By Pat Jordan
Southern Magazine, October 1987
“We had to get David out of the Klan. He was seducing all the wives.” —Ku Klux Klan member, July 1986
It was a stroke of genius. The Presidential candidate had been denied a platform to announce his candidacy by two Atlanta hotels. He had been picketed at the radio station where he spoke. A radio talk show host had advocated his assassination, he said. A newspaper and a television station had declared that the announcement of his candidacy had been cancelled. Now, standing before his supporters in the conference room of the only hotel that would have him, he told them how the media was trying to thwart his righteous cause. Their righteous cause. His supporters were stunned to silence. His voice rose in anger. He told them that they would not be denied a voice. Then, he paused for a split second as the idea struck. His voice lowered, and he said, “They can close all the meeting rooms to us, but they can’t close the free air and the open sky. Tomorrow morning, I will announce my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States on the steps of the state Capitol.” His supporters rose as one and cheered.
“Aw, c’mon, Laurel. Please. C’mon.” While Laurel (not her real name) talks, David Duke lays a hand over the telephone mouthpiece and smiles. He is a tall man in his mid-30s, with tousled, sandy-colored hair, pale blue eyes, and a trim, bushy mustache. He has the soft, pale, disarming good looks that, in a time gone by, were the sole preserve of a certain type of Southern gentleman. Today, more often than not, that type can be found tending bars that cater to professional men and women who are saving for their first BMW.
Still smiling, David says again into the mouthpiece. “Aw. Laurel. Please. C’mon. We’ll eat some oysters at Drago’s. You know how you love oysters.” He winks. “He’ll pay.” He listens again, nods, and then speaks again in his softly insistent voice, “Laurel, you know I’d never do that. You know I love your body. I’d never switch her body for yours. C’mon. O.K? Please. C’mon over. We’re waiting. All right. See you in a bit.” He hangs up.
“She’ll be right over,” he says. “She can’t resist oysters.” He sits down on the navy love seat with the floral print that is next to the matching sofa in the living room of his home in Metairie, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. He looks around. “This is my nicest room,” he says. The hardwood floors are brilliantly polished. There is a bushy, green plant against one white wall and a black, lacquered grand piano against another. He smiles at the piano. “That’s the nicest thing I own,” he says. “I love nice things.”
He goes over to the piano and sits down. He begins to play a song from Cats! from the sheet music in front of him. Someone has printed letters alongside the corresponding notes on the sheet music so that a beginner can more easily follow the score. He plunks a few notes and then returns to the love seat. He sits directly beneath a lithograph of a stern-looking man in a Confederate officer’s uniform. This man is David’s hero: Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate officer who, on Christmas Eve in 1865, in Pulaski, Tennessee, oversaw the founding of the Ku Klux Klan.
They were all Southern gentlemen with a desire to preserve their heritage, which included protecting the “Flower of Southern Womanhood” from what they considered the verbal and, sometimes, physical abuses of freed slaves and Yankee carpetbaggers immediately after the Civil War. Since they were vanquished soldiers who had lost the right to bear arms, they could not resort to violence. But they did not need to. They were armed, at first, with only their courage, chivalry, and righteousness; later, they were armed with a weapon even more powerful than a loaded gun.
So the story goes, they held one of their first meetings out in the country on a cold winter’s night. They sent out a sentry to keep watch, and he stood, shivering, on a tree stump in the darkened woods. He pulled his white coat up over his head for warmth. A black man appeared out of the woods. Seeing a towering, ghostly apparition in white, the black man fled in terror. Later that night, the original Klansmen raided their wives’ linen closets for the white sheets that would become their trademark. A few days later, they donned their sheets, mounted their horses, and rode slowly into town. They stopped at a bordello—one frequented by freed slaves and Yankee carpetbaggers—that had been a constant affront to the sensibilities of their women. The blacks and carpetbaggers poured out of the bordello, guns loaded, to confront’ these weaponless, white-sheeted men. The leader of the white-sheeted men spoke: “Give me water!” Southern mythology had it that, one day, the dead soldiers of the Confederacy would rise again to roam the land with an unquenchable thirst, so when the white-sheeted horseman asked for water, a stunned black man obeyed. The white-sheeted man drank an entire bucket of water and then asked for another, and another, and still another. Until, finally, the blacks and carpetbaggers threw down their guns and fled in terror from these ghosts of the Confederacy.
