Right-wing media have launched a smear campaign against Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) that largely focuses on his Muslim faith, continuing a long pattern of anti-Muslim attacks on the first Muslim congressman.
On Monday, Ellison announced a bid to become the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He has been endorsed by Sens. Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and several progressive organizations. Others considering seeking the chair include former DNC chair Howard Dean and NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue.
FoxNews.com launched the conservative response to Ellison’s candidacy the same day as his announcement with an unbylined article headlined, “Who is Keith Ellison? Left-wing congressman with past ties to Nation of Islam wants DNC job.” As ThinkProgress noted, other conservatives followed by calling Ellison a “Muslim Brotherhood shill” and “a former disciple of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam,” and comparing him to Stephen Bannon, the newly-announced chief strategist to President-elect Donald Trump who is facing a growing backlash over his ties to anti-Semitism and white nationalists. Yesterday, a Fox guest said Ellison’s “allegiances are more to the Islamic civilization than Judeo-Christian civilization.”
Those conservatives are regurgitating attacks linking Ellison to Farrakhan that were first leveled at him during his first run for Congress in 2006. In fact, Ellison’s connection to the Nation of Islam is limited to writing a column defending Farrakhan as a law student in 1990, and working with the group to organize Minnesotans to attend the 1995 Million Man March (President Obama also attended the march). Ellison subsequently wrote in a 2006 letter to Jewish leaders, “I have long since distanced myself from and rejected the Nation of Islam due to its propagation of bigoted and anti-Semitic statements and actions of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and Khalid Muhammed.”
Ellison has been subject to anti-Muslim attacks from right-wing commentators since he won his first congressional election and announced that he would swear his oath of office on the Quran. Fox News host Sean Hannity and syndicated conservative radio host Dennis Prager responded to the use of the Quran during his swearing-in by comparing Ellison’s actions to using “Hitler's Mein Kampf, which is the Nazi bible.” Glenn Beck opened an interview with Ellison shortly after his election by saying, “what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.'" Beck added: “I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.”
Those Islamophobic attacks have continued over the years. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade suggested that if Ellison were really worried about extremism, he should “focus on getting the burqa off” Muslim women. Hannity responded to a confrontational interview with Ellison by doing a segment highlighting his “radical connections” to “Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.” And Fox host Eric Bolling called him the “Muslim apologist in Congress.”