The ever-expanding Republican field of candidates for the 2012 Presidential elections may be growing yet again. According to reports, David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, is embarking on a 25-city tour to see if he can drum up enough support for a possible presidential run.
The former Klansman first ran for president in 1988 as a Democrat, but failed to gain much support. He later appeared on the ballot as the Populist Party candidate and received less than 50,000 votes. In 1990 he was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives as a Republican where he served for only two years. After several more attempts to be elected to the U.S. Senate, the Governor’s seat in Louisiana, and the White House, Duke is apparently considering another run.
Duke’s history as a white supremacist hasn’t stopped him from gaining traction. Although he has been fairly unsuccessful in his many campaigns, he carried nearly 40% of the vote when he ran in Louisiana’s governor’s race. Lately, other “former” white nationalists have followed Duke’s lead and are running in many upcoming elections. According to Eve Conant of the Daily Beast, the numbers of white-power candidates are startling.
Former (and current) Neo Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Confederates, and other representatives of the many wings of the “white nationalist” movement are starting to file paperwork and print campaign literature for offices large and small, pointing to rising unemployment, four years with an African-American president, and rampant illegal immigration as part of a growing mound of evidence that white people need to take a stand.
Although most white-power candidates have been unsuccessful, they are beginning to gain support, which surprises and worries groups that monitor racist organizations.
Most aren’t winning—not yet. But they’re drawing levels of support that surprise and alarm groups that keep tabs on the white-power movement (members prefer the terms “racial realist” or “white nationalist”). In May, the National Socialist Movement’s Jeff Hall hit national headlines in a bizarre tragedy: his murder, allegedly at the hands of his 10-year-old son. But before his death, he had campaigned for a low-level water board position in Riverside, California. The swastika-wearing plumber who patrolled the U.S. border paramilitary-style walked away with almost 30 percent of his community’s vote. “That’s a sizable amount of the vote for a person running openly as a Neo Nazi,” says Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
Mayo and others date the current spike to 2008, and the election of the country’s first African-American president (an historic marker accompanied by a surge in the percentage of U.S. children born to minorities in 2008—48 percent, compared to 37 percent in 1990). “The immediate reaction after Obama was elected was of rage. They feel if a black man can get elected to office, why can’t someone who represents white interests?” Just a few weeks after Obama’s election, Duke gathered followers in Memphis to expressly strategize what to do next. The solution? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
What followed in 2010, say extremism watchers, was the biggest electoral push by white supremacists in years. “We’ve seen increasing numbers of white supremacists and others on the radical right running for electoral office for several years now and we likely had more in the last election than in any other in recent memory,” says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Although extremely few of these people are elected, especially if their views become known during the campaign, the fact that there are so many openly running for public office reflects the growth of white nationalism over the last 10 years.”
Despite the strides our country has made over the past few decades, we are constantly reminded that racism and racists still exists. The rise in white-power candidates is just one more reason for all of us to take our vote seriously and make sure our views are heard at the polls.