Rich Iott, the Republican candidate for the U.S. House in northwest Ohio, said he is the victim of "false character attacks," after photos of him wearing a Nazi uniform were published last week.
Photos of Iott -- a Tea Party favorite who is running against Democrat Marcy Kaptur for a Congressional seat in Ohio's 9th District -- posing in a Nazi uniform in a WWII reenactment were discovered by The Atlantic magazine and published in an online article last week.
"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," Iott said in a press release posted Saturday on his campaign website, voteiott.com.
In the press release, titled "Rich Iott Statement on the Latest Kaptur Campaign Lie," Iott also published several images of him dressed for other military reenactments that he participated in with the group Wiking from 2003 to 2007, including an image of him in a U.S. World War I military uniform and one with him and his son Ian in Union soldier uniforms from the Civil War.
Iott said he has been involved with historical reenactments from different eras since graduating from college and his interest in reenactment is purely historical.
"This election needs to be about issues, not false character attacks ... I hope my opponent will join me in condemning these blatant distortions and attacks and pledge to focus on the issues that Ohioans so desperately want Washington to address," Iott wrote.
Kaptur spokesman Steve Fought said the Wiking reenactment group promotes "a twisted and dangerous view of history" and Iott's involvement with the organization is "outrageous and indefensible."
"Wiking members say they re-enact 'to honor' the Waffen SS soldiers. But honestly, who would honor such butchers?" Fought added.
The Wiking website states that the organization aims for "preservation of the history of WWII and the lifestyle of the German combat soldier."
A disclaimer on the page says that the "page or anyone involved in its creation, or members of reenactment groups listed here, are in no way affiliated with real, radical political organizations (i.e., KKK, Aryan Nation, American Nazi Party, etc.) and do not embrace the philosophies and actions of the original NSDAP (Nazi party)."
During an interview Iott did with Joshua Green, a senior editor of The Atlantic, he outlined his interest in Nazi history.
"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. 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," Iott said.
Other Republican leaders have begun to distance themselves from Iott.
"I would absolutely repudiate that and do not support an individual who would do something like that," said Republican Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., in an interview with Fox News after the photo was published.
The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants said Iott's failure to apologize was "shameful."