Nazi or nerd?
That’s the question hovering over GOP congressional candidate Rich Iott, after a photo of him posing in a Nazi uniform surfaced online this weekend.
Iott, a Tea Party favorite who is running for a seat in Ohio’s ninth district, says he is not a Nazi sympathizer but a history buff who liked participating in historical re-enactments.
“It’s purely historical interest in World War II,” Iott told The Atlantic after the magazine discovered the photo.
But Eric Cantor, House Republican Whip (R.-Va), slammed Iott, telling Fox News Sunday, “I would absolutely repudiate that and do not support an individual who would do something like that.”
Iott has admitted being involved with the WWII historical re-enactment society Wiking for many years, and the organization’s rosters reportedly show him being a member as early as 2003. He said he joined “as a father-son bonding thing” but quit in 2007 when his son was no longer interested.
The society models itself on the Wiking division of the SS, Hitler’s Nazi military force. In the controversial photo, Iott grins while wearing a Waffen-SS uniform.
Iott says his interest in the group came not from Nazi leanings but from a respect for their tactical accomplishments during WWII. “They took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them,” he told the Atlantic. “From a purely historical military point of view that’s incredible.”
He chose the Wiking unit, he said, because the real-life division fought against the Russian Army, not American or British soldiers.
Historians, however, take issue with this version of events.
“The entire German war effort in the East was a racial crusade to rid the world of ‘subhumans,'” military historian Rob Citino told the Atlantic. “The multimillion Jewish population of Eastern Europe was going to be exterminated altogether…It sends a shiver up my spine to think that people want to dress up and play SS on the weekend.”
Following the furor over the photo, Iott took to his campaign website to post a statement and photographs of himself participating in re-enactments wearing other military uniforms.
“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, especially the Jewish Community,” he said. “I also believe we need to ‘never forget’ what happened to Jews during that war.”
Despite the firestorm, Iott hopes the photo’s publication won’t affect voters.
“They have to take it in context,” he told the Atlantic. “There’s re-enactors out there who do everything. You couldn’t do Civil War re-enacting if somebody didn’t play the role of the Confederates. [This] is something that’s definitely way in the past.”
(Source: NY Daily News)