“What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?” is the question Elvis Costello famously poses in the song (written by Nick Lowe), responding to feelings of despair. Running as the candidate of peace and love in Minnesota’s Fifth District congressional race, Keith Ellison’s theme song should be, “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and cop killers?”
From the time of his emergence as a public figure in Minnesota, Ellison has served as the local leader and spokesman of a hate cult, an associate of Minnesota’s most vicious gang leader following his gang’s murder of Minneapolis police officer Jerry Haaf, and a supporter of cop killer wannabe Kathleen Soliah/Sara Jane Olson following her apprehension by the FBI in St. Paul in 1999.
Those seeking to see through Keith Ellison’s current mask of peace and love, and to understand who Keith Ellison is, can do nothing better than contemplate the speech Ellison gave at the National Lawyers Guild fundraiser for Soliah/Olson. We posted the full text of the speech here this past June 13.
In October 2001, Soliah/Olson pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing explosives with intent to commit murder in the long-pending Los Angeles case. In January 2002 Soliah/Olson and four other SLA members were charged with the murder of Myrna Opsahl in Sacaramento in the Crocker National Bank case. Soliah/Olson’s participation in the Symbionese Liberation Army’s Crocker National Bank robbery/murder had long been a matter of public record; it was described in detail, for example, in Patricia Hearst’s book regarding her time in the SLA. Soliah/Olson pleaded guilty to the murder charge in November 2002. She is serving time in the Central California Women’s Correctional Facility in Chowchilla.
The various themes of Ellison’s public commitments and associations all come together in the Soliah/Olson speech. Ellison weirdly referred to Soliah/Olson as a “black gang member” (she is white) and thus a victim of government persecution. He described her as one of those who had been “fighting for freedom in the ’60s and ’70s” and called for her release. Still toeing the Nation of Islam line at the time of the speech in February 2000, he recalled “Qubilah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, [who] was prosecuted in retribution against Minister Farrakhan.” He also spoke favorably of cop killers Mumia Abu-Jamal and Assata Shakur. Shakur has been on the lam in Cuba since 1984; last year she was placed on the FBI’s domestic terrorists list with a one million dollar reward for her capture.
Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten explicates Ellison’s speech in her column today:
Ellison praised Soliah for “fighting for freedom.” At the time, she faced charges of planting pipe bombs under two Los Angeles police cars as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, a paramilitary organization whose slogan was “Death to the fascist insect that preys on the life of the people.”
Soliah pleaded guilty in 2001. In 2002 she also pleaded guilty to the murder of Myrna Opsahl, a bank customer shot by another SLA member during a holdup. She’s now serving a long prison sentence.
But Ellison’s call to the crowd was broader than a plea to aid Soliah. “We need to come together and free … all the Saras,” he proclaimed.
Like who? Like Assata Shakur, Ellison told his audience. Shakur is a former member of the Black Liberation Army, a “revolutionary activist organization,” who killed a New Jersey state trooper “execution-style at point-blank range,” according to the FBI’s Wanted Fugitives website.
Shakur escaped from prison in 1979, and eventually fled to Cuba. She “should be considered armed and extremely dangerous,” says the FBI, which is offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to her apprehension.
Ellison, however, lauded Shakur. “I am praying that Castro does not get to the point where he has to really barter with these guys over here because they’re going to get Assata Shakur, they’re going to get a whole lot of other people,” he told the crowd. “I hope the Cuba[n] people can stick to it, because the freedom of some good decent people depends on it.”
Well, so what if Ellison’s judgment about a convicted cop-killer like Shakur is flawed? How does he view real, day-to-day crime-related issues of importance to the Fifth District, like gangs?
As a criminal defense attorney, Ellison told the crowd, he saw “startling similarities” between Soliah and the gang members he represents: Bloods, Vice Lords, Gangster Disciples. He portrayed gang members as misunderstood victims, ordinary folks whose parents “scrimp, save… maybe sell plates of BBQ chicken so Junior can get an attorney.”
Gangs are “stigmatized” and “vilified,” he explained, just as Soliah’s Symbionese Liberation Army was. “Nobody ever knows what it means to BE a Blood,” he maintained, “because they’ve already said this is ‘just evil.’ ”
In fact, in Ellison’s view, young black men in prison seemed almost to morph into civil rights advocates. “The people who govern this society,” he suggested, are “incarcerating all these young black men” in some kind of retribution for the victories of ’60s civil rights activists, and those who campaigned to “free Nelson Mandela.” For the powerful, he said, the “very idea of … black people having civil rights has got to be obliterated with [obviously] the criminal justice system and incarceration.”
Today, Ellison has moved on to different topics. You probably won’t hear him talk about victimized gang members, or freedom fighters who attack our police. He declined to comment for this column on his current view of felons such as Soliah and Assata Shakur.
Read the whole thing. And to continue the conversation that Kathy’s column starts, readers may want to visit Kathy’s Star Tribune blog Think Again.