A REPUBLICAN Congress candidate photographed in a Nazi Waffen SS uniform has defended himself, saying he wore it for WWII re-enactments and has no Nazi sympathies.
Rich Iott’s exploits, which were first reported by The Atlantic magazine, have provoked a firestorm of criticism of the conservative Tea Party favorite in northwest Ohio.
In a statement, Iott defended historical re-enacting as a hobby enjoyed by millions of men and women, adding he had re-enacted many different eras since his college years.
“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,” Iott said in the statement.
“I have immense respect for veterans who served our country valiantly, particularly those who fought to rid the world of tyranny and aggression by relegating Nazism to the trash heap of history,” he continued.
“I also believe we need to ‘never forget’ what happened to Jews during that war. In fact, my respect for the military and our veterans and my concern for the victims of war is one of the reasons I have actively studied military history throughout my life.”
Iott, whose district lies in Northwest Ohio, is involved with a group devoted to re-enacting the exploits of the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, which fought mainly on the Eastern Front during World War II, the Atlantic reported.
When contacted by the magazine, Iott confirmed his involvement with the group over a number of years, but said his interest in Nazi Germany was historical and insisted he does not subscribe to the tenets of Nazism.
But news of Iott’s hobby, and pictures of him in the uniform, prompted outrage from both Democrats and Republicans.
Iott’s Democratic opponent Marcy Kaptur said she was disgusted by the photos, and key Republican Representative Eric Cantor has also criticized Iott.
Interviewed on CNN, Iott refused to apologize.
“I think that Representative Cantor did what so many career politicians do,” he said.
“He reacted before he had all the facts. He didn’t know the whole story. He didn’t understand what historical reenacting is all about or the education side of it and he just made a decision without all the facts,” Iott said.
The Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement after Iott’s first reaction of news of his hobby, condemning his response as inappropriate.
“Rich Iott’s initial statement after the story about his Nazi-focused historical reenactments broke showed that he clearly lacks the judgment we should expect of lawmakers,” the lobby group said.
The website of the Wiking reenactment group includes a disclaimer stating that individuals involved with the group “are in no way affiliated with real, radical political organisations… and do not embrace the philosophies and actions of the original NSDAP (Nazi party), and wholeheartedly condemn the atrocities which made them infamous.”