Duke, David

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Duke, David 1950–

David Duke was born in Louisiana in 1950 and is perhaps America’s most well-known racist. While attending Louisiana State University, Duke founded the White Youth Alliance, a youth organization affiliated with the National Socialist White People’s Party. Upon graduation in 1974, he founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which remains one of the largest and most influential Klan groups in the country.

Duke realized early in his career that violent racism was no longer acceptable to the majority of the American middle class, and he altered his message in order to gain wider support. He changed the title of Klan leader from Grand Wizard to National Director. He stopped “burning crosses” and began holding “cross lighting” ceremonies, and he used “coded racism.” For example, he quit speaking in public about the danger of racial and ethnic minorities, referring instead to the “lawless underclass” and “perpetual welfare recipient.”

In order to gain even broader middle-class support and to build a political career, Duke left the KKK in 1980 and founded the more acceptable-sounding National Association for the Advancement of White People, which retained the Klan’s membership roster and mailing list, and in fact operated out of the same office.

In 1989 Duke ran successfully for the Louisiana legislature and served as a member of the state House of Representatives. He then ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1990, the Louisiana Governor’s office in 1991, the U.S. Presidency in 1992, the U.S. Senate again in 1996, and the U.S. House in 1998. However, he did receive the majority of votes from white voters in both the 1990 and 1991 races.

In 2000, Duke retired from politics and founded yet another new white supremacist organization, the National Organization For European American Rights, or NOFEAR. Since founding NOFEAR, Duke has traveled throughout Europe and to Russia in particular, gathering supporters. His anti-Semitic essays have been translated into Arabic and republished throughout the Middle East. He has also authored two significant books: My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding in 1998, and Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening on the Jewish Question in 2002.

In March 2003 Duke was convicted in federal court on charges of mail fraud and tax evasion, charges related to funds raised during his political campaigns. He spent thirteen months in federal prison and was released in May 2004.

SEE ALSO Ku Klux Klan.


Bridges, Tyler. 1995. The Rise of David Duke. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Bullock, Charles S., et al. 1995. David Duke and the Politics of Race in the South. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

Rose, Douglas, ed. 1992. The Emergence of David Duke and the Politics of Race. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

J. Keith Akins