Home National Politics Audio: Unpacking Comments by Sen. Chap Petersen (D) and Others About Keith...

Audio: Unpacking Comments by Sen. Chap Petersen (D) and Others About Keith Ellison’s “Vibe”

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Yesterday was another banner day on right-wing talk radio in America (snark). Case in point: former Trump Virginia chair and Virginia right-wing radio host John Fredericks, joined by a bunch of Democrats for some strange reasonat State Senator Chap Petersen’s law offices no less. But be that as it may, let’s get to the “substance,” such as it is, of this discussion; namely, lies, distortions, half-truths and lots of anti-Muslim bull**** about DNC Chair candidate, Rep. Keith Ellison. See below the audio for more, including outright falsehoods by Fredericks; Sen. Petersen’s uh…”interesting” comments;” and a bit of pushback from Sen. Dave Marsden.

First, we kick off with an outright lie from Fredericks, that supposedly Rep. Keith Ellison – one of two leading candidates for DNC Chair, along with Labor Secretary Tom Perez – has “all kinds of nefarious ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.” Sen. Marsden responds, in part correctly, that he doesn’t believe Ellison’s ties are to the Muslim Brotherhood (true), but to the Nation of Islam instead (false). Fredericks responds, “same difference, isn’t it?” Sen. Petersen then says something about getting “our Muslim fraternal organizations sorted out.” Alrighty. Petersen further adds that he doesn’t have “any problem with [Ellison] being Islamic” (how nice! heh), but does “have a problem with some of the organizations he’s been affiliated with.” Petersen then strongly implies that Ellison and his supporters are “extremists.”

Second, on another note, Sen. Scott Surovell makes a great point about Republicans focusing on conservative infrastructure, while Democrats focus on “all this high-level, 30,000-foot” stuff. Meanwhile, Republicans have “focused on…policy think tanks…supporting groups…legal organizations…Republicans can dial up a lawsuit anytime they want from anybody about anything.”

Third, Sen. Dave Marsden says he likes the fact that Tom Perez is not in Congress, that he thinks “you need a full-time person devoted to the task” of being DNC Chair. I strongly agree with Marsden on that one, although I’d point out that Keith Ellison has pledged that if elected DNC Chair, he will step down from Congress. Marsden then makes a superb point about how Ed Gillespie and Chris Jankowski have worked successful to take back state legislatures and governors’ mansion – just a “stunning effort” using “all these Koch-funded groups,” while Democrats have done….???  This is something I want to hear a LOT more about from DNC Chair (and Vice Chair) candidates — how are we going to turn this disastrous situation around, and fast???

Fourth, fast forward to 5:30, as Sen. Petersen says “I don’t think Keith Ellison as the DNC Chair is going to be leading the comeback, because he’s going to become the issue, and it’s just not – for lack of a better term – it’s just not the vibe we want right now.” Uh, OK, more on that one in a minute.

So…let’s “unpack” this a bit.  Just to be clear, I am not currently supporting anyone for DNC Chair, but I am impressed by both Keith Ellison and Tom Perez, and am also open to other candidates. So I have no reason to defend (or attack) Ellison. But with regard to Ellison’s supposed ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, that whopper comes out of the far-right fever swamps (“Jihad Watch,” “Daily Caller,” “Red State,” “Free Beacon,” Michele Bachmann, etc.). As far as I can determine, these accusations have z-e-r-o basis in fact, sadly not surprising considering where they’re coming from (bolding added by me for emphasis):

Rep. Michele Bachmann has made fresh allegations of ties between a global Islamist movement and the country’s first Muslim congressman, even as Bachmann’s fellow Republicans condemned her statements.

In an interview Thursday with radio host Glenn Beck, the Minnesota Republican asserted that Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., has a long record of being associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ellison said in a subsequent interview Thursday night with CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he has no ties to the Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamic movement that recently came to power in Egypt and that some say maintains ties to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

Bachmann offered no evidence of ties between Ellison and the Muslim Brotherhood during the Beck interview…

As for the Nation of Islam, this is a really, really bad group, one which the Southern Poverty Law Center reports has a “theology of innate black superiority over whites and the deeply racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay rhetoric,” and which is led by a guy (Louis Farrakhan) who has called Hitler “a very great man,” also said it is the “wicked Jews, the false Jews, that are promoting lesbianism, homosexuality.” Ugh. So what are Ellison’s ties, if any, to the Nation of Islam (remember, Fredericks claims Ellison has “all kinds of nefarious ties” to that group)? According to CNN:

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, publicly renounced his association with the Nation of Islam in 2006 after it became an issue during his run for Congress, when local Republican bloggers began publishing his old law school columns and photos connecting him to the organization.