What the frequenters of that bordello did not know, however, was that the water the white-sheeted man poured through the mouth-like slit in his hood was funneled to a pig bladder fastened to his hip.
That romantic origin is one many historians would take issue with, but David calmly insists that his gentlemanly Klan was the true Klan. Over the years, he says, as the Klan’s fortunes ebbed and flowed, that kind of dramatic, non-violent gesture went the way of many chivalric traditions. It was replaced by a mindless and vengeful violence perpetrated by men, many of whom were not Southern, who bore not the faintest resemblance to those original founders of the Ku Klux Klan.
“I call them the guys with the green teeth,” David says, referring to the kind of men the KKK has become synonymous with over the years. “I’m not much like them.” He smiles and makes a sweeping gesture with his arm to encompass his living room. His floral printed sofa. His K. Kawai piano. His coffee table book of Arnold Breker’s sculptures. He picks up the book and leafs through the pages. The sculptures are all idealized male and female nudes, and they all seem to be gazing, wistfully, heavenward. The sculptures look vaguely classical and yet, somehow, not classical at all, but rather futuristic, humanoid, as if Breker had stopped precisely at that point when he believed he had created a new species of unflawed human beings.
“These answer something in my soul.” David says, and puts the book down. “You see, I’m a very spiritual person. I’m a philosopher. I believe I represent the truth. A new way of looking at life.”
His “new way of looking at life” actually bears a striking resemblance to a purported old way of looking at life, to the way David says the original founders of the Ku Klux Klan looked at life. He believes he has a lot in common with those men. He is chivalric and courtly and his cause is righteous, and he, too, worships the Flower of Southern Womanhood. Many of the women he meets, he says, worship him, too.
At an early age, David devoted his life to a single issue: race.
He tells of a photojournalist who once did a photo essay on him. “Afterwards,” David says, “she invited me up to her room. I know I could have been intimate with her, but I wasn’t. I was married at the time.” He smiles. “After I did the Phil Donahue show, they got a whole lot of letters from women who wrote that I was the handsomest man they ever saw. I guess it comes from the mystique of the forbidden. Woman have always been all over me because of my associations.”
He gets up, goes into another room, and returns with a hardcover novel. The dust jacket painting shows a beautiful woman, who looks like Natalie Wood, staring with wary fascination at a man who looks like David Duke. It is a novel about a Jewish woman from New York City who rediscovers her Jewishness after a brief affair with a handsome, golden-haired Southerner, a man whose every belief is antithetical to hers.
“It’s about me,” he says. “It’s very thinly disguised. Doesn’t that look like me?” He points to the man on the cover and smiles. “I know what you’re thinking,” he adds. “No, I wasn’t intimate with her. I probably could have been if I had wanted.” He turns the book over to reveal the author’s full-page photo on the back of the dust jacket. She is a plain-looking woman with short, dark hair, a big nose, and the pleasant, anxious smile of one who wants desperately to please.
“She was too ugly for me,” David says. He smiles again. “Besides, she was a Jew.”
Just then, the doorbell rings. David goes to answer it and returns with a tall, blond woman. She is wearing a frilly, white blouse with a high-button collar and a long black skirt that reaches almost to her ankles. She is also wearing white stockings and black, flat-heeled pumps.
“This is Laurel,” David says. The woman nods without smiling. She sits down in a chair across from him. “Where was I?” David says.
David Ernest Duke joined the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan when he was a senior in high school. It was a natural outgrowth, he says, of his interest in biology.
“I got into the racial thing through the rational arguments I saw in science,” he says. He also read a book called Race and Reason, and it helped him formulate his own theories on race. They are, simply stated, a belief that white Aryans from Europe are a superior race blessed by God; that blacks are genetically inferior to Aryans; and, finally, that Jews are an outlaw race who are a threat to all the cherished beliefs of Christian Aryans. David came to these beliefs, he says, not because he suffered any emotional traumas at the hands of blacks or Jews, but simply because he had “a love for truth.”
