Max Becherer/AP
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke talks to the media at the Louisiana Secretary of State's office in Baton Rouge, La.

Why former KKK leader David Duke is returning to politics

David Duke won a seat in the House in 1989. Now, he says the time is right for another shot at public office.

Former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke announced on Friday that he would run for a US Senate seat in Louisiana, pointing to the presidential campaign of Republican candidate Donald Trump as evidence that the national mood had swung in favor of policies he has long espoused.

“I believe my time has come,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “The people of this country, the patriotic, decent, God-fearing people of this country are now right with me.”

In February, Mr. Duke endorsed Mr. Trump, who for several days balked at issuing a public rejection of Duke's support, causing consternation from the national political mainstream. On Friday, just a day after the Republican Party handed Trump the presidential nomination, Duke sought to link his campaign’s themes to those emphasized by the real estate mogul, such as trade, military action abroad, and immigration.

“I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years,” he said in a video.

Republican leaders in Louisiana issued a statement distancing the party from Duke, calling him a “hate-filled fraud” and saying they would “play an active role in opposing” his candidacy.

“David Duke’s history of hate marks a dark stain on Louisiana’s past and has no place in our current conversation,” Roger Villere, the GOP’s Louisiana chairman, said in the statement.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee echoed the sentiment, writing that Duke “will not have the support of the NRSC under any circumstance.”

Duke left his leadership of the Ku Klux Klan in 1979, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and in 1981 founded the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP), the first of several such white supremacist groups. A Holocaust denier, he spent much of the 2000s in Europe and Russia, promoting ties with local fascist groups.

Duke first rose to national notoriety in 1989, when he won a seat in the House of Representatives – representing a nearly all-white New Orleans suburb – despite vocal opposition from a list of prominent Republicans that included Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

"David Duke is not a Republican," said then-Republican National Chairman Lee Atwater on the day of Duke’s victory, according to a 1989 article in the Los Angeles Times. "He's a pretender, a charlatan and a political opportunist who is looking for any organization he can find to try to legitimize his views of racial and religious bigotry and intolerance.

The New York Times noted two years later that during his term in Congress, Duke was known to sell neo-Nazi literature from his legislative office. In subsequent years, he failed in bids for a Senate seat and the Louisiana governorship.

In 2002, Duke was convicted of tax and mail fraud for what prosecutors described then as a six-year direct-mail campaign in which Duke urged his supporters to send money, claiming he was in danger of losing his home and his savings. In fact, said prosecutors, Duke sold his home for a profit during that same period, held several investment accounts and gambled away much of what his supporters sent, as the Washington Post noted in 2003

Duke served 15 months in federal prison as part of a plea deal, though he denies wrongdoing. 

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