Pacific Palisades’ Peter Duke Shares His Story
By GABRIELLA BOCK | Reporter
Palisadian Peter Duke is as California as they come. The fashion-photographer-turned-techie grew up in the San Fernando Valley and moved to The Huntington in the 1990s where he continues to live with his teenage daughter, a student at Palisades Charter High School.
He enjoys good food, hiking the bluffs and using his camera to capture the beauty of his travels. He’s also photographed notable Hollywood actresses like Drew Barrymore and Milla Jovovich.
But there is one thing that separates Duke from the rest of his West Coast colleagues: He’s a conservative.
There’s no denying that Los Angeles is a decidedly blue city. The LA Times reports that 72 percent of the population voted for Hillary Clinton while 22 percent voted for Donald Trump, leaving Duke and our other Republican neighbors disproportionately outnumbered by their Democratic counterparts.
Now 11 months into what already started as a fiery administration, the nation, as promised, has seen changes like never before. But rather than by any policy put out by the commander-in-chief himself, such changes have seemingly come as widespread rifts in social civility, critics say.
Such turbulence was evidenced by Duke, who made headlines with his still captures of controversial personalities from former Breitbart Senior Editor Milo Yiannopoulos to James Damore, the recently outed Google employee (and self-identified libertarian) who was shunned for his memo claiming that men and women are born with biological differences.
Sitting down with Duke in the office of the Palisadian-Post, the 60-year-old comes across as affable and humorous in nature—not at all the monster portrayed in the “liberal elite” media. As he recollected his college years at UC Santa Barbara, I studied Duke carefully, almost as if I was waiting for a glimpse of a hidden swastika to peek out from underneath his khaki shirt.
But such ascertaining markers never revealed themselves, and I was left feeling comfortable conversing with the man The New York Times named “the Annie Leibowitz of the Alt-Right,” a title that has lured keyboard activists to the Times’ comment section and incited a virtual bombardment of liberal hostility, some even likening the photographer’s work to propaganda used by the Nazi party.
For those who are unfamiliar with its origins, the Alternative Right—commonly known as the “Alt-Right”—is a term coined in 2008 by white nationalist and National Policy Institute think tank leader Richard Spencer, to describe a set of political objectives centered on “white identity” and the preservation of “traditional Western civilization” as a response to America’s rapidly shifting cultural makeup.
When asked if he politically identified with Spencer’s vision of America, Duke, who is half Ashkenazi Jewish, told the Post that while he agrees with some of the issues Spencer raises, such as his problem with affirmative action being driven by race instead of economic reality, he did not agree with the rabble rousing conservative’s conclusionary solutions to the nation’s problems.
“It seems like even allowing someone like Spencer to have space in your mind has become a sort of thought offense,” Duke said. “Let’s be clear: White nationalism is an idea that I don’t subscribe to. But we should give people the chance to talk about their stupid ideas because then we’ll know who is stupid and who isn’t.
“What doesn’t help is labeling people you don’t agree with to be devils and thwarting their right to speak. That won’t solve anything—quite the opposite actually.”
But when The New York Times labeled Duke as an Alt-Right supporter without confirmation, the virtual floodgates opened and in came a swarm of viral castigation and demands that the photographer’s professional portfolio and Twitter page be restricted from public access.
To Duke, the requests for censorship seemed contradictory coming from liberals, whose political identity is typically the furthest removed from using tools wielded by authoritarian regimes.
Such reasons led Duke to co-create FreeStartr, a free speech website that provides a fundraising platform for projects that could be deemed controversial on other crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter.
The site hosts crowdfunding for anything from the creation of The World Cannabis Cup to the revitalization of “The Daily Stormer,” which Duke fully recognized as a Nazi website.
“There’s this idea that if you don’t publicly shut down an idea then somehow that translates into being in support of that idea—I just don’t buy into that.
“I like to know who the Nazis are. I’d rather them be out, acting stupid in the daylight than hiding in the night and waiting to come break my windows.”
But despite advocating for typical conservative values, such as smaller government, free speech and the rights of the individual, Duke has been pigeonholed as an outsider with a vindictive agenda.
“I personally think the state has become too big, too officious and that the monetary shakedown of the American population and Western economic world is not what the founding fathers of this country had in mind in any shape or form. I also condemn the ideas of Nazis and white nationalists. So does that make a part of the Alt-Right or not? I guess that depends on who’s decided to define it this week.”
What Duke and many others are experiencing is the result of a new form of political separation anxiety. On both the right and the left, many of us have become incapable of looking at opposing viewpoints with an objective, non-partisan eye.
This fundamentally proliferating problem is, perhaps, due in large part to our brain’s wiring for data categorization, a trait that has become exacerbated by a tumultuous political climate that has subsequently intersected with social decency, pitting neighbor against neighbor without any moral accountability to those we have slandered.
Such hostility was seen when a group of Palisadians operating a Republican Party booth during a recent farmers market had tomatoes thrown at them by neighbors who opposed President Trump.
Duke, who originally backed 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz, told the Post that he believed the outcome of last year’s election was heavily influenced by emotions rather than any policy put out by either candidates.
“What I have found is that people, whether it’s those on the left or those on the right, make decisions based on feelings,” he explained. “I don’t think we can depend on one person like Donald Trump to change the direction of the way that things are going.
“But what I think people need to understand is that we are all moved by rhetoric and culture that affects how we feel about ourselves. If we are truly going to ever make things better we need to understand that righteous indignation does not move the world.”
What truly moves the world, Duke later explained, is a song:
“‘All you need is love’ was a cultural landmark,” he said. “And I think that a lot of the things that the left believes in are wonderful ideas—I think the majority of us agree and want the same things, but what differs are the consequences we are willing to endure in order to achieve those things. I need love, sure, but I also need a job so that I can keep a roof over my head.
“I think George Harrison was more on point when he sang ‘It’s going to take time, a lot of time, and a whole lot of money.’”
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