Iott should exit, stage reichWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
“Did you hear Rich Iott was thrown out of the Valentine Theatre last night? He was at ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ and kept yelling, “She’s in the attic!” — Overheard at Oct. 11 debate
Republican Rich Iott should bow out of the race for the District 9 House of Representatives seat.
I say that, not in haste, but after nearly a week of observation and reflection. When I first read the Oct. 8 coverage of Iott’s former hobby, which entailed wearing a German Waffen SS uniform and “re-enacting” the maneuvers of a Nazi division, the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, I believed Iott would drop out of the race within hours. His admission of participating in the group for several years and the accompanying photographs may as well have been a resignation news release.
But while the local, national and international media have chewed on the story with breathless zeal, Iott has continued to campaign, appearing on TV and radio programs to defend his former role-playing pastime. And every time he opens his mouth on the topic, he brings shame, derision and embarrassment to Northwest Ohio.
“Boy, be careful. You play with fire.” — Nazi officer Kurt Dussander, “Apt Pupil”
There is a compelling novella by Stephen King, “Apt Pupil,” in the collection “Different Seasons.” In the story, a young boy named Todd Bowden becomes obsessed with the Holocaust and Nazi culture after discovering a stack of old war magazines. His interest is at first a fascination with how? How could such an atrocity take place on such an earth-shaking scale? How could so many human beings be destroyed with such cold efficiency? His curiosity evolves into an unhealthy obsession that corrupts his mind, rots his soul and costs him his life.
Is it possible to immerse oneself in the study of the Holocaust and the Nazis and not be impacted by the gravity of the subject? At the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., there are thousands of Holocaust artifacts: prisoner uniforms, weapons, propaganda films, adults-only areas where graphic images reach out like dead hands to squeeze the heart. The museum has a boxcar that was used to transport Jewish victims to Auschwitz; the inside of that train car was colder than any cold I can describe from this side of the grave. I have spoken with Holocaust survivors, heard the stories of loss and ache and pain that were brewed in a hell most rational minds cannot imagine.
How is a person who has an iota of familiarity with the Holocaust able to dress in the uniform of its perpetrators and play war games without giving up a piece of his soul every time he goose-steps into the woods? How does that person compartmentalize the eternal evil from the short-term thrill of a “re-enactment?”
The group Iott used to belong to says it eschews the swastika in its games. That is a weak gesture the group uses to try to separate itself from the Nazis, and it means nothing. It’s like wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood but claiming you don’t endorse the group’s “ideology” because you don’t wear a Confederate flag patch.
How does Iott fail to understand that his former penchant for acting as an SS soldier stains his name, reputation and ability to represent the people of Northwest Ohio?
“Did you know that one of Rich Iott’s ancestors died in the Holocaust? He fell out of a guard tower.” — Overheard in line at Talmadge Road Speedway, Oct. 11.
The offense is just the first level of this issue; Iott’s continuing refusal to show any contrition is arrogant and calls into question his communication skills and judgment in handling controversy. During an Oct. 11 appearance on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°,” Iott and the host had this exchange:
Cooper: “Do you believe that these men, who in some cases took part in these crimes, were valiant men?”
Iott: “I think that they thought they were fighting for their homeland.”
Cooper: “I’m sure Nazis in the concentration camps thought they were doing a good thing, too, but that doesn’t make it so. I mean, do you think these were valiant men?”
Iott: “I don’t think we can sit here and judge that today. We weren’t there at the time they made those decisions. Were there bad people? Oh, absolutely. And were there atrocities committed? Absolutely there were.”
I can’t decide if Iott’s Waffen waffling is an example of him being disingenuous, naïve or oblivious. Where is the unequivocal condemnation of the Nazis? Why does Iott insist on half-ass defending butchers? I also can’t decide which is worse: if the re-enactment group takes its Nazi playtime too seriously or if it doesn’t take it seriously at all.
Alan Miltich, who is in one of the now-famous pictures with Iott dressed as an SS soldier, told reporter Chris Gautz of the Jackson Citizen-Patriot that, “One of his favorite memories from [re-enactment] conventions is when everyone in full costume dances to ‘Time Warp’ from ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’”
Sounds like quite a party, doesn’t it?
