An Ohio Republican and tea party favorite running for congress in the state's 9th district used to spend weekends dressing up as a Nazi soldier, running around in the woods simulating combat with other SS-impersonators ... And he says he did it to get closer to his son.
The story was broken by Atlantic editor Joshua Green, who appeared on a Friday broadcast of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher with revealing photos showing millionaire businessman Rich Iott in full Nazi regalia.
He was part of a group called Wiking, which still operates today and even has a web site. While their site specifically shuns the ideals behind the rise of the Nazi legions, it goes on to explain, "we are only interested in recreating [the soldier's] daily life, furthering our understanding of what it took to be a soldier, and at the same time having fun reliving history. We honor the men (and women) who really experienced the war, and we salute their courage and loyalty to put their lives on the line in defense of their native soil, no matter what nationality or government."
The group seeks to mime the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, which mainly fought on the eastern front, according to Green. A Wikipedia entry dedicated to the unit explains that they took part in a campaign that resulted in the murder of over 700 Jews. More atrocities allegedly committed by the soldiers are described in Eleonore Lappin's book, "The Death Marches of Hungarian Jews Through Austria in the Spring of 1945." A detailed summary of their alleged crimes is also available on AxisHistory.com.
Contacted by Green, Iott explained that his interest in the group was purely historical, adding that his participation was "a father-son bonding thing."
Iott was a member of the National Republican Congressional Committee's so-called "Young Guns" program, but a GOP-owned domain dedicated to America's "future leaders" appears to have scrubbed his name from a list of "contenders".
"Iott participated in the group under his own name, and also under the alias 'Reinhard Pferdmann,' which has also been removed [from the group's web site], and which Iott described as being his German alter ego," Green continued. "'Part of the reenactor's [experience],' Iott said, 'is the living-history part, of really trying to get into the persona of the time period. In many, not just in our unit, but in many units what individuals do is create this person largely based on a Germanized version of their name, and a history kind of based around your own real experiences."
He said his German alter-ego's name means "Horse Man" in English.
"I've always been fascinated by the fact that here was a relatively small country that from a strictly military point of view accomplished incredible things," he told Green. "I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them. From a purely historical military point of view, that's incredible."
Even more embarrassing for Iott, the group has a "training video" available on YouTube, depicting men in Nazi uniforms pretending to fight in the woods. This is apparently what he and his son were doing, and his name appears on the group's roster as early as 2003. Though he also admits a fascination with war reenactment since his college days, he claims to have not participated in the last three years.
"It sends a chilling message to all Americans, especially to veterans and to those of the Jewish faith that John Boehner and the Republican leadership in Washington would actively seek out candidates like this and embrace them," said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.