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Source: Times-Picayne, New Orleans

      Duke's decline

      On Tuesday, David Duke will report to a federal prison in Texas, a 
new personal and political low for a man who had already fallen far from 
the political prominence of a decade ago.

      Sunday April 13, 2003

      By John McQuaid
      Staff writer

      Louisiana white supremacist David Duke visited the tiny Persian 
Gulf kingdom of Bahrain in November at the invitation of Discover Islam, 
a local organization whose mission is, ironically, building 
cross-cultural understanding between Westerners and Muslims.

      Discover Islam paid Duke's travel expenses and lodging at a 
five-star hotel in Manama, Bahrain's capital. Local papers carried ads 
announcing the appearance of "Dr. David Duke" (the title thanks to a 
Ukrainian honorary doctorate). Over three days Duke gave a news 
conference and two speeches in packed hotel meeting rooms. Then he flew 
to nearby Qatar and appeared on the talk show "Without Borders" on the 
Al Jazeera satellite network seen throughout the Arab world.
      
      Duke attacked Israel, Judaism and the U.S. posture toward Iraq. 
His message included anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that have long 
been a staple of the right-wing fringe and have more recently taken hold 
in the Arab world: That Israel is actually running U.S. foreign policy 
and is the shadowy main mover behind the confrontation with Iraq; and 
the Israeli intelligence agency the Mossad knew of terrorist plans to 
destroy the World Trade Center with hijacked airplanes and warned 
Israelis to get out before the planes hit.

      That corner of the Persian Gulf region was abuzz, briefly, over 
the visit. The U.S. State Department protested to Al Jazeera. Bahrain's 
expatriate community was outraged. "In a nutshell, he is a racist who 
does not deserve the notoriety he was initially given here in Bahrain. 
He will never be invited to Bahrain again, because we won't be fooled 
again," said Tony Nazzal, an American communications technician who 
lives in Manama.

      In a world plagued by spectacular terrorist attacks and religious 
and ethnic hatred, Duke can still find audiences for his brand of 
extremism. In fact, it's much easier for him to grab the spotlight 
abroad now than at home in the United States. He has spent much of the 
past several years traveling and making speeches, mostly in Europe and 
more recently in the Middle East.

      The international arena is rife with hostility toward both the 
United States and Israel, and that offers plenty of platforms for Duke's 
views, which are harshly critical of both countries. In Duke's universe, 
the Jews and Israel are the roots of all evil, and the United States 
bears the ultimate blame for Sept. 11 because of its support for Israel. 
U.S. foreign policy -- including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is 
the result of Israeli manipulation. For Duke, supporting it amounts to 
treason.

      Political eclipse at home

      But here, Duke is in political eclipse -- and a felon soon to be 
behind bars.

      On Tuesday he will report to the Federal Correctional Institution 
in Big Spring, Texas, to start a 15-month sentence after pleading guilty 
to charges of tax and mail fraud. Duke admitted to sending letters 
begging money from supporters that exaggerated his financial problems, 
then going out and gambling the money away in casinos in Louisiana and 
along the Gulf Coast.

      The prison term marks a new personal and political low for Duke, 
who had already fallen far from his days of political prominence of a 
decade ago.

      Running as a Republican, Duke won a seat as a Louisiana state 
representative in 1989, took 59 percent of the white vote in his 
unsuccessful challenge to Sen. J. Bennett Johnston the next year, and 
knocked incumbent Gov. Buddy Roemer out of the runoff in the 1991 
governor's race. The Louisiana political and business establishments 
trembled before the threat posed by an extremist becoming a major 
officeholder. National Republican officials worked overtime to 
dissociate their party from him. National and international media were 
riveted on his every move.

      But Duke was never able to abandon his extreme ideology or 
overcome his personality flaws. Instead of trying to build on that 
relatively brief moment in the limelight, he squandered it with repeated 
financial chicanery and a migration back to the far fringes of 
anti-Semitism and white supremacy where he had started his career. 
Partly to escape his legal troubles, he began spending most of his time 
abroad. He found his fame opened doors and the media attention was less 
skeptical.

      Even supporters alienated

      Duke's political descent and felony plea have alienated even 
longtime supporters in America, including those who once saw him as the 
ticket to the mainstream.

