Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) released a statement Wednesday morning in response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed a U.S. ambassador and three American staff members.
Ambassador Chris Stevens, 52, was killed when the building in Benghazi was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades during a protest by a mob of people angry over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
California-based writer and director Sam Bacile is in hiding, but remained defiant after the news of Stevens's death, telling the Associated Press by phone that Islam is a cancer and the intent of the film was to provoke and condemn Islam.
Rep. Ellison stressed the need for the U.S. government and American people to "remain calm and not let it boil over."
Following the deadly attack, President Obama ordered increased security to protect U.S. diplomats and their personnel around the world.
"I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens," Obama said. "Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives."
REP. KEITH ELLISON STATEMENT
I am deeply disturbed by the attacks on our diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt. Four Americans have now been killed, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. My heart goes out to their families. They were brave public servants working tirelessly to improve relations with Egypt, Libya, and the rest of the world. This is a tragic loss.
The amateurish and stupid video that sparked these riots was deeply offensive not only to Muslims but also to anyone who respects the faith of others. It was designed to provoke, and sadly, the provocateurs successfully induced some people to take the bait. Instead of ignoring or peacefully condemning the film, they resorted to violence and mayhem.
Yes, the film's creators hatefully attacked what so many people hold most dear: their relationship with the Divine. But responding with violence is never justified. And those who think they are doing so in the name of Islam are wrong and ill informed. The abuse of free speech rights, no matter how offensive, does not give license for senseless acts of violence.
People need to understand that the United States government had no role in creating this film. In fact, the government has condemned it and the American people have rejected it; it violates the American value of religious tolerance. The vast majority of Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of other faiths live in peace and harmony in the United States, and reject the hateful expressions in the film. No one should confuse the tiny group who made this disrespectful and deliberately provocative film with the American people or the U.S. government. The United States Constitution protects religious freedom, but it also prohibits the government from silencing misguided individuals who abuse their free speech rights.
Hateful provocateurs will always try to stir the pot, but it's up to us to remain calm and not let it boil over. Now innocent public servants who dedicated their lives to building bridges between people are dead. What we need is more understanding and tolerance, not conflict and bloodshed.
In response, Ellison's 5th District challenger, Chris Fields, released the following statement:
Today I join with many Americans who mourn the savage murder of four innocent American diplomats who lost their life, including the U.S. ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, in the attack on our embassy at Benghazi, Libya.
I join Congressman Ellison's condemnation of the attacks. I do not however share his view that the attackers were provoked by a "stupid video." Intolerance of American values provoked these brutal murders.
Some people thought that the election of the first Muslim to Congress would show the Islamic world that America was not only a free country, but a tolerant one as well. They had hopes that Congressman Ellison would enhance the efforts of our country to reach out to the Islamic world. His shocking statement on this matter sadly indicates that he believes American values are responsible for the actions of these killers. Such a statement is shameful and disgraceful.
I believe we must work with Libyan officials to ensure the murderers are brought to justice. We must also work to ensure the safety of those who serve our country abroad.
America has a right to have a constitution that recognizes a right to free speech. It is long past time that radicals in the Islamic world reconcile themselves to that fact. When they do the world will be a much better place and these senseless acts of violence will no longer occur.