Sunday, Rep. Keith Ellison wrote a post on Medium about his past association with Louis Farrakhan. Ellison admits to being in the room with Farrakhan as recently as 2013 but denies meeting him at his hotel in 2016. He also claims the entire story is a right-wing attempt to divide the left.
I do not have and have never had a relationship with Mr. Farrakhan, but I have been in the same room as him. About a decade ago, he and I had a brief, chance encounter in Washington, D.C. In 2013, I attended a meeting in New York City with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and nearly 50 others where I advocated for the release of an American political prisoner. I didn’t know Mr. Farrakhan would be there and did not speak to him at the event. Contrary to recent reports, I have not been in any meeting with him since then, and he and I have no communication of any kind.
But as the attacks on me and my fellow Black representatives in Congress intensify, I want to be clear: this is a smear by factions on the right who want to pit the Jewish community and the Black community against each other, and distract from the hatred and bigotry on display by the president and the white supremacists who stormed Charlottesville this summer with their anti-Semitic chants and Confederate flags. I declined to dignify questions raised about Mr. Farrakhan because I know they are inherently political, and are designed to separate me from people who I work with every day on issues of importance for Americans of all backgrounds.
If you haven’t been following this, since January people on the right have been pointing out that the left has a cozy relationship with Farrakhan. In February, the Daily Caller contacted 21 members of the Congressional Black Caucus to ask if they would denounce Farrakhan’s racism and all 21 declined.
At the end of February, Farrakhan gave his “Savior’s Day” speech to a crowd of thousands in Chicago. CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out some of the racist and anti-Semitic language Farrakhan used in the speech. That led to a new round of people, mostly on the right, criticizing left-wing leaders for supporting him. For instance, in attendance (and given a special shout-out by Farrakhan himself) at the “Savior’s Day” speech was Tamika Mallory, one of the co-founders of the Women’s Day march. Challenged on her support for Farrakhan, she responded by defending him.
This all came back to haunt Keith Ellison earlier this month when the Washington Post ran a fact check on his claim that he had no relationship with Farrakhan. The Post looked at the evidence and concluded Ellison was flat-out lying (they gave him four Pinocchios). The Post cited this list of recent contacts between the two, which I’ve abbreviated:
2010-2013: In a YouTube video uncovered by the Daily Caller, Ellison is seen chatting with a group of men that includes Farrakhan during a function at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va. The two men are not seen talking directly to each other, but they are just feet apart…
2013: Ellison attended a dinner for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sept. 23 with at least 30 other U.S. Muslim leaders, including Farrakhan…
2016: Ellison met privately with Farrakhan. Shortly after Ellison wrote his Washington Post article, Farrakhan posted an interview on his Facebook page in which he said the “deceitful” op-ed was the result of “Jewish control of politics, economics, Hollywood, music, media.” He also said that Ellison and Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), the only other Muslim member of Congress, had recently met with him and had a private chat. “Both of them, when I was in Washington, visited my suite and we sat down talking like you and I are talking,” Farrakhan told his interviewer, Munir Muhammad. “But evidently, the enemy has made me the litmus test for all black people who want to rise in their world.”
If you compare this to Ellison’s comments, you’ll notice he admits to just one of these meetings in 2013. Strangely, he doesn’t say anything about the 2016 meeting, except to imply it never happened. That’s odd because Rep. Andre Carson, the other person who Farrakhan said came to meet with him in his hotel room in 2016, admitted to the Post that he’d had a meeting but declined to give the paper any details, including who else was there. Carson’s silence gives Ellison enough wiggle-room to deny the meeting took place. Frankly, if Carson knows that Ellison wasn’t there, why didn’t he just say so? The fact that he refused to offer specifics makes it look as if he’s covering for Ellison.
As for the idea that this is a right-wing smear, what is really diving black and Jewish communities apart is the rampant anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for the CBC to denounce his comments. So long as left-wing leaders maintain friendly relationships Farrakhan, they should be challenged on it. This is a case of the left not being willing (or only begrudgingly willing) to live up to its own standards. Of course, no one likes being on the wrong side of a charge of racism but that’s where you end up when you side with Louis Farrakhan.