The Controversies of Rep. Keith Ellison



In the wake of the July departure of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chair of the Democratic National Committee, on November 14 Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota officially announced his bid to be the new head of the Democratic Party.

Ellison’s run has since garnered wide-reaching Democratic support amid Republican concern. Ellison’s past controversial, anti-Semitic associations and statements have come to light, sparking debate about whether heis truly fit to lead the Democratic Party.

President Barack Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, current Senate minority leader Harry Reid, and Sen. Chuck Schumer (who is poised to take Reid’s spot) are among the leading Democrats who have endorsed Ellison.Others running for the seat include former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Labor Sec. Tom Perez, and Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona.

Among the concerns some Republicans are raising about Ellison are his associations with the Nation of Islam, a controversial political and religious movement. Ellison was raised Catholic and converted to Islam in college. He has said that he was involved with the Nation of Islam foronly a short time period and was never an “enrolled member,” but Scott Johnson of Powerline Blog made the case in 2006 that Ellison’s affiliations with the group lasted at least nine years.

In one column Ellison wrote for theMinnesota Daily as a law student at the University of Minnesota, he used the name ‘Keith Hakim.’ Ellison “defends Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Abdul Muhammad, and speaks in the voice of a Nation of Islam advocate,” Johnson reported.

In a second column, Ellison “demands reparations for slavery and throws in a demand for an optional separate homeland for American blacks,” Johnson wrote.

Ellison also appeared at a forum in 1996 as a Nation of Islam spokesman to defend one Joanne Jackson of the Minnesota Initiative Against Racism, who had said, “Jews are among the most racist people I know.”

In his remarks in the defense of Jackson, Ellison said Louis Farrakhan–the leader of the Nation of Islam– “is not an anti-Semite.”

“Also, it is absolutely true that merchants in black areas generally treat black customers badly,” Ellison continued.

In 2007 whilst meeting with a group of atheists, Ellison suggested that George W. Bush used the September 11 attacks for political gain.

“It’s almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that,” he said. “After the Reichstag was burned, [the Nazis] blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country in a position where he could basically have the authority to do whatever he wanted,” Ellison said.

In the same meeting, an audience member called out, “The Jews benefited from 9/11,” and Ellison agreed.

“Well, I mean, you and I both know,” he said.

Ellison has been able to win five terms in Congress, despite these controversies. This may be because Ellison has apologized for the statements, denied extensive involvement in the organizations, and because he represents such an overwhelmingly Democratic district.

When he ran for office for the first time in 2006, Ellison categorically denied charges that he was anti-Jew:

“I have long since distanced myself from and rejected the Nation of Islam due to its propagation of bigoted and anti-Semitic ideas and statements, as well as other issues. I have a deep and personal aversion to anti-Semitism regardless of its source, and I reject and condemn the anti-Semitic statements and actions of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and Khalid Muhammad,” he said.

Many Democrats, including the pro-Israel Schumer, have accepted Ellison with open arms despite the cobwebs in his closet. But in Powerline Blog, Johnson put it best when he cast doubt on Ellison’s downplaying of his past.

“Ellison says now that he broke with the Nation of Islam when ‘it became clear to me that their message of empowerment intertwined with more negative messages,'” Johnson wrote, “However, Ellison himself was the purveyor of the Nation of Islam’s noxious party line in his every public utterance touching on related issues over the course of a decade”