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Congressional candidate defends wearing Nazi outfit for re-enactment

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Candidate dresses up as a Nazi
  • Rich Iott is running for U.S. Congress from Ohio's 9th Congressional District
  • Iott says re-enactments teach history
  • His group's website does not mention the Holocaust directly
  • A Democratic spokesman calls Iott a "Nazi enthusiast"

(CNN) -- A Republican candidate running for U.S. Congress says his past donning of a Nazi outfit was part of a historical lesson -- and defended his background in military re-enactments.

Rich Iott, a Tea Party favorite running for election in Ohio's 9th Congressional District, explained his position during an interview on CNN's "AC 360" Monday night.

Iott participated in World War II re-enactments for several years in the past decade and created a German alter ego. He has said he started participating in the events as a way to bond with his son. Iott has also participated in Civil War and World War I re-enactments.

"The whole purpose of historical re-enacting is to educate people one-on-one," Iott said. "And that is done by going out and participating in re-enactments."

When asked whether he thought the men being impersonated were "valiant men," Iott said, "I don't think we can sit here and judge that today. We were not there the time they made those decisions. Were there bad people? Absolutely. Were there atrocities committed? Absolutely there were. There are people that want to deny the Holocaust ever happened in this country and around the world."

Video: Candidate's Nazi hobby?

The website for Iott's re-enactment group -- which impersonates members of the 5th SS Panzerdivision, Wiking -- does not mention the Holocaust directly.

According to Wiking's website, it is a nonprofit group with a "common interest in the German side of the war and want to tell the story of the average combat soldier of the German military."

"Racism or any type of embracement of Nazi ideology of any kind is strictly prohibited by this re-enactment unit," the website reads.

But the website does not mention what historians have said about the division -- that the group was involved in war crimes and atrocities, including the death marches and massacres of Jews in the spring of 1945.

When asked if Iott knew of the atrocities associated with the SS, the candidate replied, "What happened in Germany during the second World War is absolutely one of the low points in human history. In fact ... [the website] talks about what happened and that we don't support that. We don't support the political or the ideological motives of that time. We're talking strictly about the history. It's important for us to remember that history."

Iott's political opponents were quick to condemn him as a "Nazi enthusiast."

"It's an unbelievably disturbing story here about this Nazi enthusiast," Ryan Rudominer, national press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has said.

CNN's Gabriella Schwarz contributed to this report.

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