke's rallies were primed to receive that message at one campaign event. A woman screamed out, We're tired of those lazy bastards collecting checks. Here's the filmmaker Best charac again.
I've been around, you know, racist and whack jobs. But the problem with David Duke's rallies was that he would create that virulent crowd mentality and he had a real cult like following, and they were transfixed with what he had to say. They would do whatever he told them to do. One time at a Veterans of Foreign Wars outpost in New Orleans, Carrick's cameramen started shooting B role of the crowd. She followed him down the center aisle.
And we see the faces of the Duke supporters. And I looked in their eyes. It felt like they had been broken a long time ago. And it hit me like a wave. And I felt extremely nauseous and sad at the same time that broken people do search for these leaders that imbue them with a sense of rage and power. That's all a complete illusion. Like, if we did not have our own barriers up in our own awareness, we could feel the fish hooks of his propaganda, like hooking into part of our brains and just reeling us off to the side.
He is just very convincing and everything he says, if you don't examine it carefully, if you just eat it, eat it, aided in swallow it, you're going to buy it. In March, nineteen ninety seven months before the Senate primary, David Duke drew about two hundred and seventy five people to a Holiday Inn in Alexandria in the dead center of Louisiana. People are coming out of the closet, Duke told a reporter. At the end of June, four hundred people showed up to see him at the BNN gas station and restaurant in the southwestern part of the state, ever see anyone who could get this many people to a little dump like this?
One local man asked. Is cars lined up for a half mile in both directions? Staffers for Duke's Democratic opponent, Jay Bennett Johnston, didn't think they were at serious risk of losing given the twenty six percent of voters in Louisiana were black, Duke would have to get an enormous number of white votes to have any chance. But these do crowds were starting to look kind of enormous. Bob Mann was the press secretary for Johnston's campaign. I don't recall Duke in our polls ever getting above the low 30s, and it wasn't the polls that worried me so much, they gave me heartburn.
It was the fact that wherever Duke went, he was packing halls. He was filling auditoriums. He would go to a town and five or six hundred people would show up and we would have struggled to get two hundred people in that town to show up. Jay Bennett Johnston was one of the most powerful people in Washington. He was the chair of the Senate Energy Committee and a senior member on the Appropriations Committee. Johnston had been in the Senate for nearly 20 years, and during that time he'd brought a huge amount of federal spending to his home state.
He'd been re-elected twice without any trouble, but 1990 felt different. Johnston drew six hundred people to his hometown of Shreveport for one hundred dollar a plate fundraiser. A week later, a crowd of fifteen hundred came out for Duke and neighboring Bougere City. They weren't the kind of people who could pay one hundred dollars a plate. But Duke knew how to open their wallets. Tyler Bridges covered Duke for the Times-Picayune and would be a really unusual thing at a Duke rally where at a certain point he would literally pass the hat or pass a bucket around and people would throw in a dollar or five dollars, ten dollars, maybe 20 dollars.
Duke paid close attention to this bucket brigade in a video taken during the 1990 campaign. You can hear him micromanaging the operation.
I don't know how much we collected, hopefully covered the collective passing of the event. The more you saw up to the podium and we did not get it down, the rows and rows rose the third time parade taking place. And next time, what are we going to do? Everybody take one bucket, OK? It's going to be just like church, one bucket of water, one bucket, and it's going to go all the way down to the honor and all the personal that takes it and puts it down.
The other on the bucket system wasn't the only way the Duke campaign made money.
The typical politician that I've covered would be thrilled to give away T-shirts, but Duke had such fervent followers he could sell them.
I went with David to visit the sweatshirts. We have their fifteen dollars and we also have regular shirts and their ten dollar.
Duke supporters also paid cash for hats, bumper stickers, buttons, beer cozies and visors. Nobody hid their allegiance to the big Duke rally. They were all on the same team. In his stump speeches, Duke explained that he needed hundreds of thousands of dollars to air a series of infomercials statewide. Those ads started running in July.
