Last weekend, on his radio show, David Duke—a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan—endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race.
“Voting for these people, voting against Donald Trump at this point, is really treason to your heritage,” Duke said. Duke urged his listeners to volunteer for the Trump campaign, saying, "Go in there, you’re gonna meet people who are going to have the same kind of mind-set that you have.”
This endorsement served as the foreground to a Sunday CNN interview, when Jake Tapper asked Trump himself about Duke coming out in his favor, and whether he would condemn the avowed white supremacist. Trump responded by pretending to have no idea what anyone was talking about:
Well just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, did he endorse me? Or what’s going on? Because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke, I know nothing about white supremacists, and so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.
As you can imagine, this did not go over well. To understand why Trump's refusal to acknowledge Duke's racist legacy is important, it's helpful to understand Duke's chilling past and Trump's revisionist recollection of their history.
Here's what you need to know:
Has Trump really never heard of him?
If he hasn't, then he isn't remembering what he said years ago very well: In 2000, Trump briefly considered running for president, potentially as a candidate for the Reform Party. He ultimately decided against a run, explaining that the party's association with Duke was a large part of his decision. Per The New York Times:
Mr. Trump painted a fairly dark picture of the Reform Party in his statement, noting the role of Mr. Buchanan, along with the roles of David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and Lenora Fulani, the former standard-bearer of the New Alliance Party and an advocate of Marxist-Leninist politics.
"The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani," he said in his statement. "This is not company I wish to keep."
So who is David Duke?
He's a former Louisiana state representative with a functioning website. He served as the head of a group called the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the mid-1970s before leaving to start a political career in 1980 as well as start the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP).
Wait, people actually elected this guy?
Indeed. From 1989–1993, he served as a state representative in Louisiana after winning a special election. He ran as a Republican. And as you can see in this 1989 campaign video, he made no secret of his white supremacy during the campaign, saying "White people in this nation, in this world, have got to unite."
He ran for larger office several times but was ultimately unsuccessful. Now he gives speeches and has his radio show. He was an early adopter of the web and maintains that the internet is the future of the white supremacy movement.
How overtly racist was his political career, really?
He ran for office on an anti-tax and anti-busing platform and he "toned down his anti-Semitism and dodged questions about his neo-Nazi and Klan past," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
While in office, Duke proposed "bills to raise penalties for drug offenders in housing projects and to require drug testing for recipients of welfare and Medicaid." Both failed.
In his book Recovering Legislator, fellow state representative Ron Gomez says Duke had several "shortcomings" as a lawmaker, frequently having bills tabled soon after introducing them. Gomez says he can only recall Duke passing one piece of legislation: a bill prohibiting producers and publishers from paying jurors for their courtroom experiences.
What exactly does the Grand Wizard of the KKK do?
The Grand Wizard is the state leader of the group. David Duke was the Grand Wizard in Louisiana, making him the top KKK official there.
What was Duke's tenure as Grand Wizard like?
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Duke wanted to modernize the KKK.
Famously calling on fellow Klansmen to "get out of the cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms," Duke saw himself as the leader of a slick, new Klan which would captivate the public through political discourse, eschewing the violent methods of the past.
He used media manipulation to make an appearance on Tom Snyder's NBC talk show and managed to get reporters to write about him and the group. The group was opened to women and Catholics, and the group put an emphasis on anti-Semitism.
He led the group for five years but left in disgrace in 1980, when he was caught on camera trying to sell a membership list.
Where'd he go to school?
He received a BA from Louisiana State University in 1974 and finally completed his doctorate in history, per his Twitter bio, in 2005 from the MAUP, Mizhrehional'na Akademiya upravlinnya personalom, translated as Interregional Academy of Personnel Management in English, located in the Ukraine.
The Interregional Academy of Personnel Management? What's that?
Nicknamed the "Ukraine University of Hate" by the Anti-Defamation League, it's the "main source of anti-Semitic agitation and propaganda in Ukraine," according to the group.
That doesn't sound good…
Yeah, especially after you hear what else the Anti-Defamation League has to say:
White supremacist David Duke has close links with MAUP: he "teaches" a course on history and international relations, has been awarded a doctorate for a thesis on Zionism and was a key participant in MAUP's June 2005 conference on "Zionism: Threat to World Peace". In October 2006, Duke addressed a MAUP audience on the subject of "Zionist" influence in the US media and signed copies of his book, "The Jewish Question Through the Eyes of an American." Duke opened his speech by declaring: "The powers of globalism and Zionism are reaching out and they are trying to control the lives, the values, the culture and the foreign policy of every nation on earth".
So let me guess: Duke doesn't consider himself racist, does he?
Nope. As he wrote on his website in 2006:
I am however a racial realist. I understand that there are intrinsic differences between peoples and that those differences have profound effects on society. I also believe all people have a basic human right to preserve their own heritage.
I also want to preserve my own people, but that does not make me a supremacist or a “hater” or a racist, otherwise you can accuse every leader of movements for particular ethnic groups of “racism”.
He continues to explain that the real racists are the people who call him racist, naturally.
How are other presidential candidates reacting to Duke's endorsement of Donald Trump?
Not well. Marco Rubio tweeted about it.
Bernie Sanders did as well.
Anything else I should know about Duke?
He pleaded guilty to mail fraud and filing a false return shortly
Duke was accused of telling supporters he was in financial straits, then misusing the money they sent him from 1993 to 1999. He was also accused of filing a false 1998 tax return claiming he made only $18,831 in 1998 when he really made more than $65,000.
Duke used the money for personal investments and gambling trips to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Las Vegas and the Bahamas, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said. Letten would not disclose the amount but said it was "in the six-figure area."
Has Duke's endorsement affected Trump's poll numbers?
It doesn't appear so. A new CNN poll says that Trump has support of 49% of a combined group of GOP voters and conservative independents.
I couldn't tell you.
This post has been updated.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org