Keith Ellison is the DFL (Democratic)-endorsed candidate to succeed 14-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Martin Sabo in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District. Ellison is a current state representative; he was endorsed at the Fifth District DFL convention on May 6. The Fifth District includes the city of Minneapolis and is thought to be one of the safest Democratic seats in the country. If so, the DFL endorsement is tantamount to election.
However, Ellison’s endorsement by the Fifth District convention on May 6 will be contested in a September primary by candidates including former state DFL chairman Mike Erlandson, former DFL state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge and others. I should think that Ellison must be considered the favorite to emerge as the winner of the primary and proceed to the election in November, where he would face Republican Alan Fine and a Green Party candidate.
Ellison’s candidacy has attracted national attention given Ellison’s identification of himself as a Muslim. Of greater interest to many, however, is Ellison’s past participation in the Nation of Islam. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has treated Ellison’s connections to the Nation of Islam with minimal interest. See Rochelle Olson’s May 15 “DFL endorsee for Sabo’s seat, Rep. Ellison, faces tough scrutiny” and yesterdays’s “Ellison’s letter addresses his past ties.”
Ellison apparently asserts that he became a Muslim as a student at Wayne State University. In her story yesterday, Rochelle Olson vaguely alludes to Ellison’s “ties to the Nation of Islam for about 18 months in the mid-1990s.” Ellison’s repudiation of the Nation of Islam’s anti-Semitism is the subject of his May 28 letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council quoted briefly in Olson’s story yesterday. However, information in the public record cannot be squared with Ellison’s assertion to Olson that his involvement with the Nation of Islam was limited to an 18-month period, or that he was unfamiliar with Farrakhan’s views. This information raises serious questions about Ellison’s candor regarding his involvement with the Nation of Islam and the views Ellison espoused during this time.
Was Ellison a participant in the Nation of Islam? And if so, over what period of time? Yesterday I noted that Ellison’s affiliation with the Nation of Islam appeared to extend back in time to his days as a law student in 1990 when he wrote for the Minnesota Daily under the name “Keith Hakim.”
The Minnesota Daily column defending the Nation of Islam in 1990 by itself belies the assertion that Ellison’s involvement with the Nation of Islam was limited to the mid-1990s. Additional information in the public record shows that Ellison’s involvement with the Nation of Islam extended at least to 1998. This information also shows that Ellison identified himself as an affiliate of the Nation of Islam and as an advocate of Louis Farrakhan.
In a November 6, 1995 column for Insight News Ellison wrote under the name “Keith X Ellison.” The column condemns a Star Tribune editorial cartoon that was critical of Farrakhan as a role model for blacks because of his anti-Semitism. Ellison disagreed:
Minister Farrakhan is a role model for Black youth; however, he is not an anti-Semite. He is a sincere, tireless and uncompromising advocate of the Black community and other oppressed people and around the world. Despite some of the most relentless negative propaganda anyone has ever faced, most Black people regard him as a role model for youth and increasingly, a central voice for our collective aspirations.
I am sensitive to members of the Jewish community who have been lead to believe that Minister Farrakhan is anti-Jewish. I believe they should do two things: engage in dialogue with Black people who support Minister Farrakhan (which includes Cornel West, Jesse Jackson, Ben Chavis, Dorothy Height and many others) and urge their leadership to engage in the dialogue that Minister Farrakhan proposed at the Million Man March.
Ellison next appears using the last name “Muhammad” while speaking on behalf of the Nation of Islam in February 1997. Ellison spoke in connection with a controversy involving Joanne Jackson of the Minnesota Initiative Against Racism (MIAR). Jackson was alleged to have said that Jews are the most racist white people I know,” a statement condemned by the Jewish Community Relations Council. Jackson denied making the statement, or insisted that it had been taken out of context.