      "He is a fractured personality. He is morally bankrupt, a tragic 
character. He had great potential. It's a shame he frittered it away," 
said Richard Barrett, the general counsel of the Nationalist Movement, a 
Mississippi-based white supremacist organization that once supported 
Duke's political career.

      Duke's prison stay is a further blow from which he will have 
trouble recovering, political analysts say. When he gets out of prison, 
Louisiana law prohibits him from seeking office for 15 years, but he 
could mount a legal challenge to run for a federal post. His 
fund-raising ability, already at low ebb, will likely dwindle further, 
the analysts say.

      "I'm sure he'd still appeal to some people. Some will see him as a 
martyr," Loyola University political scientist Ed Renwick said. "But he 
hasn't been a major figure for a decade. You never hear of him except 
for an occasional article in the newspaper. He went so far and he kept 
going further to the right until he left most people behind. I don't see 
him major threat to anybody. His political career in Louisiana is 
probably over."

      'Political schizophrenia'

      Duke never abandoned his extremism even while he was flirting with 
the mainstream. He never mentioned Jews while campaigning, for example, 
but in 1989 he was caught selling Nazi, anti-Semitic and other extremist 
literature out of his Louisiana legislative office.

      "He has this political schizophrenia," said longtime Duke critic 
Lance Hill, director of Tulane University's Southern Institute for 
Education and Research. "On the radical right he is an openly 
anti-Semitic white supremacist, but when he runs for office he puts on 
this mask of conservatism."

      By papering over his more extreme beliefs and past associations, 
for a time Duke became an appealing vehicle for anger toward government 
and at liberal welfare-state policies that was festering among a segment 
of white voters in Louisiana and nationally. He was in some ways a 
political pioneer, said Carol Swain, a University of Tennessee political 
scientist and author of the book "The New White Nationalism in America: 
Its Challenge to Integration."

      "I believe he has had a major impact on American politics. He 
championed at the beginning of his career a lot of issues facing white 
Americans that were not being addressed by the major parties," Swain 
said. Though tainted by racism, she said, Duke's attacks on welfare, 
affirmative action and other issues presaged later mainstream political 
fights.

      During the 1990s, though, Duke dropped this mask. He shifted his 
focus away from the issues that won him votes and returned to openly 
promoting a neo-Nazi point of view. He didn't call it that, though he 
has been calling himself an Aryan and publicly blaming "the Jews" for 
most of the world's ills in recent years.

      Book was turning point

      The key event was the 1998 publication of his book "My Awakening," 
its title evocative of Hitler's "Mein Kampf," German for "My Struggle." 
The self-published book is part autobiography, part pseudoscientific 
tract about the supposed genetic roots of racial disparities, part 
conspiracy theory alleging the Jews control various U.S. and global 
institutions. Above all, it is a call to action for "Aryans" to protect 
the white, European heritage by whatever means necessary -- through 
politics first and if that ultimately fails, through violence.

      Publishing and promoting an earnest, 717-page tome was a major 
statement that Duke could not easily paper over, though he did try 
during a 1999 run for Congress.

      "I think the autobiography was a turning point," Hill said. "It's 
clear he had given up any hopes of winning public office. He had been 
criticized on the far right in the campaigns of the early 1990s of 
compromising his beliefs to win votes. He started his career as leader 
in neo-Nazi movement in America, and he came back to those roots in the 
late '90s."

      Duke himself is opaque about why he moved in this direction. Some 
theorize that there was more money to be made tapping support from the 
far right. "He had to come back to the fringe to get money from the 
fringe," said conservative radio station owner Robert Namer, who acted 
as a go-between when Duke sold mailing lists to then-gubernatorial 
candidate Mike Foster in 1995. "He had to find religion again. You can't 
be a mail-order priest and then be an atheist -- no one will send you 
money."

      There is a market for what Duke is offering these days. "My 
Awakening" has apparently sold well, according to Duke and some Duke 
critics. Duke claims it has sold 50,000 copies in the United States, and 
many more abroad, where it has been translated into Russian and several 
other languages.

