The Magazine

Louis Farrakhan's
First Congressman

Why was the press so incurious about the past of Keith Ellison?

Oct 9, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 04 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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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.

The various themes of Ellison's public commitments and associations all came together in a February 2000 speech he gave at a fundraising event sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of the far-left National Lawyers Guild, on whose steering committee he had served. The event was a fundraiser for former Symbionese Liberation Army member Kathleen Soliah after her apprehension in St. Paul (under the name "Sara Jane Olson") for the attempted murder of Los Angeles police officers in 1975.

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. (She subsequently pleaded guilty to charges in Los Angeles and to an additional murder charge in Sacramento; she is serving time in California.) Still toeing the Nation of Islam line, 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.)

Having spoken out over many years as an advocate of the Nation of Islam under guises including Keith Hakim, Keith X Ellison, and Keith Ellison-Muhammad, Ellison might reasonably prompt Fifth District voters to wonder where he really stands. His recent account of the nature and extent of his relationship with the Nation of Islam cannot be squared with the public record. During his congressional campaign, Ellison has nevertheless held himself out as a friend of the Jewish people and of Israel. As if to shore up his identity as a Muslim activist, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nihad Awad, flew to Minneapolis to appear as a featured guest (along with Ellison himself and Guantánamo chaplain James Yee) at an Ellison fundraiser in suburban Minneapolis on August 25. Awad is notable, among other things, for his past expressions of support for Hamas.

The Star Tribune didn't get around to reporting on the fundraiser until several days after Ellison won the September 12 primary. Ellison commented to the Star Tribune regarding issues raised by Awad's attendance at the fundraiser: "The Republicans are in a tough position. Iraq is a failed policy. They haven't done much for homeland security. We still have a health care crisis. The Earth is warming up, and they're not doing anything about it. What else are they going to do? They have to try to engage in smear politics."

Unfortunately, it won't be necessary for Ellison to come up with a more compelling response than that before he makes news in November as America's first Muslim congressman.

Scott W. Johnson is a Minneapolis attorney and a contributor to the Power Line blog.