“It pained me at first.” he says. “I had a lot of black friends at the time. It was difficult to shed my emotional commitment to the equality of blacks. I had a lot of guilt feelings. But I couldn’t deny the facts.” David is very clear on the “facts.” He can quote numbers, percentages, and ratios, all of which he has culled from his selected readings of arcane sources many people have never heard of and few people have bothered to read. It is difficult to refute his arguments (“Sixty-five percent of all crimes committed against whites are perpetrated by blacks,” he says bluntly) unless one is an “authority” on the issue. It is a lesson David learned at an early age. All he had to do was devote his life to a single issue and he would be recognized as an “authority” on that issue. David’s issue was race. It has defined him since his teens.
Laurel sits there, perfectly still and silent, her face devoid of expression as David talks. Her back is arched and her hands are folded in her lap. She is an exquisite-looking woman, with a swan-like neck and skin the color of alabaster. She has the face of an angel, perfectly formed, like one of those sculptured figures in Arnold Breker’s book.
“I told David, I said, ‘David, dear, of course you can come to my party, only, please, dear, don’t bring that what’s her name. The one with the face. She’s sooo dull.’” Betty Guillaud, a columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, is driving down Saint Charles Avenue on her way to pick up Johnny Lee, the man who will cater her Sunday supper party this weekend. “He’s so fabulous,” she says of Johnny Lee. “I just stole him away from Yvonne LaFleur. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
Saint Charles is a broad, tree-lined avenue divided by a grassy esplanade. A streetcar clatters down the center of the esplanade toward The French Quarter. Joggers, with Walkmans plugged into their ears, run up and down the esplanade on either side of the streetcar. Both sides of the avenue are lined with some of New Orleans’ grandest homes: stone mansions and pastel-painted, antebellum homes with gingerbread scalloping around the front porches.
Saint Charles Avenue, uptown, is the finest neighborhood in a city that has lately fallen on hard times. New Orleans has suffered greatly as a result of the oil crunch and a growing unrest among its blacks, who make up more than 60 percent of the city’s population. Many of the owners of those fine homes have been forced to rent out their servants’ quarters, and almost all of the homes have some form of elaborate security system to protect them from break-ins. Often, the conversation in the parlors and living rooms of those homes, amid the antique French breakfronts and settees and chairs, has to do with a new rumor about some white, female jogger who was pulled off of Saint Charles Avenue early in the morning and raped in the bushes of an old colonial by a black man.
The issue of race dominates the city, which is why it is the perfect place for David Duke. He speaks the unspoken fears of many of its white citizens. They, in turn, give him the kind of begrudging tolerance reserved for a man who appeals to their baser instincts. That is why Betty Guillaud is not afraid to trot out David at her parties.
“Why do I invite David?” she says. “Because of those eyes. I’d love to have an affair with him.” She laughs. “No, really, I’ve been just fascinated by his mind ever since I met him at an EST seminar. I love the way he can play games with people’s minds. A lot of the intellectuals think he’s a joke, and the rednecks don’t understand him. I think he’s divine. Although he is very frugal, you know. He never invites me to his home. Oh, here we are!” She stops her car in front of a dilapidated, old house in the black section of the city. She beeps her horn. “David’s more afraid of rednecks than I am,” she says. “That’s why he would never wear jeans. He’s so socially aware.” She beeps again. A thin black man comes walking toward the car. His hair looks like a woman’s henna wig, and he is wearing women’s jewelry and women’s makeup. He walks in that sauntering way of women, too.
Betty says, “Oh, I just can’t wait for David to meet Johnny Lee, can you?”
In his freshman year at LSU, David dominated dormitory discussions at night whenever the topic was race. “Even the blacks and Jews respected me,” he says. “My arguments were always rational.” In the afternoons, he went outside to “Free Speech Alley,” an area on campus where students could preach their beliefs to other passing students. David put his soap box in line with those of the other preachers, got up on it, and began to preach. “Pretty soon, I’d have almost 700 students around me,” he says. “The liberal preachers, they never drew more than 30.”
David’s last college stunt was one that he claims has haunted him longer than anything he ever said in “Free Speech Alley.” “It was just a dumb college prank,” he says. One day, he put on a Nazi storm trooper’s uniform, complete with a swastika armband, and went to Tulane University to picket the appearance there of radical lawyer William Kunstler. David carried a sign that read: “Kunstler Is A Communist Jew!”
