Can white supremacists stage a comeback in the GOP?

OPINION - David Duke's presidential hopes can serve as a warning sign: that the threat, though unlikely, is still very much alive...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

America appears to have a recurring case of white supremacists, with viral-like symptoms.

The mid-term elections of 2010 spawned an increased number of politically active white rights organizations, including the KKK and neo-Nazi groups — all aimed at gaining small, but significant, footholds in electoral politics. The trend continues as we head into the presidential campaign of 2012 — with the infamous David Duke, a former KKK Grand Wizard and Republican Louisiana State Representative who lost his 1991 bid for the governorship with nearly 40 percent of the overall vote, now announcing exploratory plans to run for president.

Duke’s record shows a consistent losing streak, and there is very little chance he’d survive any primary, let alone serve as a serious contender for the Republican nomination — but his boldness reflects an arrogant resurgence of white supremacist ideology and fervor — which the American political landscape has not experienced, or tolerated, in decades.

The dialogue often promoted by white nationalists, as Duke describes himself, is largely focused on being anti-federal government, anti-immigration, pro-Christian “family values”, anti-gay and strict Constitutionalism. When seen through this lens, the similarities between these values and the newly emerged Tea Party Caucus and rhetoric, are too obvious to be ignored.

The only difference perhaps is that Duke and his ilk are vocal about their desire to see a system of voluntary segregation and white separatism. But what the American public learned in the past two years as the birthers dominated the airwaves with visceral attacks against the nation’s first African-American president — with suggestions that he was unfit to hold office — is that the underlying issue is still race, and old dogs have simply found new tricks to get their message across.

TheGrio recently explored attempts by the KKK to rebrand itself as a civil rights organization, much like the NAACP, but acting on behalf of whites. Although the suggestion seems ludicrous to most, the sentiments find willing ears and minds — and should be taken seriously. The broader question becomes: what does this resurgence mean for the future of the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement in particular? And will a more vocal far-right fringe force the GOP back to the center?

Eve Conant, a Newsweek staff reporter, explored these questions for The Daily Beast in her piece “White Supremacists Stampede”. Conant interviewed members of various white nationalist organizations to understand their political and electoral strategies. What she found was a surprisingly effective network, with deep roots and strong connections. Conant explains that Stormfront, America’s largest white-supremacist website, is a place where thousands of “racial realists” meet to discuss everything from homeschooling their children to organizing political rallies.

The Stormfront founder and radio host Don Black told Conant his strategy was to start from the ground up, “where we have a chance of winning. It’s impossible to get into the Senate or Congress but state legislatures or smaller offices can work.” Black told the Daily Beast “Many of our people are involved in the Tea Party, but much of their leadership is skittish when it comes to talking about racial realities. The Tea Party is a healthy movement but many are too conditioned to run like scared rabbits when called racists.”

Conant researched further to find that die-hard white nationalist were willing to be more surreptitious and manipulative in their efforts to gain influence.

Neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement’s leader, Brian Culpepper, told the Daily Beast that his Tennessee chapter could openly run a candidate for the state and U.S. Congress, but chose to do so secretly. Culpepper said he preferred sneaking candidates into office under the radar rather than openly flouting the white-rights agenda.

Conant discovered the same was true of the United Klans of Tennessee, which claimed to have “several mayors and county commissioners serving who do not openly identify as Klan members.”

“We insert ourselves into the infrastructure of other established parties due to the bias against us and the difficulty of third parties getting ballot access,” says Culpepper. Unlike other Neo-Nazis in his group, these ones …”have hair, no ink, no piercings, and increasingly are college-degreed.” Some Neo-Nazis have also quietly been joining national campaigns and offices to start sharpening their political teeth, he claims. “We have people working with the most recent incoming class of freshmen in the House,” says Culpepper. “And they don’t even know it.”

Surely it would be cynical to assume that the GOP harbors a far-right fringe element whose sole concern is racial purity and the maintenance of power in the hands of the white majority, but with the coded racial animus inherent in the Obama attack machine, perhaps it is necessary to take people like Culpepper seriously.

The Tea Party movement, for all its purported good intentions of getting Americans involved in the political process and sparking debate about political economy and the future of American industry — must guard against being an engine through which more sinister forces find a seat at the political roundtable.

Voters must be informed and candidates must be fully vetted. Although their reach is limited, the fact that white nationalist organizations are actively seeking ways to promote their political agenda through elected office, shows they remain a force in the body politik.

David Duke’s presidential hopes can serve as a warning sign: that the threat, though unlikely, is still very much alive.