Ellison appeared before the MIAR on behalf of the Nation of Islam and in defense of Jackson’s alleged statement. According to the Star Tribune account of the MIAR board meeting by reporter Jim Parsons:
About a dozen supporters of Farrakhan, including Spike Moss, Mahmoud El Khati and Keith Ellison went to the MIAR meeting because the board was considering whether to reprimand Jackson. An earlier attempt to fire her failed 11-11 in a secret ballot.
Ellison, an attorney who used his religious name of Muhammad in speaking to the board, read a statement supporting Jackson. He also said Farrakhan’s representatives in the Twin Cities have a “sincere desire to talk over the tensions between the black and Jewish communities with reason and truth.”
The statement also criticized the board, questioning “whether MIAR has the requisite understnading, knowledge or resolve to be an ‘initiative against racism.’ It appears that MIAR’s first initiative against racism should be directed at itself, or at least the 11 board members who voted to dismiss Joanne Jackson.”
Jackson, 51, made her comments about Jews and Farrakhan at a MIAR workshope at Temple Israel Synagogue in October….
The statement by Ellison quoted by Parsons was published as the statement of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Study Group of the Nation of Islam in the January 30, 1997 edition of the Minneapolis Spokesman-Recorder, though the published statment does not identify Ellison (or anyone else) as the author. The published statement parallels Ellison’s 1995 Insight News column. Given Parsons’ account of Ellison’s statement and the parallels with Ellison’s 1995 column, the Nation of Islam statement appears to me to be Ellison’s handiwork. In part the published statement reads:
We stand by the truth contained in the remarks attributed to [Ms. Jackson], and by her right to express her views without sanction.
Here is why we support Ms. Jackson: She is correct about Minister Farrakhan. He is not a racist. He is also not an anti-Semite. Minister Farrakhan is a tireless public servant of Black people, who constantly teachers self-reliance and self-examination to the Black community….
Also, it is absolutely true that merchants in Black areas generally treat Black customers badly….
The last sentence alludes to another of Jackson’s alleged statements, wherein she provided a personal basis for characterizing Jews as “the most racist white people” she knows. Ellison’s May 28 letter acknowledges only that others supported Jackson’s alleged statement in the controversy while vaguely addressing his own statment (“While some at the meeting justified her comments, I spoke out in favor of increased dialogue…”).
In 1998 Ellison first emerged as a candidate for public office, running for the DFL-nomination for state representative in legislative district 58B, as “Keith Ellison-Muhammad.” In a February 1998 article on Ellison’s candidacy, Eric Harmon reported in Insight News:
Ellison-Muhammad, who says his affiliation with the Nation of Islam doesn’t mean he isn’t running to represent all the people in his district, feels the critical issues on the table include criminal justice, education, and economic development….
Anticipating possible criticism for his NOI affiliation, Ellison-Muhammad says he is aware that not everyone appreciates what the Nation does and feels there is a propaganda war being launched against its leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan….”For the record, however, I am opposed to the subjugation of any class of persons on account of their religion, national origin, race, sex, or gender. I reject anti-Jewish attitudes from whatever source.”
Ellison failed in his bid for the DFL nomination in 1998, trying again and winning the second time around in 2002.
In his May 28 letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council — the subject of Rochelle Olson’s Star Tribune story yesterday — Ellison vaguely ascribed his “past connections to the Nation of Islam” to a period “over a decade ago” that was limited to eighteen months. Ellison denies that he ever shared the “hateful views” of the Nation of Islam or that he ever “repeat[ed] or approve[d] of their hateful statements directed at Jews, gays, or any other group.” Ellison writes:
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.
Ellison’s May 28 letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council appears to anticipate the disclosure of his columns and statements since 1990 in the names, respectively, of Keith Hakim, Keith X Ellison, and Keith Ellison-Muhammad. Nevertheless, it is at the least doubtful that the public record of these columns and statements supports the assertions made by Ellison in the letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council and to the Star Tribune. It is a record that fairly raises the question “Who is Keith Ellison?” and that, with all due respect, has yet to be answered.