A Tea Party-backed candidate who allegedly murdered two unarmed Iraqis could win a seat in the House of Representatives, The Guardian reports.
Thirty-nine-year-old Ilario Pantano, who is running for North Carolina's 7th congressional district as a Republican, was charged with the premeditated murder of two Iraqi civilians in 2005 while serving as a second lieutenant with the US Marines.
In April of 2004, Pantano and his platoon stopped and detained two Iraqi men in a car near Falluja. While the majority of his platoon was away, he and two others ordered the detained Iraqis to search their own car for weapons and then allegedly unloaded two full magazines of his M16A4 rifle into them.
Sergeant Daniel Coburn, who was 27 at the time and one of the three soldiers at the incident, recalled wondering "when the lieutenant was going to stop, because it was obvious that they were dead."
"I believed that by firing the number of rounds that I did, I was sending a message," Pantano told the New York magazine.
After killing the two Iraqis, he left a placard inscribed with the Marine motto "No better friend, No worse enemy."
A few months after the alleged incident occurred, Coburn reported him to senior officers.
All charges against Pantano, who was facing a possible death sentence, were later dropped due to insufficient evidence.
Although his opponent, incumbent Democrat Rep. Mike McIntyre, has not brought the issue up, Pantano's defeated primary opponent has.
Will Breazeale, a former lieutenant colonel who served in both Iraq wars, says Pantano has "no excuse for what he did."
"To shoot two unarmed prisoners 60 times and put a sign over their dead bodies is inexcusable," Breazeale told The Daily Beast. "And once people know the real story, he has no chance of winning in November. I know people think it's sour grapes, but I have nothing to gain by opposing him except clearing my conscience and fighting for good government."
Last week, the Chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party accused McIntyre of conducting a push poll calling campaign to inform voters that Pantano had once been charged with murder. Pantano's camp offered no evidence that McIntyre actually sponsored the push poll.
With help from the Tea Party movement, Pantano has been able to raise almost $1 million for his campaign. He has received endorsements from the Veterans In Defense Of Liberty, the North Carolina Chapter of Eagle Forum, far-right blogger Pamela Geller, and a number of other conservatives.
Speaking at a rally at Ground Zero in New York organized by Gellar, Pantano said, "My family and I traveled from our home in North Carolina to stand shoulder to shoulder in objection to this thinly veiled effort at marking Muslim conquest."
"The suggestion that this mysteriously funded mosque is anything other than a permanent demonstration of Islam’s march on the West is naïve at best," writes Pantano in an article for The Daily Caller. "This is about marking religious, ideological and territorial conquest."
According to a recent poll, Democrat McIntyre has a 12-point lead over Pantano. Pantano's campaign manager claims the poll is skewed, because it surveyed registered voters, not likely voters.
Despite McIntyre's 12-point lead, he has still faced an unexpectedly tough re-election challenge. A Republican has not taken North Carolina's 7th congressional district since 1871 and other polls have found a dead heat between the two candidates.