Opinion

With Enemies Like These, David Duke Doesn’t Need Friends

It’s a new movie coming to a theater near you: White men can’t brunch.

That’s what comes to mind reading some of the deep thoughts from the new movement to call attention to police abuses by disrupting people’s brunches. There is so much mockery of “white spaces” and white faces, plus solemn invocations of white supremacy and white guilt.

“ATTN WHITE Man,” tweeted one participant in this charm offensive. “I have no guilt disturbing your brunch. Its YOU that has no right to be here.” (Sic and sick.)

In the grand scheme of things, listening to a protest while polishing off your French toast is far from the worst indignity a human being has ever suffered. If you advised one of the protesters that it is racist to say a white man has no right to be in a restaurant, they would be the first to tell you they have little power to keep white men from their eggs Benedict while blacks once ate at segregated lunch counters.

No question that’s true. But practically the only people in America who miss the days of segregated lunch counters belong to the David Duke group that ruined Steve Scalise’s New Year. And while Duke was once an important political figure in Louisiana, he and his ragtag band of suit-and-tie Klansmen thankfully have no more power than the brunch protesters. In fact, it would be less controversial for the latter to have an audience with a member of Congress.

At the height of his political influence, Duke didn’t openly advertise himself as a white supremacist. He called himself a “white civil rights” leader. In fact, he draped his racism in almost politically correct euphemisms.

Gone were the traditional Ku Klux Klan titles like the grand wizard. Duke preferred to call himself the Klan’s “national director.” Cross burnings were renamed “illuminations.” He urged his formerly white-sheeted followers to “get out of the cow pasture and into the hotel meeting rooms” (where they would wind up getting future congressmen in trouble).

When Duke finally left the KKK in 1980, he started a group called the National Association for the Advancement of White People. Yes, he borrowed four-fifths of the name. The subsequent European-American Unity and Rights Organization also billed itself as a white civil rights group, using the phrase “white civil rights” in its website url.

It didn’t take long for people to see through Duke’s ruse, especially with his more explicit Klan and neo-Nazi past. But some of the arguments he made did win him some white votes, such as when he said, “[Y]ou don’t make up for past discrimination by putting new discrimination on people with these affirmative actions programs and policies.”

Duke hasn’t won an election in 26 years. What would it take to make his noxious brand of politics relevant again? The white nationalist’s siren song usually goes something like this: Everyone else is allowed to think about race; non-whites can express their pride, vote along bloc lines and organize to defend their interests without being called racist. Why can’t whites?

There’s a Congressional Black Caucus, they inevitably point out. Why not a Congressional White Caucus? A cursory examination of American history answers this question. It’s as obvious as the difference between a brunch protest and Jim Crow.

But when denying a white Democratic congressman who represented a predominantly black district membership in the Black Caucus, then Rep. William Lacy Clay said in a statement, “Quite simply, Rep. Cohen will have to accept what the rest of the country will have to accept — there has been an unofficial Congressional White Caucus for over 200 years, and now it’s our turn to say who can join ‘the club.'”

The white congressman “does not, and cannot, meet the membership criteria, unless he can change his skin color,” Clay added. “Primarily, we are concerned with the needs and concerns of the black population, and we will not allow white America to infringe on those objectives.”

The congressman’s comments, which I initially assumed were apocryphal, were widely and appropriately denounced. But if remarks like it were to become more mainstream, if injunctions against “whitesplaining” and for checking your privilege continue to become less about empathy for people with different backgrounds and more about telling people with the wrong views and wrong skin color to shut up, might not otherwise decent people — in a country with a shrinking white majority — begin to mistake white racism for white civil rights?

The injustices in this country’s past and present are real. So is the pull of tribalism. It would be another sad chapter in America’s tragic racial history if the people who see white racism everywhere unwittingly helped restore the genuine article as a viable political force.

W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.