Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, is defending himself Monday after comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler and leaving the impression the administration may have rigged the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Speaking to an atheist group on July 8, Ellison said that the president acted much the way Hitler did when the Reichstag, or German Parliament building, was burned in 1933 ahead of elections that pitted Hitler's Nazi Party against others, including the Communists. Hitler, who was suspected of ordering the fire, declared emergency powers that helped him launch his dictatorial and murderous reign.
"It's almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that," Ellison told the group, according to The Minneapolis Star Tribune. "After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country [Hitler] in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted."
During his speech, Ellison went on to tell the 350-member Atheists for Human Rights: "I'm not saying [Sept. 11] was a [U.S.] plan, or anything like that, because, you know, that's how they put you in the nut-ball box — dismiss you."
Later in the week, Ellison told one of the newspaper's columnists that he thinks Usama bin Laden — not the Bush administration — was responsible for the attacks. On Monday he suggested the administration's response to Sept. 11 was one of "fear and rage."
"Obviously, Usama bin Laden and the hijackers who carried out the murderous events are responsible for 9/11. The question is, however, how do we respond to this tragedy? With fear and rage? Or with courage and reason? I'm for courage and reason," Ellison said in a statement.
"This means that in the aftermath of 9/11, instead of invading Iraq, President Bush should have responded militarily where necessary, but even more so, diplomatically, and with all of our intelligence resources," he added.
In both his speech to the atheist group and his statement Monday, Ellison, who has co-signed a bill to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney, said that civil liberties and religious tolerance have eroded since Sept. 11, that the president has squandered international good will, and that the U.S. image abroad has been shattered by "the taint" of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay detentions and Patriot Act violations, among other issues.
"If the president had embraced the good will of the post 9/11 world to marshal an international effort to eliminate the terrorist cells responsible for this heinous act, we wouldn't be mired in a five-year war. We could have effectively eliminated Al Qaeda instead of creating a virtual recruiting station for them in Iraq," he said.