For most students, even those who found themselves being swayed by David’s reasoned arguments in “Free Speech Alley,” this was too much. It was too much for most of his fellow Klansmen, too. Many of them had fathers who had fought—and some who had died—in battle against the Nazis during World War II. Furthermore, most Klansmen at that time considered themselves to be ultra-patriotic Americans who distrusted most things foreign and who certainly did not have the ability to make the kind of intellectual leap David expected of them. Soon, he became known on campus as “The Nazi of LSU.”
But David learned a valuable lesson from that experience. He learned that, in the future, he should speak only in the voice his audience expected of him. When he spoke at night in a cleared field outside of town, with a cross burning behind him and a crowd of white-robed Klan members before him—Klansmen who worked as long-haul truck drivers and farmers and gas station attendants—David ranted and raved about “niggers” in a fire-and-brimstone, revivalist voice designed to incite his audience.
When he spoke to the media at radio and TV stations, he used a different voice and projected a different message. “Niggers” became “blacks,” and the problems of the white world were now blamed not on the inferiority of any one race, but on the fact that each race had its own greatness, which was best realized when preserved, unadulterated, from intermarriage.
And when he spoke to the media across a candlelit table in a fancy restaurant—after he was assured the media was paying for dinner—David Duke’s voice wasn’t fiery at all. It was softly insistent, disarmingly rational, and, above all, charming. He swept his tousled, sandy-colored hair off his forehead, leaned across the table, and seduced the media with his charm—which, after all, was what he was selling. Even David was not so deluded as to think he could sell the media his message; his message he reserved for the committed.
There is a constant in both seductions, however. Whether in the light of a burning cross or the light of a burning candle at dinner, the flames still flicker seductively in David Duke’s pale blue eyes. In this way, David so solidified his position in the Klan that he became the youngest Klansman ever elected a Grand Dragon. And he so charmed the media that throughout his 20s he was a celebrity in this country and abroad.
According to David’s résumé, Candice Bergen called him “a fascinating, extremely interesting person.” Tom Snyder, of the “Tomorrow” show, called him “intelligent. articulate, charming.” Barbara Walters called him “a very effective spokesman for his cause.” He appeared on a host of radio programs and on such TV programs as “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “Donahue,” “Black Perspective,” “The Larry King Show,” and “BBC Tonight.” A high point in his career came during a 1978 trip to England. For two weeks, David eluded British officials, who were trying to kick him out of the country. The result was a host of page-one headlines. “I was the best-known American outside of Jimmy Carter,” says David, his eyes dancing.
“After awhile, all those guys with the green teeth, they got to me.”
The ‘70s were heady times for David and his young wife, Chloe. They worked side-by-side for their righteous cause, while at the same time they raised their two young daughters and tried to improve their fortunes like any young, struggling couple. By the ‘80s, though, David’s star had begun to dim, partly because, in 1979, he had left the Klan, with its built-in recognition factor, and partly because the media had lost interest in him, just as it had lost interest in student radicals, and Black Panthers, and women, and gays. According to Andy Warhol’s 15-minute theory of fame, David Duke had had more than his fair share. Now, he and Chloe were left in relative obscurity to continue to pursue the single issue that dominated David’s life: the preservation of the Aryan race.
The strain of that cause would destroy their marriage. David was on the road constantly, while Chloe stayed home with their daughters. She had always preferred to remain in the background and let her husband be the peacock of their cause. Finally, in 1983, they were divorced, and Chloe moved to Florida with their children. “I guess I was just burned out,” she says today. “You had to live it all the time. We put all our money back into the cause. It was just hard work, day and night, every day of the week. It was a crusade for us. We believed in it. We devoted our whole life to it, but it was just too draining for me. I’m more of a private person than David. I stayed as far away from the media as I could. I was just there for him. Now, I lead a different life. I have a regular job. I just get up every morning and go to work and come home and lead a regular life.”
David Duke is 37 years old now. He is no longer the Grand Dragon that novels are written about. He says he left the Klan because he got tired of fighting its violent image. But there are rumors that he was forced out because of personality clashes with other Klansmen, or because his ego had grown too big for the Klan, or because he had misused some Klan money, or, finally, because he was all along a paid informer for the FBI, or some wealthy Arabs, or maybe even the nation of Israel.
