Duke addressed a rally of 100 supporters and a couple of hundred local residents who appeared evenly split between sympathizers, opponents and curious onlookers. There was plenty to see--dozens of law-enforcement officers, signs touting slogans like "To Hell with the Wretched Refuse," and people videotaping license plates. Duke said he objects to always being identified as a former leader of the KKK and that the rally was about immigration. There was plenty of Latino-bashing in the speeches by Duke and his cohorts, but the message hasn't changed. The old Klan lines were there too--the bashing of African Americans, Jews and non-whites.
Duke told the crowd that he was offended by the Malcolm X stamp recently issued by the U.S. Post Office. He said a friend had a Malcolm X stamp on an envelope and put a Marilyn Monroe stamp beside it and "Malcolm X tried to rape her."
One of the speakers who preceded Duke said the rally was trying to reach out to African Americans because they, too, were threatened by the influx of Latinos. I asked Duke if the Malcolm X joke was part of that outreach plan. He said he thought it was funny. I asked him if he thought the black people there enjoyed his attempt at humor. He said he saw them laughing, which I don't doubt; you have to choose--laugh or cry at the absurd theater of it all.
The inner conflict about the whole scene and subculture of David Duke is how seriously to take them and whether to leave them alone ranting in their racist wilderness. Local Latino leaders encouraged people to stay away.
A short 50ish Siler City man in overalls and a cap was standing around after the speeches. He looked like an advertisement for the charm of rural living--a smiling, round face and earnest, friendly eyes. I asked if he was having a good day, and he said it was a great day. He said his favorite part was Duke's speech. It was great, he said, because Duke had the guts to say what a lot of people think.
I walked away thinking the man was wrong, that a lot of people don't think like Duke. Then I remembered watching U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms tell an interviewer last week on public television that the civil rights movement was "unnecessary." For the first time all day, I felt scared.