World

Donald Trump is the great hope of dying white supremacist movement

Making friends is no easy task for modern white nationalists.

Clinton swipes at Trump in victory speech

In her South Carolina victory speech, Democratic contender Hillary Clinton says America does not need to be made great again, because "America has never stopped being great."

In an era of gay marriage and a black president, more than a half-century after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, separatists can't exactly swan-dive into conversations with strangers about the white-power cause.

But Rachel Pendergraft – the national organiser for the Knights Party, a standard-bearer for the Ku Klux Klan – said that the KKK, for one, has a new conversation starter at its disposal.

Angry voters align with Trump camp: Supporters cheer during a caucus night rally for Donald Trump.
Angry voters align with Trump camp: Supporters cheer during a caucus night rally for Donald Trump. Photo: AP

You might call it a "Trump card".

It involves, say, walking into a coffee shop or sitting on a train while carrying a newspaper with a Donald Trump headline. The Republican presidential candidate, Ms Pendergraft said, has become a great outreach tool, providing separatists with an easy way to start a conversation about issues that are important to the dying white supremacist movement.

"One of the things that our organisation really stresses with our membership is we want them to educate themselves on issues, but we also want them to be able to learn how to open up a conversation with other people," Ms Pendergraft said.

Using Mr Trump as a conversation piece has been discussed on a private, members-only website and in "e-news, stuff that goes out to members".

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been praised by former KKK leader and Louisiana politician David Duke.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been praised by former KKK leader and Louisiana politician David Duke. Photo: AP

In addition to opening "a door to conversation", she said, Mr Trump's surging candidacy – which has the support of former KKK grand wizard David Duke, among others – has done something else: It has electrified some members of the movement.

"They like the overall momentum of his rallies and his campaign," Ms Pendergraft said. "They like that he's not willing to back down. He says what he believes and he stands on that."

Donald Trump has not responded to requests for comment about his support among white supremacists.
Donald Trump has not responded to requests for comment about his support among white supremacists. Photo: AP

For large numbers of Americans, Mr Trump's blunt rhetoric surrounding immigration, minority groups and crime may sound like finely tuned retrograde vitriol. But for Ms Pendergraft and a growing number of white nationalists flocking to the campaign's circus-like tent, the billionaire sounds familiar, like a man fluent in the native tongue of disaffected whites.

It's a language people such as Ms Pendergraft never thought they'd hear a mainstream politician in either party use in public.

And they're desperately hoping Mr Trump's rise from reality-show figure to Republican front runner may be the beginning of something that transcends the campaign trail.

The same rhetoric that frightens critics ("Trump has really lifted the lid off a Pandora's box of real hatred and directed it at Muslims," the Southern Poverty Law Centre's Mark Potok said) draws praise from supporters such as Mr Duke, the former KKK leader and Louisiana politician.

The support Mr Trump has received from Mr Duke has drawn new scrutiny in recent days. Asked on Sunday by CNN's Jake Tapper to "unequivocally condemn" Mr Duke, Mr Trump pleaded ignorance.

"Just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, OK?" Mr Trump said.

Tapper pressed him several more times to disavow Mr Duke and the KKK, but Mr Trump again declined.

"I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists," he said. "So I don't know. I don't know – did he endorse me, or what's going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists."

Mr Duke said in December that while he has not officially endorsed Mr Trump, he considers the candidate to be the "best of the lot" at the moment.

"I think a lot of what he says resonates with me," Mr Duke said.

On his radio show last week, Mr Duke encouraged listeners to cast their ballots for the candidate, saying that "voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage".

"I'm not saying I endorse everything about Trump, in fact I haven't formally endorsed him," Mr Duke said, in remarks reported by Buzzfeed. "But I do support his candidacy, and I support voting for him as a strategic action. I hope he does everything we hope he will do."

Two days before his interview with Tapper, Mr Trump brushed off Mr Duke's support, telling reporters in Texas on Friday: "David Duke endorsed me? OK, all right. I disavow, OK?"

On Monday – after saying "I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists" – Mr Trump told the Today show that his refusal to disavow Mr Duke a day earlier was the result of a "very bad earpiece".

NBC's Savannah Guthrie asked Mr Trump why he'd refuse to repudiate Mr Duke on CNN when he'd already done so on Friday.

"I'm sitting in a house in Florida with a very bad earpiece that they gave me, and you could hardly hear what he was saying," Mr Trump said. "But what I heard was various groups, and I don't mind disavowing anybody, and I disavowed David Duke and I disavowed him the day before at a major news conference, which is surprising because he was at the major news conference, CNN was at the major news conference, and they heard me very easily disavow David Duke.

"Now, I go, and I sit down again, I have a lousy earpiece that is provided by them, and frankly, he talked about groups. He also talked about groups. And I have no problem with disavowing groups, but I'd at least like to know who they are. It would be very unfair to disavow a group, Matt, if the group shouldn't be disavowed. I have to know who the groups are. But I disavowed David Duke."

Months earlier, Mr Trump discussed Mr Duke with Bloomberg News, saying: "I don't need his endorsement; I certainly wouldn't want his endorsement. I don't need anyone's endorsement."

When Bloomberg's Mark Halperin and John Heilemann asked whether he would repudiate Mr Duke's support, Mr Trump replied: "Sure, I would if that would make you feel better."

Mr Trump's campaign has not responded to multiple requests from The Post seeking comment about the candidate's support among white supremacists.

The candidate does not endorse white supremacist groups, and his campaign fired two staff last year for posting racially offensive material on social media. Mr Trump also shocked some conservatives by criticising Justice Antonin Scalia after Justice Scalia argued last year that black students would perform better in "slower-track" universities.

"I thought it was very tough to the African-American community, actually," Mr Trump told CNN.

Washington Post

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