The secret history of Keith Ellison

I’m speaking this morning to the Maple Grove Critical Thinking Discussion Group at the Maple Grove Community Center. The meeting convenes at 10:00 a.m. The title of my talk is “The Secret History of Keith Ellison.”

Now the title is facetious. Ellison’s history only became “secret” when he ran for Congress in 2006 and staked his campaign on three lies about his involvement with the Nation of Islam. I have sought to recount and recall Ellison’s “secret history” in the Weekly Standard articles “Louis Farrakhan’s first congressman” and “The Ellison elision.”

Yet Ellison’s history as an active member of the Nation of Islam remains a deep secret to Ellison’s constituents in the Fifth District (Minneapolis and inner ring suburbs). He blatantly lied about it when he was running in the competitive four-way DFL primary in the summer of 2006. He omitted it from his 2014 memoir, My Country, ‘Tis of Thee. Indeed, he presented himself as a critic of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Speaking of Farrakhan, Ellison writes: “He could only wax eloquent while scapegoating other groups.” Ellison writes of the Nation of Islam itself: “In the NOI, if you’re not angry in opposition to some group of people (whites, Jews, so-called ‘sellout’ blacks), you don’t have religion.”

Rep. Ellison was not happy when the Star Tribune published my column “Ellison remembers to forget” on its opinion page. In the column I put back some of his own history that he had left out. He promptly sent out a fundraising letter to his fans asserting that the column represented “a new low” in the manifestation of anti-Muslim bigotry against him.

The cry of bigotry was another lie, but Ellison invited Pioneer Press reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger and others to fight back against his alleged victimization with a modest contribution to his campaign. I posted a copy of his letter to Stassen-Berger in “In which Keith Ellison finds me of use.”

Ellison’s act has worked well enough that it has inspired local followers including Ilhan Omar. In response to the question whether her brother is the guy named on her 2009 marriage certificate, for example, Omar issued a statement decrying the “Trump-style misogyny, racism, anti-immigration rhetoric and Islamophobic division” allegedly motivating questions about her marital status. That’s a royal flush. Even Ellison can’t beat that.

How has Ellison gotten away with his act? It helps to be a Democrat. It helps to be a Muslim. It helps to have a sympathetic press. It helps to play to a Minneapolis crowd. And yet Ellison seeks to take his act to a national audience. He dreams of higher office.

In his memoir Ellison recounts his conversion to Islam as a 19-year-old undergraduate at Detroit’s Wayne State University. By the time Ellison graduated from law school at the University of Minnesota, however, he was toeing the Nation of Islam line. When Ellison first ran for public office in Minneapolis in 1998, he was a self-identified member of the Nation of Islam going under the name Keith Ellison-Muhammad. See Keith Ellison for dummies.”

In 2000 Ellison was still talking up “Minister Farrakhan” at a National Lawyers Guild fundraiser for former Symbionese Liberation Army terrorist Kathleen Soliah/Sara Jane Olson in 2000. By 2002, however, when Ellison was first elected to the Minnesota legislature, and 2006, when he sought the DFL endorsement to succeed Rep. Martin Sabo in Congress, Ellison had abandoned the Nation of Islam and returned to the fold of Islam.

So far as I know, Ellison is the only convert to Islam for whom Islam was a way station to the Nation of Islam. How did that work? That’s one part of Ellison’s secret history that actually remains secret.

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