Republican U.S. House candidate Rich Iott received national attention Friday night he didn't seek.
Mr. Iott appears dressed in a Nazi uniform, along with several other men, in a photo that accompanies the lead item on theatlantic.com.
The headline is “Why's a GOP Candidate Dressed as a Nazi?”
The online article by Joshua Green begins, “An election year already notable for its menagerie of extreme and unusual candidates can add another one: Rich Iott, the Republican nominee for Congress from Ohio's 9th District, and a Tea Party favorite, who for years donned a German Waffen SS uniform and participated in Nazi re-enactments.”
The article also was a topic of conversation on the HBO program, Real Time with Bill Maher.
Maher's guests included humorist, author, and Toledo native P.J. O'Rourke.
Mr. Iott is the Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who was first elected in 1982.
Mr. Green writes that Mr. Iott's name appears on a roster as early as 2003 of a group that re-enacts the Nazi's 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking. Mr Iott told the writer that his interest in the group is “purely historical interest in World War II.”
Recruiting video used by the Nazi re-enactor unit that Rich Iott had joined. It was found as a YouTube video embedded on the wiking.org Web site
Joining was a “father-son bonding thing,” Mr. Green quotes Mr. Iott. But he quit three years ago when his son lost interest, and so his name and photos were removed from the Wiking site, Mr. Iott told Mr. Green.
Matt Parker, spokesman for Mr. Iott, said the revelation about Mr. Iott's involvement in re-enactments is a “nonstory.” He said Mr. Iott was interviewed by The Atlantic Monthly on Thursday after they told him they were doing a general story on the election campaign.
“He's done multiple re-enactments. He's not a Nazi. Rich has done tons of different re-enactments with his son across the country,” Mr. Parker said, including World War I and the American Civil War. “He enjoys military history. It's a hobby that he hasn't done in probably five years.”
Miss Kaptur could not be reached for comment Friday night. Steve Fought, her spokesman, said in a statement, “What would possess someone to impersonate one of the Nazi SS criminals? They were the face of the devil in the 20th Century. At a minimum, this behavior calls into question the judgment of the Republican nominee in the 9th Congressional District.”
Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is supporting Miss Kaptur's re-election effort, said “It sends a chilling message to all Americans, especially to veterans and to those of the Jewish faith that John Boehner and the Republican leadership in Washington would actively seek out candidates like this and embrace them.”
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The Iott campaign also forwarded an e-mail Mr. Iott sent to Mr. Green in which he confirms that the photos are of him in Nazi uniform.
“Never, in any of my re-enacting of military history, have I meant any disrespect to anyone who served in our military or anyone who has been affected by the tragedy of war,” Mr. Iott wrote. “In fact, I have immense respect for veterans who served our country valiantly, and my respect of the military and our veterans is one of the reasons I have actively studied military history throughout my life.
“Historical re-enacting is a hobby enjoyed by millions of men — and women — around the world,” Mr. Iott's e-mail continues. “I have been involved in historical re-enacting since I was in college. When my son was old enough to participate, it became a hobby that the two of us could do together and I'm grateful for the father-son bonding we shared as we participated in the events.”
Mr. Iott in his e-mail to Mr. Green attached photos of him re-enacting as a Union infantryman during the U.S. Civil War, a Doughboy during World War I, and a U.S. infantryman and a paratrooper during World War II.
In The Atlantic online article, Mr. Green writes that Mr. Iott said from the historical military point of view, he was fascinated that such a relatively small military power as Nazi Germany took over most of Europe. Mr. Green writes that Mr. Iott said he chose the Wiking division because it fought the Russian Army on the Eastern front, rather than U.S. or British forces.
The front page of wiking.org includes a disclaimer that members of re-enactment groups “are in no way affiliated with real, radical political organizations (i.e., KKK, Aryan Nation, American Nazi Party, etc.) and do not embrace the philosophies and actions of the original NSDAP (Nazi party), and wholeheartedly condemn the atrocities which made them infamous. May the victims of this unspeakable horror rest in peace.”
Mr. Green quotes Rabbi Moshe Saks, of Congregation B'nai Israel in Sylvania, “Any kind of re-enactment or glorification of Nazi Germany, to us, would be something unacceptable and certainly in poor taste, if not offensive. I think the reaction here will be very negative. And not just among the Jewish community, but the broader community.”
Mr. Parker said Mr. Iott's interest in Nazis should not be interpreted as an affinity for the Nazi cause. He said Mr. Iott engaged in Civil War re-enactments as early as when he was in college, spending all his time on weekends, but that the pastime fell away when his children were born.
When his son developed an interest in history he resumed re-enactments with his son, Mr. Parker said. Mr. Parker said people had to be available to play all the combatants in a World War II re-enactment and that Mr. Iott played American soldiers as well as German soldiers.
“There's no political agenda. If you go to a World War II convention you can't just have United States soldiers, you'd have to have every group involved in World War II. They don't take sides or look at it from a moral or ethical standard. They look at it strictly as history,” Mr. Parker said.
“It absolutely had nothing to do with any kind of romanticizing of Nazis whatever,” Mr. Parker said. He said use of the swastika and the Nazi salute were prohibited in the re-enactments.
“Rich isn't ashamed of the fact that he's done military re-enacting,” Mr. Parker said.
Mr. Iott did not serve in the military, but he has said that he wanted to enter the military during the Vietnam War, but was denied because of a heart murmur.
Later, he joined the Ohio Military Reserve, a volunteer, nonarmored auxiliary under the Ohio Adjutant General and is now, after 28 years, a colonel. The reserve, established during the Cold War era as a backup cadre in case of natural or manmade disaster, never has been activated, although its members train diligently at Camp Perry and take courses in military and emergency topics.