      But the now-obsessive focus on what he calls "Jewish supremacism" 
-- the title of his latest book -- has marginalized him even on the far 
right. Even his most loyal backers question this focus and his extensive 
travels abroad, saying they are not the ingredients for political 
success at home.

      "I think his efforts would be better served by giving his 
attention to matters here at home," said longtime supporter Kenny 
Knight. "He'd get more mileage out of efforts to deal with issues here 
in Louisiana and the South: the Confederate flag, race issues, crime 
issues."

      Aside from self-aggrandizement, Duke's practical political aims 
were never completely clear. He was never a good political organizer. 
Most of the organizations he founded he eventually abandoned, either 
through inattention or personal conflicts. His current organization, the 
European-American Unity and Rights Organization, known as EURO, has a 
Web site and members scattered across the country. But it's not a force 
on the far right, according to several hate-monitoring groups.


      The odd couple

      At home and later abroad over the past decade, Duke has traded on 
his fame and his skill as a polemicist. He has led a self-indulgent, if 
not luxurious, lifestyle marked by dalliances with women, daily 
workouts, gambling for a time and speaking engagements before small, 
sympathetic audiences.

      Duke's odd-couple encounters with controversial British historian 
David Irving offer a snapshot into the life he was living as he wrote 
"My Awakening."

      Once a respected scholar of World War II Germany, Irving veered 
increasingly into the "revisionist" camp that questions the Holocaust 
and reveres at least some elements of the Nazi regime. In 2001 he lost a 
libel suit he filed in England against American scholar Deborah 
Lipstadt, who in a book referred to him as "one of the most dangerous 
spokespersons for Holocaust denial."

      Lipstadt's attorneys used Irving's own journals to demonstrate he 
was associating with Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazis. Duke was exhibit 
A.

      In the journals, Irving writes that Duke approached him at a 1994 
book signing and they dined together along with Duke's then-girlfriend 
Christy Martin. They socialized often over the next several years in 
Louisiana and at rightist gatherings, sometimes playing tennis and golf 
and at one point hanging out until 2 a.m. in a St. Petersburg, Fla., 
disco called Beech Nutts, where Duke picked up a waitress named Dorrie.

      Irving did editing work on Duke's emerging manuscript and tried 
unsuccessfully to hook him up with a New York literary agent. At his 
request, Duke gave Irving the names of 400 contributors who gave more 
than $100 each. Duke also lent him $2,000. Nevertheless, Irving viewed 
Duke with some personal distaste.

      "Duke makes rather a lot out of his tennis victory yesterday: 
crowing slightly more than is funny," Irving wrote while Duke and Martin 
were staying with him on Key West. "He speaks loudly in a kind of 
un-modulated American southern croak, which is hard to take after a 
while. . . . It is also hard to listen politely to his seemingly endless 
vapourings on the -- to me -- boring subject (of the Holocaust); ditto 
the Jews and Zionism, although these are admittedly the topics of the 
chapters he has been writing while down here. He is also insensitive to 
others: his treatment of Christy Martin, an innocent 23-year-old soul 
who (wrongly) believes he will marry her, is not above reproach."


      Rolling the dice

      Several years later, an apparently fed-up Martin approached 
authorities with evidence that Duke had been lying about his financial 
situation in fund-raising letters and then gambling with the "personal 
gifts" sent in by supporters deposited in her bank account, according to 
news reports and sources close to the investigation.

      "My equity, savings and retirement are gone, but my computer is 
humming, and my word processor is clicking out the book that I know will 
make a huge difference in the struggle ahead," Duke wrote in one appeal 
in which he also wrote about being forced to sell his house. But 
according to prosecution documents, Duke sold his house at a profit and 
was maintaining a variety of accounts open for noncampaign donations 
that, while not enormous, totaled more than $400,000 over a five-year 
period.

      Duke had been an avid craps player for years, and prosecution 
documents indicate he was playing the tables in Louisiana, Mississippi 
and Las Vegas. In a defense posted for a time on his Web site, Duke 
wrote that he and some friends developed a computer model that could 
beat the house at craps, and his gambling forays were made to support 
his political efforts: "The system that I employed at the casinos was a 
sincere, if unorthodox, effort to find a way to raise funds for the 
Cause and not a 'lavish spending spree,' " the statement said.

