Rich Iott, the House Republican nominee in Ohio’s 9th district, belongs to a group that reenacts World War II battles as a Nazi SS division.
Iott confirmed to The Atlantic that he has been a member of the group, called Wiking, for years but that his participation stems from his interest in history.
"In fact, there's a disclaimer on the [Wiking] website,” he told The Atlantic, which first reported his membership. “And you'll find that on almost any reenactment website. It's purely historical interest in World War II."
Iott is seen in photos dressed up in a Nazi military uniform. The group says its name come from the 5th Panzer Division Wiking, which was an armored tank division that included foreigners and mainly fought against Russians on the Eastern Front. A recruiting video on the Wiking site, shows members of the group marching, shooting rifles and performing drills as if they’re German soldiers.
Iott is challenging 14-term Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D), who represents a northern Ohio district that includes Toledo. Iott, a former president and CEO of a supermarket chain, is a member of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program, which promotes promising GOP challengers in this year’s House races.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) criticized Iott’s membership in the group and Republican leaders for backing him.
“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 a candidate like this and embrace him,” said Ryan Rudominer, a DCCC spokesman.
Iott, who serves as a colonel in the Ohio Military Reserve, told The Atlantic that he found the German war effort in World War II “incredible” from “a purely historical military point of view.”
“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 said. “I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them."
Iott’s campaign biography said he has served in the Ohio Military Reserve for 28 years and has graduated from the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the United States Air Force Air War College. His website also says he holds “Israeli jump wings,” which are military badges awarded to parachutists.
The Iott campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee hadn’t responded to requests for comment early Saturday morning.