Keith Ellison: The missing context

If Keith Ellison wins his race for reelection as Minnesota Attorney General it will be a sad day indeed. If he loses, he will be back. His lust for office is insatiable. Win or lose, history must be told.

Ellison must be the single most unfit officeholder in the United States. The competition is intense, the contenders are many, but Ellison’s unfitness reigns supreme. That was the point of my 2018 Weekly Standard column “Can Keith Ellison turn lawman?,” which updated my 2006 Weekly Standard column “Louis Farrakhan’s first congressman” and companion Power Liner post “Keith Ellison for dummies.” Beginning with my series of posts asking “Who is Keith Ellson?,” I have sought to place Ellison’s political career “in context” over the past 16 years.

What is the context? Ellison has never been pressed on it. This is the summary I offered in the 2018 Weekly Standard column. Let it stand as my closing statement on Ellison this year.

Ellison was an active supporter and local leader of the Nation of Islam in Minneapolis before his election to Congress, yet he has baldly dissembled about this history since 2006. In his 2014 memoir My Country, ’Tis of Thee, for example, Ellison simply omitted it and presented himself as a critic of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.

In 2018 Ellison told Jake Tapper on CNN, “I worked on the Million Man March and I was proud to do so. That’s it.” But that wasn’t it. Ellison first sought office as a Democrat in 1998 as Keith Ellison-Muhammad, a self-avowed member of the Nation of Islam. (Ellison-Muhammad is just one of three Nation of Islam names Ellison has used over the years.) Fortunately for him, Ellison’s 5th District constituents didn’t much care about his history and the Minneapolis Star Tribune has almost entirely let it rest exactly where Ellison wants it.

The most troubling thread that runs through Ellison’s career: support for cop killers. In September 1992 Minneapolis police officer Jerry Haaf was murdered execution-style, shot in the back as he took a coffee break at a restaurant in south Minneapolis. Police later determined that Haaf’s 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. Despite the fact that two witnesses implicated Willis in the planning he was never charged because law enforcement authorities said they lacked sufficient evidence to convict him.

At the time, Ellison was a Minneapolis attorney in private practice. And 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 finally 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.

The Haaf case wasn’t an aberration. In February 2000, he 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, who had been a fugitive from justice for 25 years, on charges related to the attempted pipe bombing of Los Angeles police officers in 1975. (The National Lawyers Guild is an old Communist front group that somehow survived the fall of the Soviet Union. Regimes come and go; dupes are forever.)

In his National Lawyers Guild speech Ellison spoke favorably of cop killers Mumia Abu-Jamal and “Assata Shakur” (Joanne Chesimard), who was wanted for the murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. Chesimard was convicted of that murder but escaped from prison in 1979 and has been on the lam in Cuba since 1984. Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage has a riveting account of Chesimard’s terrorist career. In 2013, the FBI made Chesimard the first woman named to its Most Wanted Terrorists List. The FBI has offered a reward of up to $1,000,000 for her capture.

Yet 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.”

Ellison’s support for Soliah/Olson in the speech is equally notable. He denounced law enforcement authorities for prosecuting the attempted murder of police officers. 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 portrayed her as 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 to the contrary notwithstanding, Soliah/Olson pleaded guilty to the crimes charged in Los Angeles and to an additional murder charge in Sacramento.

According to Ellison, Soliah/Olson was a social justice warrior fighting the good fight. The case had nothing to do with the attempted murder of police officers; that was but a pretext. The Los Angeles district attorney was pursuing the case in bad faith: “This is not about justice. This is not about accountability, this is not about public safety. THIS is about SYMBOLISM. This is about MAKING A POINT. This is about saying to you and to me that we are going to get you if you ever try to stand against what we’re about. WE’RE GOING TO GET YOU. And we’re going to lock you up and we don’t care how long it takes, we’re going to get you. There might be people who get book deals, or there might be private revenge, there might be all these things, but no prosecution like this would really float unless it had a very important, symbolic meaning that tied it together for the people involved in it. And it is the idea that the people who fought for social justice and to elevate humanity in the 60’s and 70’s were WRONG! They were wrong and we’re going to prove it because we’re going TO LOCK HER UP. That’s what it’s about.”

In 2006 Greg Lang dug up the text of Ellison’s speech as edited by Ellison himself and posted it on a site Lang dedicated to the Soliah case. Fearing that the site might disappear, as it has, I posted the speech in its entirety here on Power Line. The whole thing is indeed worth reading. To say the least, it reveals Ellison to be hostile to impartial enforcement of the law and indifferent to the lives of police officers. It is a shocking speech that betrays his unfitness for any public office, let alone attorney general. Then Star Tribune metro columnist Katherine Kersten devoted a column to Ellison’s National Lawyers Guild speech at the time Lang dug it up. When she sought out Ellison he declined to comment on his current view of Soliah/Olson or Chesimard/Shakur and he has not been asked about it since.

From the time of his third year at the University of Minnesota Law School (1989–1990) through the 2000 National Lawyers Guild speech Ellison was a hustler peddling the toxic Nation of Islam line. By 2002, when he ran a second time for office as a state legislator, he had jettisoned the Nation of Islam baggage. The vicious radicalism remained.

This period of Ellison’s career is partially documented in videos preserved in archives around the Twin Cities. My Ellison file of news clippings and interview notes is about six inches thick. There is nothing more damning than the fully documented record of his ardent support for cop killers summarized above. For the sake of completeness, I want to set forth the video remnants in chronological order with notes where warranted. As I say, this is for completists only.

Police and the African-American community (10/30/92) 1 of 3

Ellison introduced and starts speaking at 1:44:20 — Ellison says some people call them “riots” — he refers to them as “disturbances” around 1:46:20

Police and the African-American community 2 of 3

4:30 Ellison says “There is no police accountability”
4:58 Ellison says police are the “military wing of the government”
5:30-6:30 Defends convicted felon Sharif Willis and says he had nothing to do with the killing of Minneapolis Police Officer Jerry Haaf (Willis was implicated in the murder of Haaf but never charged)
6:00: Ellison refers to “so-called gangs”

Police and the African-American community 3 of 3

Crime Hysteria and Race Bias Forum (1/26/1994) 1/5

4:30-7:00 Ellison laments “hysteria” around crime and rails against criminal justice system — “seems like all the debate centers around do we punish these quote unquote criminals severely or very severely”



7:45 Ellison asks about AC Ford case — Ford was one of the defendants convicted in the murder of Officer Haaf. Ellison appears to agree with Ford’s attorney that the wrong guy got convicted


18:00 Ellison blasts crime “hysteria” fueled by race


Death Penalty Forum 11/6/1996

5:08 Ellison seems to support the conspiracy theory that the CIA placed crack cocaine in black communities
6:08 Ellison says America is not a “good place” for black people
8:45 Says convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal is likely innocent
37:00 Says Americans might abandon death penalty except for fear of blacks
42:20 Street crimes aren’t worst kind of crimes — environmental crimes are worse
49:50 Young white people need to take responsibility for racial oppression — Ellison endorses reparations
50:20 Blacks should have right to secede from America

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