      But Duke's attorney and friend, Jim McPherson, said that the 
gambling simply got out of hand and he asked Duke to stop. "The gambling 
industry has learned long ago, if you've got a system, come on down," 
McPherson said. "At first he won. He was using small amounts of his own 
money. But then he started losing and started using money he was 
soliciting from his supporters."

      Duke says he hasn't visited a casino since 1998, when the 
investigation began -- something prosecutors do not dispute.


      Taking extremism abroad

      With his finances under scrutiny, Duke decided to seek more 
sympathetic shores and headed overseas. He had been to Europe and Russia 
before. In 1995, he visited Moscow and met with ultranationalist 
politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky. This type of exchange wasn't unique. In 
recent years, driven in part by the growth of the Internet, American 
far-right organizations have expanded their contacts with counterparts 
abroad. Anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist extremists have a greater following 
in some parts of Europe and the former Soviet Union than they do in the 
United States.

      In 1999, Duke said, he began spending time abroad, using the 
northern Italian mountains near Verona as a base, but making several 
extended trips to Moscow and other parts of Russia. He was in Moscow 
promoting the Russian version of his book when the FBI raided his house 
in November 2000, carting away boxes of documents.

      Duke said he visited Ukraine, the Baltic states, the Czech 
Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, France, Germany and Austria, among other 
places. Mostly, he did the same things he did in America: speechmaking, 
writing and meeting with far-right political leaders and organizations, 
and partying when possible. When in Moscow, Duke stayed in a downtown 
apartment and frequented a popular disco and striptease bar called the 
Hungry Duck, according to Lev Krichevsky, then the Moscow director of 
the Jewish organization the Anti-Defamation League, who monitored Duke's 
activities.

      Duke said he partly paid his own way, but also received travel and 
other expenses from various host groups.


      Audiences were larger

      But the audiences were larger and the venues often more 
respectable than the fluorescent hotel meeting rooms and small book and 
pamphlet fairs where American extremists gather.

      In January 2002, for example, Duke spoke at a conference held at 
the Moscow Social Humanitarian Academy, a private high school favored by 
Communist Party members. Titled "Global Problems in World History," it 
featured revisionist historians and conspiracy theorists. Beginning his 
presentation with a crisp wave of a wooden pointer, according to a 
fellow presenter, Duke spoke on "The Zionist Factor in the U.S." Among 
other things, he said Israeli scientists were genetically engineering 
viruses to use as weapons. "Only the Jews will be immune to them," he 
said, according to a story in the newspaper Novy Peterburg.

      The press attention was also generally more favorable than he gets 
in the United States. Sometimes the mainstream press ignored Duke, 
sometimes it treated him with respect, sometimes with criticism. But he 
wasn't the political pariah he is in the United States.

      "My Awakening" was translated into Russian and retitled "The 
Jewish Question Through the Eyes of an American." Duke appended several 
new chapters on the importance of preserving Russian heritage and the 
threat of "Jewish oligarchs." For a time it was put on sale for 50 
rubles -- about $1.70 -- in bookstalls in the basement of the Russian 
parliament building, where it sold at a brisk pace, Krichevsky said.


      An embarrassment

      Still, he had the capacity to cause embarrassment. In Ukraine, 
Duke received an honorary doctorate of philosophy from the Interregional 
Academy of Personnel Management, a prominent university with a student 
body of more than 30,000 at its central campus and affiliates elsewhere. 
According to various sources, the top management of the school has taken 
a strong anti-Zionist position and produced a series of articles in a 
university-published magazine called Personnel condemning the Jews and 
Israel for international mischief-making.

      Duke's visit contributed to an ongoing uproar over the 
university's leadership and its alleged anti-Semitism. Several prominent 
politicians on the board of the academy have been pressured to resign, 
including former President Leonid Kravchuk and former Prime Minister 
Viktor Yuschenko.

      "President Kravchuk has made some steps to distance himself, 
publicly and privately. The former prime minister Yuschenko has made 
some too," said Jed Sunden, the publisher of the Kiev Post, an 
English-language newspaper that called for them to step aside. "But they 
have not made the clean break as you see with politicians in the states 
-- in the Trent Lott affair, for example."


