In the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress, Minnesota representative Keith Ellison has emerged as a leading contender to chair the Democratic National Committee. Ellison resides on the far-left fringe of the Democratic party. But perhaps it is a fringe no more. Ellison has received the support not only of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren but also of prospective Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.
When I speak about Ellison in the Twin Cities, I give a talk titled “The Secret History of Keith Ellison.” The title is facetious. Ellison’s history only became “secret” when he ran for Congress in 2006 and bet his campaign on three lies about his involvement with the Nation of Islam. I recounted and recalled 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 and local leader of the Nation of Islam remains a deep secret to Ellison’s constituents in his district. He blatantly lied about it when he was running in the 2006 DFL primary. He suppressed it in his 2014 memoir, My Country, ‘Tis of Thee. Indeed, in his memoir he presented himself as a critic of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
Speaking of Farrakhan, Ellison writes in his memoir: “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.”
He should know. He was speaking from his own personal experience in the cult.
Ellison was not happy when the Star Tribune published my column “Ellison remembers to forget” on its opinion page. In the column I restored some of his own history that he had left out of his memoir. He promptly sent out a fundraising letter to his fans asserting that my column represented “a new low” in the manifestation of anti-Muslim bigotry against him.
The cry of bigotry was another lie, but Ellison invited St. Paul Pioneer Press political reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger and others on his email list to fight back against his alleged victimization with a modest contribution to his campaign. I posted a copy of his fundraising letter to Stassen-Berger in “In which Keith Ellison finds me of use.”
How has Ellison gotten away with his act? It helps to be a Democrat. It helps to be black. It helps to be a Muslim. It helps to have a sympathetic press. It helps to play to a Minneapolis crowd in a one-party town. 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.
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 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 has served as 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.