On the Campaign Trail With Former KKK Leader David Duke

PHOTO: David Duke is interviewed at his home in Louisiana by ABC News in 2016.PlayABC News
WATCH On the Campaign Trail with Former KKK Leader David Duke

Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke has shed the Klan robes and closed his KKK-themed store, but his message hasn’t changed, not even in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Louisiana.

Throughout his campaign, Duke has consistently professed his support for Donald Trump and criticized fellow Republicans for not doing the same.

“I'm kind of like Trump,” Duke said, noting his passionate support for ending illegal immigration, his sense that law enforcement have been unfairly demonized by groups such as Black Lives Matter, and his disgust with political correctness.

“The immigration issue to me is the most vital issue because if the massive immigration continues, if it's not stopped, we will become the majority of the American people are going to become outnumbered,” Duke said. Asked what he meant by “the majority,” Duke cut to the chase: "to be frank about it, the white people.”

“We have a media that is absolutely at war with the white people of this country,” Duke said.

Duke rejects the term White Supremacist, insisting he has no desire to oppress others.

“You might laugh,” he added. “But actually, I believe of myself as a human rights activist.”

The fact that Duke is a strong Trump supporter became a Trump campaign issue, with Clinton calling Trump out for “taking hate groups mainstream."

Trump and his campaign have disavowed Duke a few times, but Duke brushes that off.

“He’s fighting a different race than me,” Duke said. “I don’t judge him. I don’t care. I’m running my own race.”

Duke has piggy-backed his Senate campaign on Trump’s Presidential campaign in robo-calls, including to Louisiana voters one that says, “It’s time to stand up and vote for Donald Trump for president and me, David Duke, for Senate … together we’ll save America and save Louisiana.” He also sells hats and other campaign merchandise that say things like “I’m with Duke and Trump.”

Duke is a big fan of Trump’s signature issue, which is to build a border wall and stop the flow of illegal immigrants from coming into the U.S.

“I believe in making America great again,” Duke said. “I go a bit farther than Trump, and I believe that we cannot make America great again unless we preserve the principles and the people who made America great in the first place.”

“I'm not saying make America white again,” he added. “I'm saying preserve America.”

Duke’s support of Trump has been the focus of several Hillary Clinton attack ads and speeches. When Clinton used the phrase “basket of deplorables” to describe some Trump supporters in a speech she gave at a fundraiser in September, she was referring, in part, to Duke.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Duke said. “But what it shows is the ultimate hypocrisy.”

And Duke pointed to Clinton’s longtime friendship with the late Senate President Robert Byrd, who was a former Exalted Cyclops of the Klan who later publicly disavowed those views.

Hillary Clinton did not mention that fact in the glowing eulogy she posted after his death, instead describing Byrd as a mentor and friend. At Byrd’s funeral, Bill Clinton mentioned Byrd’s controversial past briefly but sought to put the best face on it.

“He had a fleeting association with the Ku Klux Klan,” Clinton insisted. “He was a country boy from the hills and hollows of West Virginia. He was trying to get elected, and maybe he did something he shouldn’t have done but he spent the rest of his life trying to make it up."

Duke calls this "hypocrisy" on the part of the Clintons. But here is a distinction: In later years, Byrd repeatedly called his own decision to join the Klan a serious mistake that haunted and embarrassed him throughout his life. The NAACP mourned Byrd's passing in 2010 saying, "Senator Byrd reflects the transformative power of this nation. Senator Byrd went from being an active member of the KKK to being a salwart supporter of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and many other pieces of seminal legislation that advanced the Civil Rights and Liberties of our country."

Duke has never made a similar conversion. While he shed the Klan robes decades ago, Duke's views on race and antisemitism never evolved, and his message has been virtually unchanged for more than 40 years.

Trump has struggled to distance himself from Duke, in part, because he seemed to disavow his own disavowal. Several days after he publicly rejected Duke’s support, he suggested he was unfamiliar with Duke. “I don’t know anything about David Duke… did he endorse me?” Trump told CNN.

That led to an unusual rebuke from House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“This party does not prey on people’s prejudices,” Ryan said at a press conference. “We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln. We believe all people are created equal in the eyes of God and our government.”

After his apparent backpedaling on CNN became an issue, Trump tweeted out his original disavowal and blamed his later statement on a faulty earpiece.

Duke sees Trump as a champion of white pride. That's why Trump is the first mainstream candidate since George Wallace that Duke has come out to endorse.

“Even when Donald Trump stands up and said, ‘When I'm president, you're going be able to say 'Merry Christmas again,’ that resonates with me, and it resonates with the people of this country,” Duke said.

Duke isn’t alone.

In Pulaski, Tennessee, the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, Nightline documented the European-American Heritage Festival, an annual event celebrating white people.

Thomas Robb, Duke’s successor as the leader of the Knight Party of the KKK, organizes the event, which is largely ignored by the rest of the town, one quarter of which is African American.

"They do this every year, and people ignore it," said Lyn Wiser, a local teacher. "Kind of embarrassing after all these years."

"This is one of the greatest places you ever want to live," said pastor Stanley Garrett. "I moved away when I was about 18, came back been here ever since. We may have our problems like most of the towns, but we don’t have the problems like a lot of towns."

But some residents say they are Trump supporters. Lisa Stubblefield, a local farmer, said she was voting for Trump "because we need something different."

"I don’t believe in all his policies, but as far as jobs and stuff, yes," she said. "Twenty years ago you could get a job anywhere around here, in a sewing factory, now you can’t find one."

Others, not so much. "I couldn’t be bothered with him," said Maddy Garrett, Pastor Garrett's 88-year-old mother.

Robb said, supporting, “Trump expresses a lot of the viewpoints that we’ve been talking about for many years, such as the immigration, building a wall.”

People like Duke and Robb see themselves as the good guys in an ongoing race war. Both see themselves as fighting against “white genocide,” and that’s the heart of the immigration issue for them, Robb said.

“Sure, there’s plenty of white people that aren’t [voting for Trump]. There’s always been white people that betray their interest,” Robb said. “I’d say that is a betrayal.”