From KKK To An Italian Village, Was David Duke Plotting A Comeback?
A visit to the tiny village in the Dolomite Mountains where the notorious U.S. politician and former Ku Klux Klan grandmaster was residing under a false name. He was deported last week.
VENAS DI CADORE — In the local police station they've come to call him "Mr. White," but his real name is David Duke — the notorious Ku Klux Klan leader and Holocaust denier who was a U.S. presidential candidate in the 1992 after serving in the Louisiana state legislature.
Duke came to this small town in the Dolomites near the Austrian border 18 months ago, declaring that his intention was to study. But earlier this month, Italian police say they expelled him from the country because of his “dangerous intentions to form racist and anti-Semitic groups in Europe.”
“Ernest Duke, the name that we knew him by, came to Italy in February 2011 with a valid visa on his passport from the Italian Embassy of Malta,” a local police official said.
No particular issues were raised about his visa when he first arrived. "But when it was being renewed, we began to do some investigating," the officer explained. "He wasn’t studying, nor doing any research.”
It was then that the authorities discovered the real identity of the controversial U.S. politician, who had indeed been overlooked because of the name switch. Upon arrival, Duke had used his middle name, Ernest, which was how he was able to obtain his first visa.
When authorities discovered that a 2009 residence and travel ban in Europe's Schengen open border zone had been issued by Switzerland, they sought to have him deported. Duke appealed with the Regional Administrative Tribunal (TAR), but it was rejected last week.
“It’s a technical question,” explains his defense lawyer Filippo Augusto. “These are ideological-political issues regarding the Swiss measure. In Italy he isn’t accused of proselytism. Now we have six months to prepare our appeal for the justice ministry’s state council.”
As regards the relationship between Duke and Augusto, the lawyer says: “He sought me out. I have only met him a few times and I didn’t know who he was before. I don’t know what contacts he might have in Venas di Cadore but I do know that he only speaks English.” Since then, Duke is thought to have left Italian territory.
But what in the first place was he doing in a tiny Italy town with only 800 inhabitants? On Nov. 1, 2012, on the forum of the white supremacist website Stormfront, Duke greeted his “Italian friends,” explaining that he wanted “to do some historical research in the South Tyrol region,” and that “he needed to be in contact with those who live in the region.” He also needed some “devoted friends,” who could “help him with some information.”
A very old photograph
“I saw him just once — when he came with his landlord to sign his rent contract,” says Bruno Savaris, mayor of Venas di Cadore municipality. “I know that he lived alone, and I never saw any American friends in the area. Nor did I hear of any conferences.”
Francesca Larese Filon, who heads an association that preserves the local Ladin culture and dialect, says she'd never heard of Duke. She said that "the Ladin community up here in the mountains is totally distant from these kind of attitudes."
Curiously, a member of the civic registry who wishes to remain anonymous, declared that he himself deleted Duke from the local records, because of suspicious activity. “I remember when he came here for his residential permit. He brought a photo of himself that made him look about 70-years-old. Yet, in his passport photo he was young and charming-looking. I know that he was here thanks to an Internet contact who was passionate about history.”
The gossip around town is that he just used the apartment for sleeping, and as a northern Italian base to travel elsewhere in Europe. He often went to Bolzano, 70 kilometers east, and over the border to Austria where he is actually listed as a resident.
“This may seem strange but I don’t know anything about him, even though I own a bar and a newsstand in town. There’s not that many of us here, really, I would have heard about him,” says the owner of the Bar Posta di Venas. Still, something doesn’t add up.
The Stormfront website has continually quoted an interview they published five years ago where Don Black, ex-head of the Klan and founder of the site, openly said of Italy: “We love your country — there’s much excitement on our site for what’s happening to you. You are the first to react and show that you do not submit to immigrants. Even David Duke thinks so, so much so that he spends the majority of his time in northern Italy. Last year, we all went skiing in the Dolomites.”