“That’s ridiculous,” David says of the informer rumors. “I was too visible to be an informer. I stick out from the other Klansmen too much. No, I left the Klan because I just said to myself one day, ‘The Klan ain’t gonna do it anymore for me.’ Its principles were good, but it just wasn’t a modern, effective vehicle for me to spread the word. I had joined the Klan because of those robes. They made good copy, you know. Good pictures. But after a while, all those guys with the green teeth, they got to me. So I started my own organization, the National Association for the Advancement of White People. We don’t have any record of violence. It’s a perfect foil for me.”
“I shouldn’t say this,” says David Duke, “but Charles and I are almost friends. Isn’t that right, Charles?”
“I love you, too, David,” says Charles Saint Charles, the talk show host at WSMB radio, New Orleans. Charles and David are sitting across from one another at the studio, adjusting their microphones only a few minutes before they go on the air. Charles Saint Charles is a black man with a scraggly goatee.
“Charles is the only guy in the city who will have me on his show,” David says. “White guys are too scared.”
Puffing on his pipe while he prepares for the interview with David, Charles explains that he worked previously in Washington, D.C., and describes his stay in New Orleans as a stepping-stone to the Northeast. “This is a tough city,” he says. “Tough. The first few weeks I was on the air, people thought I was white. When they found out I was black, I’d get these nice calls from some of David’s fans: “Listen, nigger, your number’s up.’” Both David and Charles laugh. Then David sneezes. He has a cold. Charles offers him his handkerchief from the pocket of his dark, pinstriped, three-piece suit. David waves a hand, no thanks.
“It’s a white handkerchief,” Charles says. “Don’t worry, David.”
“I wouldn’t take a dirty handkerchief even from a white person, Charles,” says David. “By the way, you line up all your black friends to call in tonight?”
Charles looks offended. “David, would I do that? I respect you too much.”
The show begins. The callers are both black and white, and they don’t ask questions so much as they make long, rambling, disjointed speeches. The program drags on while David and Charles pantomime laughter and confusion over the various calls. When one white caller says it is a known fact that blacks aren’t as intelligent as whites, Charles blows a kiss to David, who mouths the words, “Right on!” When a black man says that the turmoil in New Orleans’ streets is caused by men like David Duke, Charles nods vigorously. David responds in mock anger.
“Is David the cause of 80-year-old white women being raped in their homes?” he says. “No, I don’t think so.”
During a commercial break, Charles says, “That last caller got to you, David.”
David shakes his head in mock despair. “Charles,” he says, “this is punishment.”
“This ain’t punishment, David. I’m making you a star.”
“If I’m a star, it ain’t because of this show.”
“When I get fired for putting you on, David, can I get a job with your N-A… whatever it is?”
“Sure. That would be a stroke of genius.”
“As long as I don’t have to do floors for you.”
“Naw, you won’t have to. I’ll even take you out for a beer.”
“I don’t think so, David.”
“What’s the matter, Charles? Don’t want your friends to see me with you?”
The program ends with each man summing up his feelings about the issues they have discussed tonight. David says he does not think equality makes for a better world. “I think excellence should be our motto,” he says.
Charles says he’s sure a lot of people wonder why he bothered to interview David on his show. He is serious now, no longer bantering in the jokey talk-show way. “It’s not my position to interfere with your right of free speech,” Charles says. “I want to show people I can get along with you. That helps society.”
“Doesn’t she have great breasts?” David says. He gestures to the girl sitting across from him at the dinner table in Monroe’s Restaurant. “They’re not big, but they’re perfect.”
The girl, whom we’ll call Stephanie, blushes. She has dark hair and dark eyes, and she is only 24. “The first time I met David,” she says, “he asked me to come over to his house for breakfast. Then he had the nerve to ask me to cook it.”
“Perfect breasts,” David says, smiling. “They always make me horny.”
“We don’t have anything in common,” Stephanie says. “I teach black children at a grammar school. Most of my friends and fellow teachers are black, too. I don’t believe in anything David does.” Then she tells a long story about one of her 8-year-old students, a black boy. His father was shot and killed by the police. His 15-year-old brother killed his year-old sister because her crying bothered him. Now, the 8-year-old boy is so withdrawn he is almost catatonic. David sees that story as proof that blacks are inferior to whites. Stephanie sees that story as proof that blacks are trapped in a vicious cycle of deprivation.
“I don’t hate blacks,” David says. “They’ve got their good points. They’re like children. They’re innocent, and they’re cruel. They can’t control themselves. You see the way they bop along with their radios. No discipline. They’re instinctive. That’s why they’re good in sports and music. They’ve got great rhythm.”
