The race to represent Minnesota’s 5th congressional district is shaping up to be one of the most heated contests in the 2012 elections. Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, elected in 2006 as the country’s first Muslim congressman, is going to be challenged by anti-Islamist activists criticizing his close relationships with organizations allegedly tied to Hamas. One Republican aspiring to be his challenger, a lawyer named Lynne Torgerson, has made these relationships the centerpiece of her campaign.
In an interview with Canada Free Press, Torgerson said “his views are anti-American” and he’s “probably the worst congressman the United States has ever had.” She emphasized that she doesn’t “hate him or even particularly dislike him” as a person. Ellison accuses his opponents of harboring an anti-Muslim prejudice and of questioning his patriotism without merit.
Ellison condemns all forms of terrorism, including suicide bombings. In September, the Israeli government thanked Ellison for pressuring Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, a young soldier it kidnapped and was holding hostage. However, Torgerson and Ellison’s critics point to his affiliations with groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which the federal government labeled as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation, a charity found guilty of financing Hamas. The FBI subsequently ended its outreach programs with CAIR, and a judge ruled in 2009 that the government had “ample evidence” tying CAIR to Hamas to justify the label.
Torgerson’s campaign received nationwide attention when she attended a speaking engagement of Ellison’s. She asked him whether he considers Sharia law or the Constitution as supreme, to which he replied, “I believe that the United States Constitution, which has been amended well over 25 times, is the bedrock of American law.” This did not satisfy Torgerson, who felt he had evaded the question.
In June, she was interviewed by Reverend Al Sharpton on MSNBC about the incident. He opened the segment with “The Anti-Muslim Platform” written next to an image of Torgerson. Sharpton repeatedly accused Torgerson of attacking Ellison’s faith and making false allegations about his beliefs. Ellison’s office provided a statement to the show saying he swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and accusing Torgerson of using “intolerant rhetoric.”
Torgerson’s campaign has released a video of her explaining why she believes Ellison is a radical Islamist. She states that “He has associated himself for most of his adult life with the most extremist groups,” beginning with the Nation of Islam. His friendship with the Executive-Director of CAIR, Nihad Awad, goes back to college.
Awad declared his support for Hamas in the early 1990s, but said this was before it began carrying out suicide bombings and that he withdrew his support afterwards. However, in 2004, he told an Arab publication, “I truly do not condemn these organizations” in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon that he views as “liberation movements” but the West considers to be terrorist groups. This was a reference to Hamas and Hezbollah, though he did not say their names. Awad said that if these groups are to be condemned, then Israel should be condemned 10 times as much.
Awad and his associates hold fundraisers for Ellison’s campaigns and the congressman regularly speaks at their events. Muslim activists identified as being part of the Muslim Brotherhood and associates of Hamas donate to his campaign. In 2008, the Muslim American Society, a group that the government says was “founded by the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States,” sponsored his pilgrimage to Mecca. He has also clashed with Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim opponent of these groups, accusing him of trying to make money off of bashing his fellow Muslims.
Torgerson’s campaign will have some unexpected help from anti-Islamist activist organizations like the Christian Action Network and The United West. These groups plan to bring attention to Ellison’s friendships with individuals and organizations accused of being affiliated with terrorism next year.
“In 2012, The United West will expose and provide information of key political politicians and elected officials who are collaborating with Muslim Brotherhood operatives in America and in foreign countries. Representative Keith Ellison is one of these collaborators,” Tom Trento, President of the United West, told Canada Free Press.
Rep. Ellison’s office promoted an event in Congress in September 13 to showcase a published report titled, “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.“The document accused a multitude of conservative activists and experts, including the Christian Action Network and Tom Trento, of promoting fear of Muslims.
“Of course, they’ll [Ellison’s campaign] try to say we hate Muslims, because that’s what they always do. We’re fighting the Islamist ideology, not patriotic Muslims who value separation of mosque and state,” Martin Mawyer, President of the Christian Action Network, said in an article on the group’s website announcing its plans to “confront” Ellison.
Torgerson told Canada Free Press that she’s aware of the odds against her if she wins the Republican nomination. Minnesota’s 5th congressional district is a heavily Democratic district in a heavily Democratic state. Ellison was first elected in 2006 with 56% of the vote, re-elected in 2008 and 2010 with 71% and 68% of the vote, respectively. She won only 4% of the vote in 2010 when she ran as an independent.
“I do not believe that Keith Ellison himself is all that popular. I think he gets elected simply because he is a Democrat, and this has largely been a Democrat district,” Torgerson said. She feels that her partisan disadvantage can be overcome by educating voters on the Islamist networks in the U.S. and Ellison’s role in helping them.
She said that her main obstacles are money, libertarians who have joined the local Republican Party and the widespread fear in churches of losing their tax-exempt status if they educate their congregations about radical Islam and Ellison. She said that this fear makes it very difficult to mobilize church turnout.
Torgerson credits her former gymnastics coach, John Tobler, with instilling in her “the power of positive thinking and hard work.” She believes her hard-working attitude, which originally caught the attention of her Republican Party colleagues in 2006 who suggested that she run for office, will allow her to prevail.
Left-wing organizations have been churning out reports like “Fear Inc.” and “Manufacturing the Muslim Menace” to make Islamophobia a major issue. At the same time, right-wing organizations have been working hard to bring attention to the Islamist networks in the U.S. The two sides are set to clash in Minnesota’s 5th congressional district next year.
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