Bernie Sanders came to town yesterday to support the candidacy of Minnesota Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison for state attorney general. Sanders made appearances with Ellison at First Avenue in Minneapolis and at Denfeld High School in Duluth. I cannot imagine a political office for which Ellison is less fitted than the head of any organization devoted to law enforcement. Ellison’s candidacy is a disgrace, as is Sanders’s support of his candidacy.
The Star Tribune’s Jessie Van Berkel covered the Ellison/Sanders rally at First Ave here. The Star Tribune has posted a 50-minute video of the event along with her story. It makes for painful viewing and the loss of more than a few brain cells.
Van Berkel, incidentally, turns to PolitiFact to verify that Sanders is a socialist. Sanders’s self-avowal is apparently insufficient for her.
Seeking to run the top law enforcement office in Minnesota, Ellison should support law enforcement. It’s axiomatic. Of the several disgraceful threads that run through Ellison’s career, however, Ellison’s support for cop killers stands out in this context. Let us take a look back at his career with this narrow focus.
Perhaps the lowest moment in Minneapolis’s history was the September 1992 execution-style murder of police officer Jerry Haaf. Haaf was shot in the back as he took a coffee break at a restaurant in south Minneapolis. The murder was a gang hit performed by four members of the city’s Vice Lords gang. The leader of the Vice Lords was Sharif Willis, a convicted murderer who had been released from prison and who sought respectability as a responsible gang leader from gullible municipal authorities while operating a gang front called United for Peace.
The four Vice Lords members who murdered Haaf met and planned the murder at Willis’s house. Two witnesses at the trial of one of the men convicted of Haaf’s murder implicated Willis in the planning. Willis was never charged; law enforcement authorities said they lacked sufficient evidence to convict him.
Within a month of Haaf’s murder, Ellison appeared with Willis supporting the United for Peace gang front. In October 1992, Ellison helped organize a demonstration against Minneapolis police that included United for Peace. “The main point of our rally is to support United for Peace [in its fight against] the campaign of slander the police federation has been waging,” said Ellison.
Willis was the last speaker at the demonstration. According to a contemporaneous report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Willis told the crowd that Minneapolis police were experiencing the same fear from young black men that blacks had felt from police for many years. “If the police have some fear, I understand that fear,” Willis said. “We seem to have an overabundance of bad police. . . . [W]e’re going to get rid of them,” Willis said. “They’ve got to go.” The Pioneer Press account concludes with Ellison’s contribution to the demonstration: “Ellison told the crowd that the police union is systematically frightening whites in order to get more police officers hired. That way, Ellison said, the union can increase its power base.”
Ellison publicly supported the Haaf murder defendants. In February 1993, he spoke at a demonstration for one of them during his trial. Ellison led the crowd assembled at the courthouse in a chant that was ominous in the context of Haaf’s cold-blooded murder: “We don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace.” Ellison’s working relationship with Sharif Willis came to an end in February 1995, when Willis was convicted in federal court on several counts of drug and gun-related crimes and sent back to prison for 20 years.
Ellison’s support for the murderers of Officer Haaf was not a one-off. In February 2000 Ellison spoke at a fundraiser sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of the old National Lawyers Guild, on whose steering committee he had served. The chapter was raising funds for former Symbionese Liberation Army member Kathleen Soliah after her apprehension in St. Paul (under the name “Sara Jane Olson”). The National Lawyers Guild is of course the old Communist front group, though it has survived the fall of the Soviet Union.
At the time of the fundraiser, Soliah/Olson had been a fugitive from justice for 25 years, avoiding prosecution on charges related to the attempted pipe bombing of Los Angeles police officers in 1975. Soliah/Olson had been apprehended on the Los Angeles charges at her home in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul in 1999.
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 SLA’s Crocker National Bank robbery/murder had long been a matter of public record. Soliah/Olson pleaded guilty to the murder charge in November 2002.
Following her apprehension in St. Paul, Soliah/Olson became a cause of the hardcore radical left. Ellison’s support for Soliah/Olson was notable, as was his demagogic denunciation of law enforcement authorities seeking justice for vicious crimes. Yet Minnesota media have remained uninterested in any serious exploration of Ellison’s indefensible public associations and statements.
In 2006 Greg Lang dug up Ellison’s National Lawyers Guild speech and posted it on his site devoted to all matters SLA. Greg emailed us the text of Ellison’s speech at the time he posted it on his now dead site. In turn I posted it on Power Line for archival purposes as part 8 of my seemingly endless 2006 series “Who is Keith Ellison?”
Referring to the days Soliah/Olson had spent in the SLA under the leadership of Donald DeFreeze (“Field Marshal Cinque”), Ellison hailed Soliah/Olson as a “black gang member” 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. Ellison’s call went unheeded as Soliah/Olson subsequently pleaded guilty to charges in Los Angeles and to an additional murder charge in Sacramento; she served hard time in California on the charges.
In his National Lawyers Guild speech Ellison also spoke favorably of cop killers Mumia Abu-Jamal and “Assata Shakur” (Joanne Chesimard). Chesimard is wanted for the cold-blooded murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. Chesimard was convicted of the murder but escaped from prison in 1979; she has been on the lam in Cuba since 1984. Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage has a riveting account of Chesimard’s works and days as a terrorist. Chesimard is the first woman to be named to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List. The FBI has offered a reward of up to $1,000,000 for her capture. The FBI video on Chesimard is below.
Ellison prayed for Chesimard in his National Lawyers Guild speech: “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.”
Then Star Tribune metro columnist Katherine Kersten devoted a column to this speech in 2006. When Kathy sought out Ellison, he declined to comment on his current view of Soliah/Olson or Chesimard/Shakur. He’s just that kind of guy.
Ellison still doesn’t want to talk about it. But can we at least get the facts out now that he aspires to the office of Minnesota attorney general?
NOTE: This post draws on my 2006 Weekly Standard article “Louis Farrakhan’s first congressman.”