You read about him. You heard his critics. Now here, David Duke, you're about to spend thirty provocative minutes with the US Senate candidate all of Louisiana is talking about.
Duke was using these TV ads to win over the kinds of white voters who didn't go to his rallies, richer, better educated types who might support him if his candidacy became more socially acceptable on TV. Duke did his best to look and sound normal. He wore a dark suit, sat in a leather chair and talked about the America I grew up in.
I remember when criminals, not homeowners, lived behind bars. I remember when names like New York, Miami, New Orleans and Detroit evoked images of promise and prosperity. I remember when kids played ball on the streets, told bedtime, and their parents didn't worry.
At the end of one of these spots, he brought out his teenage daughters, Erika and Kristen, holding the girl's hands and calling them his two main sources of comfort and strength. Have you all enjoyed work on the campaign so far? I'm enjoying it. I like traveling around the state and meeting all the wonderful people of Louisiana. And I like to ask you that from my dad, because you'd make a great listener. Well, let me tell you something.
I appreciate both of you very much. And I love you both. And we're going to go win this race.
Duke's infomercials were themselves a moneymaking scheme in one ad, he urged his supporters to dial a one 900 number where they'd hear a message about his political philosophy, then get charged ten dollars on their phone bills. At the end of that call, they'd hear a solicitation for a second one, 900 number, this one costing twenty five dollars. By the end of the campaign, Dukat raised two point four million dollars, about as much as Jabin and Johnston. Most of that came from donors who gave less than a hundred dollars.
A good chunk of it went to Duke himself during the Senate race. The Duke campaign paid Duke the individual thousands of dollars for access to Duke's own fundraising lists. It wasn't the first time Duke had been accused of self dealing the previous year. The Times-Picayune had reported that a company owned by Duke got one hundred and forty thousand dollars from his political campaigns and the National Association for the Advancement of White People. Tyler Bridges, who wrote the article, says it made Duke extremely agitated.
I don't think Duke really minded when somebody called him a Klansman. You know, him talking about having been a Klansman, spoke to how he was going to shake things up. But the story I wrote about his campaign paying him money spoke to something different.
Duke wasn't charged with any financial crimes in connection to a senatorial campaign, but in the mid 1990s, he'd collect more than two hundred and thirty thousand dollars under false pretenses, sending out fundraising letters that claimed he was facing economic ruin. He didn't blow a good portion of that money gambling in casinos. Duke would ultimately spend a year in prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud and filing a false tax return. Journalist Stephanie Riegle investigated Duke's finances during his run for the Senate.
Lego came away believing the Duke was soaking his followers, but she doesn't think he was running for office solely as a grift.
It was political. It was philosophical for him, and it was also financial. He had a couple of things going on at once. I mean, if you could have seen him in those years, there was so much ego, you know, I mean, he just loved being an icon to these people.
Regal saw another side of Duke when she went to interview him at his campaign office, which also served as his house and the headquarters of the NAACP. She says he came down the steps wearing a pink shirt with the collar, flipped up like an extra in Miami Vice.
And he just walks over and he puts his hand up against the wall and Cox's other hand on his hip and kind of leans over me like a cheesy guy would do in a bar. And he's like, he was right up close in my face and in my personal space.
And I guess that was his tactic to try to disarm you or to try to charm you maybe. And even as a twenty four year old, that was very, very obvious to me at the time. Regal wasn't charmed, but other women were. The reporter John McGinnis described the Duke campaign as a rock and roll tour with screaming fans and nightly groupies. Duke's attorney told McGinest that the candidate's obsession with female companionship got in the way of his other duties.
At one rally, Duke blew his choreographed entrance because he went on stage to get a better look at a blonde in the third row. Another time when a campaign worker told Duke he needed to stay away from young women, Duke reportedly answered, Look, isn't it enough that I'm trying to save the white race? Can I see who I want to see? Let's take a quick break. If you're passionate about podcasts or looking for your next favorite show, you need to check out servant of Pod with Nick Quogue.
