David Duke has been spreading his message of white supremacy and racial hatred for 40 years, yet President Donald Trump has refused to acknowledge the grave threat to democracy posed by Duke’s clan of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
I wrote the following editorial exposing Duke’s KKK and Nazi roots 36 years ago, in February 1981, when ASUM Programming made the irresponsible decision to invite David Duke to the University of Montana campus to speak on “equal rights for all.”
Back when I wrote this article in 1981, few people at our university knew much about David Duke’s advocacy of racial hatred and violent intolerance, and virtually no one understood his full history with the Klan and neo-Nazi groups.
When I researched Duke’s actions and put all the pieces together in the university newspaper in 1981, it was eye-opening to students who had not realized just how atrocious his brand of extremism was.
Today, however, the hatred and violent racism espoused by alt-right groups is written indelibly for everyone to see. It is inexcusable that President Trump has remained so unwilling to acknowledge this horrifying history and has refused to take a strong stand against it.
Trump may still welcome the support of right-wing extremists. But it is heartening to see today’s massive resistance to Trump and Duke, and the widespread repudiation of everything the KKK and neo-Nazi groups stand for.
In 1981, when I learned that ASUM Programming had invited Duke to speak on “equal rights for all,” I called Duke the “famous leopard who has changed his spots.” He was trying to upgrade his image by shedding the cloak of the Ku Klux Klan and forming the National Association for the Advancement of White People — a transparent effort to conceal his Klan and Nazi roots and gain access to mainstream audiences and university speaking events.
When I learned of Duke’s speaking date, I only had four weeks to organize resistance, because I had just been sentenced to two six-month prison sentences for two acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in protest of Trident nuclear submarines at Bangor Naval Base and Minuteman missiles at Malmstrom Air Force Base. I was ordered to report to federal prison on Feb. 2, 1981.
To make matters worse, I soon found that most of the student body seemed entirely unaware of Duke’s background, and even the university peace activists refused to be involved because they felt we could not raise awareness in time to overcome the decision of ASUM Programming. I was stunned at the apathy on campus.
But a couple friends and I organized a rally on campus against Duke and began speaking out to the media and organizing a petition drive. It was moving at glacial speed, until my campaign was suddenly joined by many longtime Missoula activists from the anti-Vietnam movement 15 years earlier, and the earlier struggles for public power and a ban on nuclear power.
The dedicated older activists saved the day by organizing efficiently and with high levels of commitment. We had soon blanketed the campus with petitions and quickly gathered thousands of signatures opposing Duke’s speaking appearance.
The older activists changed my life by printing thousands of copies of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to distribute around town. They told me that King’s jailhouse essay on nonviolent resistance to racism was their crucial blueprint for activism. King’s essay became my blueprint from that day forward, and triggered my lifelong studies of King and the civil rights movement.
When we learned that almost no one on campus was aware of the true depth of Duke’s racist past, I researched his history and found a staggering record of vicious extremism. I reported my findings in the article I’ve reprinted below from the Feb. 3, 1981, Montana Kaimin.
A day before this article was published, on Feb. 2, 1981, I turned myself in to the Missoula County Jail, where I was jailed for five days prior to being shipped off to federal prisons in California (first to Terminal Island prison in Long Beach and then to Boron prison in the Mojave desert) to serve my two six-month sentences.
While I was in Missoula County jail, my editorial was published in the UM student newspaper, as a way to mobilize resistance to Duke’s presence on campus.
When Duke spoke on campus in mid-February, many nonviolent demonstrators confronted him, some by sitting in, others by standing up and facing backwards when he spoke, and still others by speaking out and setting off noisemakers.
Many of the protesters in the large demonstration had painted their faces all the colors of the rainbow to confront Duke with diversity.
I am reprinting my editorial below as it appeared in the Montana Kaimin in February 1981. It still matters as much as it ever did. It is still just as crucial that we take a stand against the racial bigotry of Duke and his allied right-wing extremists.
What has changed for the better, in my view, is that, back then, we had to work so hard in our efforts to awaken our fellow students to the inhumanity and hatred of Duke’s white supremacist teachings.
What has changed is incredibly important. The resistance to the racism and fascism of the Klan and neo-Nazis seems more passionate and more widespread than ever. It should give us new hope.
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Protest the Racist Ideas David Duke Represents
Editorial by Terry Messman
The grand wizards of ASUM Programming have billed former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s speech “Equal Rights for All.” They claim Duke has changed his colors after he took off the white, blood-splattered cloak of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
But Duke’s racism has persisted from the time he wore a swastika armband and carried Hitler’s Mein Kampf (reported in Newsweek) to his recent recruitment drive in Alaska on behalf of his white-supremacist group, the National Association for the Advancement of White People.