“Iott says he re-enacts so we ‘never forget.’ But if he can separate the Nazi uniform from the Nazi mentality, I think he’s forgotten already.” — Alexandra Petri, The Washington Post
There are people in our region so eager to remove Rep. Marcy Kaptur from office, they are willing to downplay Iott’s insurmountable foolishness. Iott spokesman Matt Parker called the original Atlantic article a “non-story.” WSPD radio hosts Fred LeFebvre and Brian Wilson have similarly dismissed the importance of the Iott controversy as they work to keep the focus on removing Kaptur from office. Iott campaign consultant and WSPD host Fritz Wenzel has also worked very hard to downplay the incident; on Oct. 13, he spent a segment on WSPD interviewing a Jewish friend of Iott’s, employing the Archie Bunker “some of my best friends are … ” defense.
If it’s just a re-enactment and no big deal — if it’s a non-story — I challenge Parker, Wilson, LeFebvre, Wenzel and Iott’s Jewish pal to join the Wiking division during its next re-enactment. Let them put on the SS uniforms and march through the woods playing war games, in full view of video and still cameras. If it’s not a big deal — if it’s just a smear engineered by Kaptur, the media and the Democratic National Committee — if it’s not an indictment of character and judgment, they shouldn’t mind dressing up and joining the historical and educational effort, right?
“Annex Pennsylvania!” “SS we can!” “Today Toledo, tomorrow the world!” — suggested Iott campaign slogans from “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
The Prime Minister of Shame, Carty Finkbeiner (retired), has a Hall of Shame wing dedicated to his body of work embarrassing the region, but his string of humiliations looks absolutely helpful next to the searing spotlight Iott has brought to our region through his puzzling former weekend fun runs. More than 1,000 articles have been written about Iott’s re-enactment parties. He has been discussed in The Washington Post, The New York Times and has been a reference point on CNN, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “The Colbert Report,” “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” and many others. The BBC and major newspapers around the world are reporting on the Iott controversy.
Iott has become a punch line, but the joke is on Northwest Ohio.
“Don’t judge Rich Iott until you have goose-stepped a mile in his jackboots.” — Overheard Oct. 12 at Table Forty 4
If Iott truly believes in helping the future of Northwest Ohio, he will remove himself from the race. He needs to put the money and time and ego and sycophants aside and think.
Every day that this story survives a news cycle, the national and global repercussions for our region are exponentially deepened. Iott does not have even a slim hope of defeating Kaptur, but imagine the scrutiny if he did; Northwest Ohio would become the new David Duke Louisiana, the new Marion Barry Washington, D.C.; we will have elected an unfathomably inappropriate representative.
I do not believe Rich Iott is a Nazi, or that he in any way supports the heinous villains’ philosophy. But in this age of Google, he is now forever linked with an SS uniform and an arrogant refusal to apologize or show contrition for his poor judgment.He is unable to effectively serve the people of Northwest Ohio, and must understand that his limp to the finish not only further erodes the collective reputation of our region, it hurts his already weak local GOP. Voters disgusted with Iott are not going to suddenly switch for Kaptur; they are going to stay home, and that hurts the efforts of fellow local GOP candidates. Some political websites are negatively linking national GOP figures who have donated to Iott’s campaign. Iott is a liability.
Iott needs to step aside and recognize that if his hobby’s goal was to educate, it failed, because he has apparently failed to learn the lessons of how much damage Hitler and his armies of marching slayers achieved.
The only victory Iott can still salvage — and the only way he can control the endgame of this sad story — is to cede the race and work on rebuilding some important reputations; his, and that of the Northwest Ohio region he purports to care for.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Brian Wilson, Fred LeFebvre, Fritz Wenzel, Holocaust, Lighting The Fuse, Marcy Kaptur, Michael S. Miller, Nazi controversy, Rich Iott, Stephen King, The Atlantic, United States Holocaust Museum, WSPD