Stephanie rolls her eyes heavenward. “Oh, David! Really!” David looks at her as if confused.
David was up late last night. His eyes are pink-rimmed and puffy. His clothes look slept in. He says he has not taken a shower yet. His house looks as if someone has cleaned it by detonating a hand grenade in each room. There is a tottering mountain of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. The kitchen table is a mess of cereal bowls, toast crumbs, melting butter, dirty knives and forks and spoons, and an opened cereal box. The bathroom floor is littered with toilet paper, crumpled newspapers, a hair-dryer, and scraps of notepaper on which David has written little aphorisms for himself: Don’t Waste a minute today; Work! Work! Work! A disheveled platoon of toiletries—shaving lotion, shaving cream, a crumpled tube of toothpaste—stands precariously on the lip of his bathroom sink. The sink itself is crusted with dried toothpaste. Across the hall, his bedroom looks as if it were the scene of a sumo wrestling match the night before. His workout room, across from his living room, is an obstacle course of partially opened cardboard boxes, rumpled clothes, and scattered weights from his body-building set.
Only the living room, with its matching sofa and love seat and K. Kawai piano, looks exactly as it always does: untouched, like one of those model rooms in a newly-built condominium, a room designed to be the living room of some perfect, tasteful American family that somehow never exists.
David smiles sheepishly. “A bachelor’s house.” he says. “I’m still not used to it. Maybe we’d better talk in my office.” His office is in the basement of his nondescript, wooden house, which is next door to a Jehovah’s Witness church in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of whites and blacks. The neighboring homes are small, packed tightly together, and not all of them are well kept. David bought his house for $20,000 years ago and has been slowly renovating it.
The center of David Duke’s NAAWP is a large, basement room with four big, metal desks, a computer terminal, typewriters, metal book shelves stacked neatly with magazines (Gallery), newspapers (the KKK Crusader), pamphlets (Who Runs The Media? by David Duke), and books (The Great Holocaust Trial) that David sells through the mail to finance his operation. David also claims he supports himself by writing books (Finders Keepers, a self-help and sex advice book for women) and articles for major magazines, for which he claims he is paid about $10,000 per article. He says he sells his writings under assumed names because the Jewish-controlled media would never allow him to be published if they knew who he was.
David’s financial situation seems to be precarious. He lives a frugal life, and he is quick to accept free dinner invitations to restaurants where he will order the most expensive items on the menu, and he is equally quick to attend parties such as the one Betty Guillaud has invited him to. Like a character out of a Tennessee Williams play, David Duke seems to be eating the crust of humility while living off the kindness of strangers.
The printed materials in his office run the gamut of his interests, from blacks to Jews. He picks up one of the books from the shelves, plops down in a chair, and begins reading. This morning, it is the Jews. He reads about how the Jews have exaggerated the extent of the Holocaust to perpetuate gentile guilt; how the Torah allows a man to have sex with a 3-year-old girl; how the Kol Nidre, a Jewish prayer, allows Jews to break all their oaths, even before they give them, as long as they say this prayer at a certain time each year; how the Jews feel free to steal gentiles’ property at any time; how they are pornographers and murderers—and so on and so on until, finally, even David has to stop and look up.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I get started, and I just can’t stop. Jews are different from gentiles. I don’t see myself represented in Saul Bellow’s novels. I see so much beauty in the world. I want to preserve it.”
Betty Guillaud’s party ends prematurely. The dog has died. Hit by a car on the street in front of Betty’s house. The women scream and run to the street. In party dresses, they pull the bleeding dog into the house. Betty’s 20-year-old daughter flees to her room and locks the door. Betty throws herself, in tears, against the chest of her former editor. “And now he’s gone!” she shrieks. “Forever!” Then she, too, flees to her room. The well-dressed guests stand around the parlor, their drinks poised, and look confused. They nibble the remaining bits of cheese on the table. Betty’s married daughter drifts through the parlor with a somber face. “We’re closing the house,” she says. “Mother has taken to her room.”
