Debate protest was justified

Published 5:53 am Friday, November 4, 2016

NEW ORLEANS — On Wednesday evening, David Duke exited his SUV at the rear of the Dillard University debate hall and was ushered in by campaign personnel doubling as security detail. They fought through a scrum of journalists. Duke was dressed in a suit, his skin seemed tan and his blond mop top hung down every which way, belying a rakish, youthful persona hidden somewhere within.

A reporter asked him what he thought of the 80-some-odd crowd of angry protesters who were, even then, racing from their positions out front to confront him. Duke turned to face the cameras and he decried the crowd’s supposed intolerance. He complained about not being allowed to speak, as though he was suffering some denial of his First Amendment rights, even as he made his way to a statewide debate.

This is the same David Duke who has, for years, had a popular Internet radio show. This is the same David Duke who’s got a website and campaign signs and enough media savvy to earn him at least 5 percent of a popular poll — enough to get him invited to the last senate debate. On Wednesday, he was in luck. The Associated Press and a national reporter with NPR were among the audience. Also present was an Italian documentarian who’d moved to Louisiana to make a documentary all about him, David Duke. Tonight, he would be a star.

Nevertheless, Duke complained about the protesters and the rigged media, both of whom allegedly ignored and marginalized him.

Outside the hall, a crowd of dozens swelled to maybe a hundred or more. The building was on lockdown and the media were asked to stay in. Some of the doors wouldn’t lock properly and the protesters were pushing, threatening to burst through the flimsy barriers.

They, too, were angry.

They were mad because some of their number got arrested. They were mad because, they said, some of the officers acted rough or used pepper spray.

Mostly they were angry because, as students, they couldn’t attend a debate on their campus. Nobody could. Even the media had to watch the event on simulcast.

And the students were angry Duke, a former Klan leader and an avowed racist, was allowed on campus at the historically black university to which they paid tuition and pledged their loyalty. They were mad because there was not a single thing they could do about it. Up to that moment, apparently, the administration had ignored them and on Wednesday, while David Duke was inside prepping for his big show, the school’s president was still nowhere to be found.

As the hour neared 7 p.m., I left the protesters for the media room to watch David Duke yell at the moderator, other candidates, assail the media and insult Jews as corrupt and deceitful. I watched David Duke face the camera and yell at the world.

Meanwhile, the outrage still locked outside boiled. At times, we couldn’t hear the debate, so loud were the protests outside.

Afterward, as I tried to leave, I found myself behind Duke’s SUV. Students were linking arms, blocking the roads, chanting. Duke’s SUV, however, was apparently police-issue and, with a flick of the flashbars and with the assistance of security, it made its way through the students and I was left, stuck between protesters, as carloads of journalists and other candidates piled behind me.

I was stuck for over an hour there, but I didn’t care. Not all anger is equal and when it is justified, I don’t mind the consequences.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor for The Daily News. You can email him at or call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301.