A Tea Party favorite in Ohio had a major campaign setback over the weekend, when a picture of him wearing a Nazi uniform surfaced. But Rich Iott had a quick explanation -- he is just a history buff.
The magazine The Atlantic found the photo and posted it on its web site. It shows the GOP congressional candidate in full Nazi regalia with three other men (Iott is second from the right).
Iott said he is no Nazi; rather, he is a student of history who likes participating in historical re-enactments.
"It's purely historical interest in World War II," Iott told The Atlantic.
Iott said he was involved with a WWII historical re-enactment society called Wiking for many years. The society models itself on the Wiking division of the SS, Hitler’s Nazi military force. The group's records show he was a member as early as 2003. He said he joined "as a father-son bonding thing" but quit in 2007 when his son was no longer interested.
While Iott did not defend the Nazi regime, he did say what they were able to accomplish militarily was impressive.
“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."
He said he chose the Wiking unit because it fought against the Russian Army, not American or British soldiers.
But historians say that logic is severely flawed.
"The entire German war effort in the East was a racial crusade to rid the world of 'subhumans,'" military historian Rob Citino told The Atlantic. "The multimillion Jewish population of Eastern Europe was going to be exterminated altogether…It sends a shiver up my spine to think that people want to dress up and play SS on the weekend."
Iott took to his campaign web site for a bit of damage control, posting photographs of himself participating in re-enactments wearing other military uniforms, and writing:
"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. I also believe we need to 'never forget' what happened to Jews during that war."