The man The Atlantic magazine recently called “America’s most famous racist,” David Duke, is back in the news this month. Duke, the former KKK leader and Louisiana political candidate from the ‘90s, has answered the racist dog whistles of the Trump campaign to reignite his political career. He’s running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate seat in his home state, though GOP leaders are frantically trying to rewrite the rules so he can’t.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 37 years since Playboy sent Harry Crews to follow Duke around the country and find out what was behind this new breed of Klansman, who was called at the time “the ultimate gray flannel racist.” Duke, 28 then, had decided he would be the one to take the KKK’s message mainstream, and the editors at Playboy thought Crews could shed light on the new direction of an old institution. (This was long before Duke’s infamous runs for president and governor of Louisiana.)
Crews went with Duke to New York City, Boston, New Orleans, Tulsa and Rogers, Arkansas, often being mistaken as a bodyguard along the way. Crews found Duke to be spouting the same old racist rhetoric he’d heard in his youth in Bacon County, Georgia. But he also sensed in Duke an understanding of how to play to people’s worst instincts, and exploit them to propel his rancid ideas. Learning this about Duke left Crews in desperate need of a drink:
“I signed the register so I could swallow the necessary amount of vodka that would dull my growing certainty that [David] Duke knew something about the human heart and its predisposition to violence that I did not know, could only dimly sense..." —Harry Crews
The article, titled “The Buttondown Terror of David Duke,” ran in the February 1980 issue of Playboy. It’s one of Harry’s very best works of journalism and was later included in the limited-edition, collectible 2 by Crews, published by the late Herbert Yellin of the erstwhile Lord John Press. The ideas within, however, seem to be alive and well.
…… 2 by Crews Northridge, California: Lord John Press, 1984.
38 pages (hardcover).
♦ Colophon: "This first edition of 2 by Crews is limited to two hundred numbered copies and twenty-six lettered copies, specially bound, all of which have been signed by the author."
♦ Contains two essays that originally ran in Playboy:
· "The Violence that Finds Us" (1-17) [Playboy 31.4 (April 1984)].
· "The Buttondown Terror of David Duke" (19-38) [Playboy 27.2 (February 1980)].