As the Republican presidential primary moves into the American south, white supremacist groups are working to mobilize racists to get out the vote for Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, David Duke, the white nationalist and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, encouraged his radio show listeners to volunteer for Trump's campaign. "Call Donald Trump’s headquarters [and] volunteer," he said on the "David Duke Radio Program." At Trump campaign offices, he said, "you’re gonna meet people who are going to have the same kind of mindset that you have.”
In Minnesota and Vermont, a white supremacist super PAC called the American National Super PAC has begun circulating a robocall in support of Trump.
"The white race is dying out in America and Europe because we are afraid to be called 'racist,' says William Johnson, the leader of the white nationalist American Freedom Party. He goes on to bemoan "gradual genocide against the white race," and how few "schools anymore have beautiful white children as the majority." He signs off by telling recipients, "Don’t vote for a Cuban. Vote for Donald Trump."
Johnson is not affiliated in any way with the Trump campaign, and Trump has distanced himself from Johnson's views. Trump also promised to return a $250 contribution Johnson made to his campaign.
But Trump's response to the white supremacists backing him is hardly enough to put them off, said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that monitors hate groups.
"Trump has 'quote unquote' repudiated these groups, but only in the most milquetoast way imaginable," Potok said in an interview. "The fact is that white nationalists are mobilizing for Trump whether he likes it or not."
Trump's habit of retweeting messages posted by white supremacists, sharing them with his 6.4 million Twitter followers, hasn't helped matters.
Like Johnson, Duke framed the GOP primary as a contest between Trump and two people of color, Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas). “Voting for these people, voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage,” Duke said Wednesday. And while he doesn't agree with everything Trump says, he told listeners, "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.”
Potok said Duke's backing carries a lot of weight in white supremacist circles. "David Duke is the most important self described white nationalist intellectual out there today, and what he says is still very influential."
The Huffington Post reached out to Trump's campaign for a response to the David Duke comments, and will update this post if they provide one.
On white nationalist websites, analysts are portraying Trump's candidacy as a rebellion by white supremacists against the mainstream conservative movement. As a writer calling himself Gregory Hood recently wrote in the national Radix Journal, "the conservative movement is trying to keep its White serfs trapped on the conservative planation. They know if Trumpian nationalism triumphs, a more authentic form of White Identity politics can’t be far behind."
This isn't the first time white supremacists have seized on Trump's candidacy. In December, Rachel Pendergraft, the national organizer for the Knights Party, a Ku Klux Klan affiliate, said Trump's bid for the White House had opened up new ways for her group to recruit like-minded people.
“One of the things that our organization 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,” Pendergraft told The Washington Post. Trump, she said, was a perfect conversation starter for people to begin talking about issues like immigration and demographic changes underway in America.
But as the Republican race moves into states where Jim Crow segregation was the law of the land for more than a century, the influence of overt racism and the white nationalist movement, combined with some of Trump's rhetoric, could have the more subtle effect of making it seem more acceptable to hold aggressively anti-immigrant and xenophobic views.
"With Trump, white supremacists understand that he's not exactly a white nationalist, like them, but they applaud his hard right positions on matters that are important to them," said Potok. "From their point of view, it's almost better that he's not a full on white nationalist, because now he has a better chance at winning a major office."
To many voters, the GOP nominating contest increasingly looks like a three-way race between two Hispanic men and a white man, leaving little doubt as to which candidate is most likely to win the pro-white vote.
"White supremacists are beside themselves with joy," Potok added.