Donald Trump will never own up to just why racists and white supremacists are flocking to his presidential campaign, or why his rallies are increasingly marred by ugly outbursts of racially fueled violence.
One outspoken anti-racist has an explanation: Trump speaks to the issues that America’s white supremacists care about.
Scott Shepherd, a former Grand Dragon in the Ku Klux Klan—who once called ex-KKK leader David Duke a good friend—sees strong similarities between Duke’s campaigns for public office and Trump’s GOP Presidential bid.
“Their campaigns are pretty much parallel when I look at it,” Shepherd told The Daily Beast in Austin, Texas, where he appeared in the new documentary Accidental Courtesy, about R&B musician Daryl Davis’s crusade to convert Klansmen by befriending them.
“Trump won’t take a direct stand in Israel, and these are the things white supremacists are looking at,” said the soft-spoken Shepherd. “They’re latching onto him because his campaign is pretty much in line with their beliefs.”
Shepherd grew up in Indianola, Mississippi, the birthplace of the White Citizens Council; he was 17 when he pledged himself to the Ku Klux Klan. By the age of 19, he’d reached Grand Dragon status, leading the KKK’s operations across the state of Tennessee.
“I was a very shy, unhappy child with low self-esteem,” he’d explain years later to the IB Times. “I was looking to fill a void.”
There was a time when the college-educated Shepherd was chosen to act as one of the KKK’s public faces. Nowadays he incurs the Klan’s wrath as one of its most visible detractors. He left the group in 1992 after a court-mandated rehab stint stemming from a DUI and gun possession arrest led him to a life-changing epiphany, and devoted himself to making amends for the hate and trauma he’d long perpetuated.
Shepherd shares his story in Accidental Courtesy, which also depicts his friendship with African-American activist Davis, who refers to Shepherd as his “brother.” Decades ago he ran for public office in Tennessee, twice campaigning on a white supremacist platform, and served as the spokesperson and recruiter for onetime KKK leader David Duke’s National Association for the Advancement of White People. His business cards now read: “Scott Shepherd, Reformed Racist.”
The Duke-Trump connection resurfaced again last week when the former KKK Grand Wizard drew favorable comparisons between Trump’s messaging and that of Adolf Hitler.
“The truth is, by the way, they might be rehabilitating that fellow with the mustache back there in Germany, because I saw a commercial against Donald Trump, a really vicious commercial, comparing what Donald Trump said about preserving America and making America great again to Hitler in Germany preserving Germany and making Germany great again and free again and not beholden to these Communists on one side, politically who were trying to destroy their land and their freedom, and the Jewish capitalists on the other, who were ripping off the nation through the banking system,” Duke, who endorsed Trump for president, said on his radio show last week.
Shepherd offered an explanation for why the kind of people attracted to the KKK are also drawn to candidates like Trump. Duke, after all, successfully won one term as a Republican Louisiana House Representative before going on to wage several other campaigns for state governor, U.S. Senate, and the White House.
“They all feel like they’ve not been given a fair handshake, and that their rights have been taken and priority has been given to people of color,” said Shepherd. “But what attracted me to [KKK Imperial Wizard] Bill Wilkinson was a self-emptiness within myself… I was introduced to the Klan and I felt part of something, in a way.”