      Effects of Sept. 11

      The events of Sept. 11, 2001, had an unusual effect on the 
right-wing fringe. Some groups crowed enviously over the terror attacks. 
"Anyone who is willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is 
all right by me. I wish our members had half as much testicular 
fortitude," wrote Billy Roper of the National Alliance, a far-right 
group with ties to Duke.

      Duke took a softer line, but he still blamed U.S. policies abroad, 
especially its support of Israel, for stoking hatred of the United 
States that led to the attacks.

      The world's intense focus on the Middle East gave Duke's 
anti-Zionist activities a boost, and he churned out polemics on the 
topic. His Web site focuses heavily on the issue, with a long screed 
against Israel and what Duke calls its role in Sept. 11. Duke also 
claims that the U.S. war in Iraq is done at Israel's bidding.

      These sentiments are quite common now across the Arab world, and 
before long Duke's writings were being picked up by newspapers in Saudi 
Arabia, Yemen and elsewhere. One article even made it full circle and 
was posted on the Web site of a New York University student protesting 
U.S. policy, stirring a campus controversy.

      Duke's Internet postings on Israel also led to his invitation to 
Bahrain, according to Essam Eshaq, a director of the group that hosted 
him, Discover Islam.

      He said that the group knew of Duke's racist views -- among them 
his belief in the intellectual superiority of people of European descent 
over dark-skinned people, including Arabs -- but that they decided they 
still wanted to hear an American politician criticize Israel.

      But others say that privately, the group's leaders were taken 
aback by the uproar the visit caused. "He completely took people in," 
said George Williams, the editor of the Gulf Daily News, Manama's 
English language newspaper. "Discover Islam would never admit it, but 
they were quite embarrassed by this."

      Still, Duke's resume is opening doors for him abroad. "If the 
Republican Party, which is the party in office in the White House today, 
finds it acceptable to field him as a candidate, what's the big deal in 
coming and speaking on issues which concern people here?" Eshaq said.


      Prison security concerns

      A month after the Discover Islam appearance, Duke's attorney and 
prosecutors finally reached a plea arrangement and Duke returned to the 
United States from a visit to Austria. As he prepares for prison, some 
supporters are worried he may be a target of violence. A spokesman at 
the Big Spring prison said no decisions have been made on whether to 
provide special protection for Duke.

      "It's certainly going to be, I would imagine, a difficult period 
for me, but no, I am not overly concerned about that," Duke said. "I 
certainly have apprehension, like anyone going into federal custody. But 
I'll get through it. I can handle it. I want to make sure the experience 
makes me stronger and better and affords me a time for self-inspection 
and hopefully embark upon a good path, an effective path for the rest of 
my life. I've got a lot of life ahead of me."

      Duke says that the charges he pleaded guilty to were insignificant 
and maintains he didn't bilk his supporters. He says he took the plea 
deal because he feared drawing a heavily black jury. "A man identified 
as a former Ku Klux Klan leader wouldn't have a chance (in a jury 
trial)," he said. "I was given a choice of doing that or taking a plea." 


      Duke may find it hard to recover, even on the fringe, which has 
taken several other hits recently. In the wake of Sept. 11, the FBI and 
Justice Department have put more pressure on rightist groups. Matt Hale, 
the head of the hate group the World Church of the Creator, is under 
indictment for plotting to kill a federal judge. William Pierce, the 
founder of the National Alliance, died last year.

      But Duke will likely be viewed as a martyr by some 
government-hating segments of the far right. And he will probably retain 
some cachet abroad that he can still exploit. Duke observers caution 
that he is a very resourceful figure.

      "Is he washed up as a mainstream figure? I don't know. There were 
at least three other times when I would have said he's washed up, and he 
wasn't," said Tim Wise, a senior adviser to the Fisk University Race 
Relations Institute who monitors the far right. "Now he's going to jail, 
but I've learned to never say when he might be finished. He always 
manages to reinvent himself, and the movement he's a part of is so 
desperate for leaders, they keep coming back to him."

      . . . . . . .

      John McQuaid can be reached at john.mcquaid@newhouse.com or (202) 
383-7889.

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