“I have long since distanced myself from and rejected the Nation of Islam due to its propagation of bigoted and anti-Semitic ideas and statements, as well as other issues,” Ellison wrote at the time.
But several outlets have resurfaced Ellison’s past writings as he runs for DNC chair, raising new concerns about his own views and what they would mean for the Democratic Party if he were to be its leader. A CNN KFile review of Ellison’s past writings and public statements during the late 1980s through the 1990s reveal his decade-long involvement in the Nation of Islam and his repeated defense of Farrakhan and other radical black leaders against accusations of anti-Semitism in columns and statements to the press. None of the records reviewed found examples of Ellison making any anti-Semitic comments himself.

 
In short, Ellison’s ties to the Nation of Islam appear to have been a real thing (very unfortunate in my view), but also appear to have ended years ago. Also worth noting:

A spokesperson for Ellison told CNN that Ellison “rejects all forms of anti-Semitism” and said “the right wing has been pushing these stories for years to drive a wedge between Congressman Ellison and the Jewish community.” Since announcing his candidacy for the DNC chair, Jewish groups like…J-Street have come to Ellison’s defense on his past associations and writings.

Also worth noting is that Bend the Arc Jewish Action, a progressive Jewish group (board members include Peter Beinart, Ilyse Hogue and Alexander Soros) has endorsed Ellison and says that “Ellison has been a close ally of the progressive Jewish community in Minnesota and nationwide throughout his career” who “has unfailingly advanced the cause of tolerance and respect for religious minorities during his time in Congress.”

So…no, I’m not in the least bit thrilled about Ellison’s past ties to the Nation of Islam, but those appear to have ended many years ago, and the fact that Jewish groups have come to his defense in recent years means a lot, in my view.

As for the Nation of Islam and Muslim Brotherhood being basically the same, as John Fredericks suggests, I would argue that both groups are extreme and reprehensible in many ways, but are definitely not the same, as they have completely different histories, leadership, etc. But yeah, I doubt many Americans are fans of either group, and rightfully so.

With regard to Sen. Petersen’s statement that he doesn’t have “any problem with [Ellison] being Islamic,” I’d point out: 1) the proper word for Ellison’s religions is “Islam” and a member of that faith is normally referred to as a “Muslim”; 2) it’s kind of a strange way for Petersen to put it that he doesn’t have “any problem” with Ellison being Muslim; I mean, why WOULD anyone have a problem with someone being a Muslim?  I do agree with Petersen about having a problem the Nation of Islam, which Ellison was involved with years ago. But I strongly disagree with Petersen’s implication that  Ellison and his supporters are “extremists” in any way. As far as I can tell, they are simply strong progressives.

Finally, let me parse this statement by Chap Petersen: “I don’t think Keith Ellison as the DNC Chair is going to be leading the comeback, because he’s going to become the issue, and it’s just not – for lack of a better term – it’s just not the vibe we want right now.” No question, if Ellison is elected as DNC Chair, the right-wing noise machine will never stop attacking him, claiming that he’s a closet member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Nation of Islam, yada yada. Of course, the right wing throws out all kinds of bull****, so not sure we should care. But yeah, this could be a drag if we end up having to spend a lot of time and energy trying to rebut that garbage.

On the other hand, it’s also a certainty that the right wingnuts will attack ANYONE Democrats choose as DNC Chair, particularly if they are in any way liberal, progressive, Muslim, or any number of other things. So…screw them, basically. As for the “vibe” comment, I think I see what Petersen’s saying, but I’m not sure I like the implication that a progressive, African-American Muslim is not the right “vibe” for the Democratic Party. I mean, should we only choose “centrists,” white people, whatever to lead our party? I find that a very dangerous, and wrongheaded, way of thinking, and sure hope we don’t go down that road…