Barring a cataclysmic event, Minnesotans today will elect the first-ever Muslim to the U.S. Congress, and odds are the media serenade won’t be far behind.
What remains to be seen, though, is how many journalists will be willing to strike a discordant note by questioning Keith Ellison on his Nation of Islam past or his open embrace of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group founded by two self-identified supporters of Islamic terrorism.
Defenders of the Democratic frontrunner thus far have dodged most legitimate questions, instead choosing to smear critics as Islamophobic bigots. The tactic has worked, enabling Ellison to win comfortably the September 12 Democratic primary—and soon the general election.
But no amount of obfuscation or misdirection changes some simple facts: Ellison had a much deeper involvement with the Nation of Islam than he’s acknowledged, and he has forged an extremely close alliance with CAIR. The organization’s officials, in fact, have helped raise over $50,000 for Ellison. These are obviously legitimate—and necessary—questions, but few in the mainstream media have the stomach to go against the tide. And with Ellison becoming the first-ever Muslim Congressman, the media “tide” isn’t hard to predict.
For the most part, Ellison hasn’t had to defend himself because most in the local media apparently don’t believe the candidate’s past and present affiliations warrant scrutiny. Or maybe they just don’t want to be labeled bigots for questioning a Muslim about connections to certain Muslims.
When Ellison was taking heat this summer—including from other Democrats—state Democrat-Farm-Labor Party Chairman Brian Melendez lashed out at critics: “There are people in this world who hear Muslim and think terrorist. They’re bigots who wouldn't vote for Ellison anyway.” Of course there are anti-Muslim bigots, but there’s no evidence suggesting that any of Ellison's public critics are.
The state DFL chairman not only sullied Ellison’s critics, but also almost certainly preempted others who might otherwise have asked uncomfortable questions.
When Ellison’s history with the Nation of Islam initially surfaced as an issue, the candidate wrote a letter of apology to the Jewish community. He could have used this forum to come clean and display genuine contrition. Ellison chose not to.
Ellison wrote in his letter that his involvement with the NOI was limited to 18 months and that he was never a member. Thus, he claimed that he didn’t realize until later the organization’s racism and anti-Semitism. But it appears he wasn’t honest about either the duration or the depth of his ties to the NOI.
The candidate has acknowledged helping organize the NOI’s Million Man March in 1995, and when he ran for the state legislature in 1998, he was identified in the Star Tribune as an NOI member. Further, columns he wrote while in law school at the University of Minnesota defending NOI leader Louis Farrakhan indicate he was a member as far back as 1989. That’s almost a decade, not merely 18 months. (Powerline and Minnesota Democrats Exposed have been instrumental in unearthing this information.)
And Ellison was not merely a member. According to press accounts at the time, Ellison served as NOI spokesman at a 1997 public hearing where he defended—in his own words—“the truth” of a government official’s supposed comment that “Jews are the most racist white people.” How exactly could he have not understood those very words to be anti-Semitic?
Ellison’s embrace of CAIR
Most troubling about Ellison is the considerable support he has received from CAIR—and his subsequent show of solidarity with the group. Several CAIR executives have made contributions, CAIR co-founder Nihad Awad headlined an Ellison fundraiser in Minnesota, and just last month, the candidate flew all the way to Florida for a CAIR-hosted fundraiser.
CAIR was created in 1994, spun off from the Islamic Association of Palestine. Though the group bristles at that characterization, its two founders, Awad and Omar Ahmad, were both high-ranking IAP officials in 1994, and they maintained close relations for years afterward. IAP, which appears to have ceased operations within the past two years, was an openly anti-Semitic organization long believed to be Hamas’ political front in the U.S. A civil court judge in Illinois last year confirmed those suspicions when he declared that there was “strong evidence that IAP was supporting Hamas.”
Both of CAIR’s founders have given rhetorical support to Islamic terrorism. In a speech at Barry University in Florida in 1994, Awad declared, “I’m in support of the Hamas movement.” Addressing a youth session at the 1999 IAP annual convention in Chicago, Ahmad praised suicide bombers who “kill themselves for Islam”: “Fighting for freedom, fighting for Islam, that is not suicide. They kill themselves for Islam.” (Transcript provided by the Investigative Project.)
Though the candidate refused to talk, Ellison’s campaign downplayed the connection to CAIR and Awad when contacted by this columnist. Even when this conversation took place in early September, the campaign’s claim that Ellison neither wanted nor had asked for Awad’s assistance was tough to swallow. After all, Awad headlined an August fundraiser that netted just under $20,000. In July, CAIR’s co-founder apparently bundled contributions totaling just over $10,000. (The campaign issued a terse denial on the latter point, though it refused to explain away overwhelming evidence to the contrary.)
While Ellison could have been ignorant of Awad’s ugly beliefs at that time, after he won the primary—and long past the point of plausible deniability—he traveled to Florida last month for a CAIR-hosted fundraiser on his behalf.
Ellison’s decision to lock arms with CAIR was certainly a lucrative one: the event pulled in over $20,000.
Despite Ellison’s decision to cement his connection to CAIR with the Florida trip, local media largely gave the candidate a pass. It could be a symptom of the general media ignorance about CAIR, or it could be that reporters mistakenly believe that criticism of Ellison’s embrace of CAIR is nothing more than typical political sniping. But perhaps it is something more pernicious: The fear of being deemed a bigot by other journalists.
Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman helped stoke that fear by insinuating that Ellison is only being criticized because he’s Muslim. If anything, the opposite is true here. Had a white Christian candidate served as David Duke’s spokesman, for example, would the media have let him skate by with a deceptive apology that falsely downplayed his role in the organization? And if that candidate had also received significant support from an avowed supporter of the Irish Republican Army, would the media keep mum?