The guests begin to filter out the door. The newspaper editor. The Jewish intellectual. The daughter of Alice Faye. The distinguished looking actor with the British mustache and ruddy complexion. Only David Duke makes no attempt to leave. He stands in the kitchen, deep in conversation with a slight, pretty blond he has just met. David has done as Betty ordered. He has left Laurel home. He arrived alone, dressed in his gray, double-breasted, silk jacket and his gray shoes that he forgot to lace. When he walked through the door, late, Betty squealed with delight, grabbed him by the elbow, and steered him around the parlor. She introduced him to her guests. The women swooned. The men eyed him suspiciously. The Jewish intellectual turned his back on David. David blinked his timid blue eyes. He looked ill at ease, smiling boyishly up through his eyebrows, like a star athlete in unfamiliar surroundings, until, finally, Betty steered him to the kitchen to get him a drink. Johnny Lee, without expression, poured David a drink. Betty grinned.
The printed materials in his office run the gamut of his interests, from blacks to Jews.
“Now, you take good care of David, Johnny Lee,” she said. And then, “And don’t serve the food until the so-and-so’s leave.” She left David and Johnny Lee to stare at each other for a long moment, as if each was, to the other, some strange, exotic creature in a zoo. Finally, the slight blond appeared and cornered David up against the refrigerator. Johnny Lee turned back to his chores, while David and the blond spoke in hushed tones.
When the blond woman leaves too, David stands, confused, in the kitchen. Johnny Lee ignores him. David turns to a bearded man who is slightly drunk, and says, “You know, sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it.”
The bearded man says, “I beg your pardon?”
“My life,” David says.
“I wonder if I’ll change anything. The world, I mean.”
“Why bother?” the bearded man says. “Nobody changes anything. All you can do is try to be happy.”
“I know. I know. I wish I could. But I feel I have this responsibility.” David sighs. “Besides,” he says, “I have this problem.”
“What is it?”
David leans closer to the bearded man in that seductively intimate way of his and says in his soft voice, “I know you’ll understand. I just can’t make up my mind.” The bearded man looks confused or drunk or both. David blinks his timid blue eyes and adds, “Between Laurel and Stephanie.”
“Which one do you love?”
“That’s not the point.”
“I know I could be happy with either of them. But I want them both.” He smiles. “You see,” he says, having reduced his life to the most elemental of choices, “Laurel has this beautiful face, and Stephanie has perfect breasts.”
It is a beautiful early summer’s day in Atlanta. The vast lawn of the Georgia state Capitol is a vivid, spring green that has yet to wither in the summer heat. Wide patches of flowers are planted everywhere, red geraniums and white begonias. They are dazzling in the sunlight. A black youth is pruning them with a long-handled hoe. His back is to the man speaking from the Capitol steps. The youth continues pruning, oblivious.
David Duke, here to kick off his campaign for President of the United States, stands on the steps of the Capitol building in the late morning sunlight and announces his candidacy on the Democratic ticket. He chose Atlanta because it will host his party’s national convention. He is surrounded by his supporters and a few members of the media, and, behind them, people are walking briskly to their offices. Most of the people are black. Every so often, one of the black men and women stops a moment to listen. The women are fashionably dressed in long skirts and Pappagallo flats, and the men are wearing suits similar to the candidate’s, except their suits are more fashionably cut and not as rumpled. When David tells the assembled that he will get more votes than Jesse Jackson, the blacks laugh out loud and then move on in that brisk way of people who have more important things to do.
It’s not exactly the desired response, but David continues, undaunted. When you’ve been in this game as long as he has, you know that some days are better than others. Just the day before, in fact, pickets from the Spartacist League—described by one of its members as a “Marxist Labor Socialist Movement”—had walked in a tight little circle on the sidewalk in front of WGST radio in Atlanta. They carried placards equating David Duke with Charles Manson and Klaus Barbie. They shouted out slogans in a rhythmic voice: “Smash the Nazi David Duke; David Duke is Nazi scum; Keep the fascist on the run.”
From the top steps of the WGST building, David had watched the picketers with obvious relish. “Isn’t this great?” he said, smiling.
In a minute or so, the protesters recognized him and began directing their shouts his way. “David Duke is Nazi scum!” they yelled. One of the protesters, a clean-cut, blond youth wearing chino pants, aimed a camera at David, who adjusted his tie, tilted his head back, and struck a pose. Click. The photographer screamed at him, “Screw you, Duke!”
It was just like LSU, just like England, just like the old days. David smiled and made a little bow of appreciation. Then he turned and went inside to be interviewed on yet another talk show.
[Photo Credit: AB]