It's the new podcast from L.A. Studios and the first ever weekly show about the podcasting world, where you'll hear the stories behind your favorite stories. Serve in a Pod with Nick Quia is a show for podcast lovers about podcast culture. In each weekly episode, you'll learn about creators, producers and industry realities.
Nick has talked with a lot of people from the podcast World, including me, on a recent episode of Seven of Pod. Nick and I discussed the making of this season of Slow Burn and why we made the decisions we made. Nick is the ultimate podcast lover, expert and critic. He created the most influential podcast newsletter, Hot Pod, and he has a column in Vulture dedicated to podcasts. Nick will help you understand what's happening in the podcast world, what to listen to and why you should care.
Serve in a Pod with Nicoya is available now. Download it from wherever you get your favorite podcast. We're going to list dotcom slash servant of God. That's L.A. Eigsti Dotcom slash servant of pod.
Jay Bennett Johnston wanted to run on his record and ignore the ex Klansmen in his rearview mirror. But a month before the primary, it was clear David Duke wasn't going away, it was the candidates. Thirty one year old son also named Bennett, who convinced him to change his approach. Here again is Johnstons press secretary Bob Mann.
We were in Farmersville in northwest Louisiana. And right before he got out of the RV, young Bennett handed his father a piece of paper and it said he'd just written the simple words Nazi racist, bigot, get mad. A couple of days later, man recorded Johnston's new FYRIR stump speech. Now, why can't people wake up? Why can't they wake up, don't they understand what's going on? I mean, people have sort of flirted with some of these ideas.
I mean, how many times have you heard people say, well, I don't much like David Duke. Sure. Like what he's saying. He's standing up for standing up for. He's not standing up for anybody but himself. Two weeks before Election Day, Johnston released the first attack ad of the campaign, David Duke led the Ku Klux Klan as an adult. There's no more truly representative symbol of the white race.
Far across it is our symbol, my victory by the commercial show Duke presiding over a cross burning in the late 1970s when Duke said white victory, he raised his left arm in a stiff salute. Bob Mann thought the cross burning ad was a kill shot. At first it seemed like he might be right. The Johnston campaign's internal polling showed the Duke dropped six points after the spot started airing. But a week later, Duke's numbers had bounced back up. It's always made me wonder if what we were doing in a way, was telling Duke's supporters that he may be talking in all these code words and dog whistles and really toning it down a lot.
But no, no, no, he's really the racist that you want him to be. And so in some bizarre way, we might have actually helped him with some of his most racist supporters.
The state's main anti-drug activist group, the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Naziism, thought it was still possible to scandalize some Duke voters. Lance Hill was the coalition's executive director.
As our polling showed, the place where he really took a dip was on his Naziism because the Klan was identified among white people as part of their political tradition. But the Nazis weren't. Duke's fascination with Nazi ideology was public knowledge by 1990, though, a lot of people in Louisiana either hadn't absorbed it or didn't care to believe it. That summer, the Times-Picayune Tyler Bridges published some new information. His source was a woman Doka dated in the mid 1980s.
She told me how for the time that she was with him, she remembered that he would celebrate Hitler's birthday every year and he'd have a cake. And it was a it was an important occasion for David Duke. Duke tried to brush off that claim, saying Hitler's never showed up in my house for any birthday parties. Johnston and his staffers couldn't be sure if that Hitler birthday story was going to stick. All they knew was the Duke was posing an ever larger threat.
Louisiana has an open primary.
That means if one candidate gets more than half the votes, he or she wins. But if not, there's a runoff between the two top vote getters. And if there's a runoff in the US Senate, race is a good chance that one of the candidates will be David Duke, former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
If Johnston didn't get a majority in the October primary, that would raise a lot of questions about just how powerful the Democratic senator really was. David Duke would also get a month in the national spotlight before a November runoff, and there was a real chance that Duke could win that runoff and become the next United States senator from Louisiana. The truth was, it was too late for Johnston to control his own fate heading into the homestretch of the campaign. There were two men taking votes from him, not one.
