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Published: Thursday, 10/14/2010

Didn't anyone vet Iott's photos?

Are Tea Party favorites ever fully vetted as suitable candidates for elected office before the love flows? Just wondering.

From dabbling in witchcraft to denouncing gay “brainwashing” to wearing a Nazi uniform, the picks of the Tea Party patriots are gaining notoriety. Even national GOP leaders, who take pains to appease the Tea Party bunch, can't abide the latest embarrassment.

This one comes courtesy of Ohio Republican congressional candidate Rich Iott. His campaign to represent the Toledo area in the 9th House District took a big hit this week not only from Democrats, but also from Republicans.

Within hours of pictures surfacing everywhere in the media that showed a grinning Mr. Iott playing dress-up as a German SS officer, GOP leaders flinched. The National Republican Congressional Committee yanked candidate Iott from its online collection of partisans with potential.

Just for participating in Nazi re-enactments, Mr. Iott disappeared without a trace from the GOP's “Young Guns.” The program, founded by House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, heralds a cadre of candidates as a promising new generation of conservative leaders who “give America the best opportunity to move our country in the right direction.”

But there's nothing right about celebrating what the Wiking group calls the “valiant men” of the Waffen 5th SS Panzer Division. The Waffen SS, far more political and ruthless than regular German army units, was considered the armed wing of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

Understandably, the GOP wanted to put some distance between itself and a candidate with a former “hobby” of wearing a Nazi uniform. Mr. Cantor, the Republicans' No. 2 leader in the House, said he absolutely repudiated Mr. Iott's actions and would not support someone inclined to dress in that attire.

Predictably, Democrats salivated at the scandal-in-the-making threatening to sink the Republican's bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Marcy Kaptur. The Monclova Township businessman, making his first run at political office, complained about being the victim of a “character assassination” orchestrated by his opponent.

Hold on, Tea Partier. She's not the one who spent years posing as a war re-enactor in Nazi garb. Frankly, almost more disturbing than seeing Rich Iott playing the role of “Reinhard Pferdman,” which he described as his German alter ego, is his refusal to accept how offensive his activities were to many, including World War II veterans, Holocaust survivors, and descendants of those slaughtered by the SS.

In an online interview with The Atlantic, Mr. Iott explained that impersonating Nazi SS soldiers was a “purely historical” pursuit that he did with his son as a “father-son bonding thing.” The Boy Scouts weren't available?

The Republican allowed that he was always fascinated by what a military power as relatively small as Nazi Germany was able to accomplish strategically. “I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them.”

Some military historians argue that the German war effort on the Eastern Front during World War II was a racial crusade to rid the world of “subhumans” and exterminate the Jewish population of Eastern Europe. They shudder at what they call the re-enactors' sanitized, romanticized version of events.

“It sends a shiver up my spine to think that people want to dress up and play SS on the weekend,” said Professor Rob Citino of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas.

Meanwhile, as the frenzy over the Iott photographs builds, the re-enactor running for Congress has become defensive, claiming he is being falsely branded as a Nazi sympathizer.

But he has also reinvented his reasons for role-playing, insisting he was providing a public service instead of indulging a private passion. In a departure from what he told The Atlantic about being a history buff studying the military feats of the Nazi army, he told CNN that he wore the Nazi uniform as a way to educate the public and “remind people about the tragedy that happened 70-some years ago.”

How philanthropic. Still, as one blogger opined: “If he can separate the Nazi uniform from the Nazi mentality, I think he's forgotten already.”

Voters in northwest Ohio won't forget. They'll remember the pictures and a candidate with a history that should have been vetted.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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