Duke’s past history is dismal and dangerous. Just last spring, Duke went on a widely publicized recruitment tour in Canada for the Ku Klux Klan. Opposition to this racist recruiting was so strong that the government ordered him deported from Vancouver. Apparently, Canadians cared more about the rights of minorities than does ASUM Programming.
The Jan. 18, 1981, issue of Homer News (from Homer, Alaska) reported that Duke recruited an Alaskan branch of the NAAWP and quoted several of Duke’s hate-filled remarks which prove that this leopard hasn’t changed his racist spots:
“We’ve got to preserve the white race and the white heritage,” said Duke. “If we don’t we’re going to resemble some Third World country instead of the United States we used to have. Whites don’t like the gains made by Native groups in recent years.”
Given the current high unemployment and economic despair of minorities in America, that is paranoid nonsense. Given the recent increase in KKK violence and racist murders, that is vicious and dangerous nonsense.
Duke’s opposition to “Native rights” is a threat to Native Americans in Montana who have been shamefully discriminated against for years. Who does Duke think are really the true Americans? Who does Duke think his precious white race stole this country from in the first place?
Why do we need an NAAWP to further advance centuries of racism? Duke’s “white race and white heritage” stole this country by slaughtering Native Americans, ran its plantations by enslaving black people, ran Jim Crow segregation by lynching and terrorizing black people, and even today exploits Indian homelands for energy resources, and discriminates against black people in housing and employment.
Just how much “Advancement of White People” can this country afford? Striving to advance an already dominant white race by reversing decades of civil-rights legislation isn’t “equal rights for all” as ASUM Programming advertises — it’s white oppression.
Those who think Duke has become more moderate are naïve or ignorant. Duke only left the KKK last July and he left only after KKK leader Bill Wilkinson threatened to expose his greedy attempt to sell his membership list for $35,000 to the Invisible Empire of the KKK — the most violence-prone Klan in existence.
Have you seen the Jan. 12, 1976, Newsweek article that shows how Duke’s wife sewed a white KKK robe for their four-month-old daughter? The picture of the baby cloaked in a Klan uniform graphically symbolizes how innocent children can be corrupted by an atmosphere of racial hatred. Is that the kind of future we want for our children?
Have you seen the 1977 Newsweek article titled “The Great White Hope” which shows Duke and his wife dressed in KKK robes, smiling joyously as they hold up a photo of a burning cross at a Klan rally?
Given the nationwide resurgence of the KKK, and the cross burnings and racial threats reported at Harvard, Purdue, Kent State, Williams and Wesleyan universities, is that the kind of future we want in our university?
Have you read about the “border watch” where Duke organized a posse of KKK vigilantes to patrol the California-Mexico border to turn back “illegal aliens”?
Did you realize that the British government ordered Duke deported from England in March 1978, after Duke “addressed racist rallies from Oxford to Brighton,” initiated new members into the KKK with cross-burning ceremonies and preached his white-supremacist slogan: “Racial purity is America’s security.”
David Duke helped set up an “Alien Watch” to intimidate non-white immigrants out of moving to England.
Given the dwindling number of black students on the UM campus and the urgent need to recruit more, do we want to send Duke’s hostile message to future black students? Great Britain and the Canadian city of Vancouver decided to export Duke rather than import his racist message.
ASUM Programming has tainted Black History Month (February) by paying more than $2,000 to import Duke. What kind of public speaker did they import? According to Newsweek, “Duke picked up a typical Klan pamphlet and joyfully began reading a highly biased ‘history’ of the black race that purports to show that blacks are inferior.” Is that the kind of “history” we want taught at this university during Black History Month?
Will you sit and passively listen to a man who was convicted for inciting a riot at a Klan rally in Louisiana and who a Newsweek reporter said “spat out the car in disgust at the thought of mixed marriages”? Will your voice be silent simply because Duke has now adopted more subtle “moderate” ways to speak out for white supremacy?
If your answer is a resounding “No!” come to the UM Ballroom on February 18 and let your opposition ring in Duke’s ears. The protest must be nonviolent and can run the gamut of pickets, leaflets and sit-ins.
Bring tapes of Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a dream” and play it loudly enough to give Duke a high-decibel earful of what “Equal Rights for All” really means. Stand silently and grimly with a charred wooden cross or a hangman’s noose to remind everyone of how the Klan celebrated “equal rights for all” in our nation’s history. Expose Duke’s true colors as a white supremacist and brown-shirted fascist.
Duke’s message thrives on hatred and violence; so be peaceful and come prepared to laugh at him. Make jokes, ask absurd questions and laugh the NAAWP (the Nazi Association of Asinine White Prejudice) right out of existence.
Terry Messman, senior, journalism/wildlife biology
Missoula Country Jail
Terry Messman was a longtime anti-war activist and homeless rights advocate who co-founded Street Spirit in March 1995. He was Editor in Chief of Street Spirit for 23 years.