Then Baggot had won the endorsement of the Louisiana Republican Party, but he hadn't found a constituency. Bhagat, who positioned himself as a pro-life welfare reforming environmentalist, wasn't left wing enough to win over liberals or right wing enough for conservatives when Blackguards candidacy failed to take off. He tried to elevate himself by tearing down David Duke. Here's how he remembers it.
Actually, at one point I declared that we shouldn't make a magged into a martyr. And boy, he really didn't like that. Or I would tell David to change it. Change for one. You know, plastic surgery didn't work really good. Do you want to take an extra minute ago? It back up things like that fagots, insult, comedy routine didn't change the dynamics of the election.
He was always the third wheel in a two man race. In the closing days of the campaign, eight Republican senators announced they were endorsing Johnston even though he was a Democrat. Pagad was totally alone. He had no money, no staff and no hope. On the plus side, he was a pretty good guitar player.
I'm not so sure.
While there is not much sunshine these days for Ben Bagert, the endorsed Republican candidate running a distant third in most polls, dogged by DOOK backers as he campaigns, does so today, Bagrut withdrew from the race and said he would vote for Democrat Bennett Johnston.
I'm not endorsing anybody, but yeah, I'm not voting for David.
But will his voters take his advice? Bagert pulled out just two days before the primary. Duke would cry conspiracy, alleging that someone had paid backor to take a dive. Baggot, who's now 76 years old and practices law in New Orleans, says that's not true as it got close and as I realized that I would never make it.
I said, now I've got to pull out of this thing. I can't let my footnote in history be that I was the guy who wouldn't pull out of the race and put Duke in a position to go to the U.S. Senate.
I don't want to be known as a I'm satisfied that I did the right thing. And it was something that that ended my political career. Bennett, Johnston's pollster, thought the election was sewn up with Bagert out of the running. He figured Johnston would get around 65 percent of the vote. Then the polls closed. Here's Bob Mann. Well, election night, we booked a big ballroom at the Riverside Hilton in New Orleans and that night, as as the results began coming in, it was clear pretty early on that this was not going to be a 60 40 race.
It wasn't 60 40. It ended up fifty four to forty three and a half. Bennett Johnston had avoided a runoff, but David Duke had outperformed every poll when all the ballots were counted, six hundred seven thousand three hundred and ninety one people had voted for the neo-Nazi.
It was the most depressing win, I think, that I've ever been a part of because it just felt like even though a majority of the state had voted for Bennet, that you just knew that it should have been a lot more like, you know, how could this many people vote for this guy? Johnston gave a victory speech that night saying that Louisiana was united, but it was Duke who sounded triumphant.
We are going to build a political movement in this country to bring back the rights of the American majority. Once again, the polls hadn't captured David Duke's true level of support in Louisiana. Duke's Ku Klux Klan ally, Don Black, had provided under the radar support during his friend's campaign using his computer skills to help with voter outreach. Black had a name for Duke's hidden voters, the ones who didn't identify themselves to pollsters, a silent army of white believers.
In the days following Duke's second place finish, the makeup of that army came into focus. Duke had won 60 percent of the white vote in Louisiana. It hadn't just been poor and less educated whites, rally goers and bumper sticker buyers who'd cast their lots with him. Duke's base was white people. It justified reason to me that someone who was that open, this guy wore a hood. He celebrated Hitler's birthday. You know, just go down the list.
There's just no way that people are going to embrace that. And, you know, I now realize that Duke's embrace of of that persona was was exactly the thing that drew people to him, including the man that would become my father in law. I mean, you know, my father in law, who was a wonderful, lovely man, was a Duke supporter. And, you know, I was I remember the first time that my wife, then girlfriend, brought me home.
I was very suspect to these people. I was the press secretary to the enemy. Did her father have economic anxiety? No, no, he did not. He was a very prosperous fellow. I don't think it was economic anxiety that was prompting his support of David Duke.
A post-election survey found that 25 percent of Duke's white voters were upscale white collar professionals. One of the most common reasons the Duke supporters gave for backing him was that he took a strong stand on cleaning up the welfare mess. The other most popular rationale that he had the guts to take pro white stands while other politicians cater to minority groups. The rise of David Duke was a political story about a candidate learning to harness white rage. But it was also a personal one for the people appalled by Duke, his growing power didn't feel like a distant force.
One way that I describe those last few weeks before Election Day so that it felt like a series of weights were being placed on me.
That's Michelle Bell, Boissier. She identifies as Black and Louisiana Kriol. Her family has been in southeast Louisiana since the 1746 in 1990. She was a twenty five year old biology graduate student at Tulane University.
It seemed like those weights were getting heavier and heavier and it was harder to function harder to make forward progress in my own life because of this idea that they're going to be thousands upon thousands of people who actually vote for this individual. PLACEa had never spoken out about politics, but after the Senate primary, she sent a letter to the Times-Picayune. I asked her to read some of it. I have been haunted by the fact that 60 percent of the Caucasians in Louisiana supported David Duke.
I have spent the last few weeks in a state of paranoia, unlike any I have ever experienced. PLACEa was the only black PhD student in her department at Tulane or in any other science department at the school, so I was very much alone all day.
And I had to wonder, well, of the 50 white people that I talk to tomorrow. Which 30 of them voted for David Duke, because they're not necessarily going to be bold and bragging about it. In fact, they probably will not. And that was really, really hard to accept. It was hard to realize. That people you wanted to trust and thought you should be able to trust, perhaps you couldn't trust. Did you ever ask any of your white acquaintances or friends or colleagues explicitly if they had voted for you?
I never asked anyone if they did know. A few people made a point of telling me they didn't. In her letter, PLACEa wrote, I am a part of a generation of African-Americans who were never forced to sit in the back of a bus, never denied admittance to restaurants on the basis of color, a generation of blacks who have always had the right to vote and never participated in a freedom march. She said that all those votes for David Duke were the most blatant sign of racism she had ever witnessed, and the blatancy of it made her feel blacker.
In some ways, I guess it opened my eyes and it made me realize that I had to be more expressive in who I am as a black woman. Because I was now in a situation where that was warranted, it was really needed. Bashara is now a biology professor at New Orleans's historically black Xavier University. I wanted to talk to her now three decades after she wrote that letter to the editor, because I was hoping she could help me answer a question.
It's something I've been asking myself for the last 30 years. How do you continue to. Live in the state and move through the world and go about your business knowing. How people voted in that election. Oh, boy. You know, luckily, I have enough to do and keep me busy that I don't have a terribly large amount of time to to ponder about all these things every day. And I also know that. The work that I do and the way that I conduct myself.
Is is a source of pain for people like David Duke. I know that in my career I help young people, primarily people who are African-American, I help them complete career journeys that people like David Duke think they're not well suited for. They're not capable of doing. So I know that I live my life doing things and being a person that is disturbing to him. And that's quite comforting. Next time on Slow Burn. Duke for governor. Slow Burn is a production of Slate plus Slate's membership program, Slate, plus members get weekly bonus episodes of Slow Burn, where we'll dive deeper into the history we're exploring this season.
On this week's bonus episode, you'll hear my interview with Topher Grace, who played David Duke and Spike Lee's film Black Clansman. Head over to sleep, dotcom, slow burn to sign up and listen now. We couldn't make slow burn without the support of Slate plus, so please consider signing up if you like this series and are able to contribute. It's only thirty five dollars for the first year and you get a free two week trial. Go to sleep, dotcom slash slow burn to find out more.
Slow burn is produced by me and Christopher Johnson with editorial direction by Lowe and Lou and Gabriel Roth. Madeleine Ducharme is our production assistant. Sophie Seismogram is Slogan'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. Tyler Bridges is the author of the biography The Rise and Fall of David Duke. Best Carax documentary on Duke is called Backlash Raised in the American Dream. Some of the audio you heard in this episode is courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institue.
And the Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana. Special thanks to Jordan Hirsch, Jessica Seidman and Slate's Chow to Katie Raeford, Laura Bennett, Allison Benedikt and Jared Holt. Thanks for listening. It's always for. We watched were so gallantly streaming.