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Keith Ellison: ‘Irresponsible’ Trump could bring about first strike by North Korea

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) speaks in Phoenix in January. (David Wallace/Arizona Republic via AP)

ATLANTA — Rep. Keith Ellison, the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, told activists at the progressive Netroots Nation conference that President Trump was acting less responsibly than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and that antiwar activism needs to ramp up as the president’s rhetoric has.

“You have this guy making bellicose threats against somebody else who has very little to lose over there,” said Ellison (D-Minn.). “Kim Jong Un — the world always thought he was not a responsible leader. Well, he’s acting more responsible than this guy.”

There were murmurs of agreement in the room before Ellison described what would need to happen before a “missile launch” become a reality.

“The time for cranking up the antiwar machine is right now,” he said. “If you don’t want to be a deer in the headlights, start calling for diplomacy immediately.”

In a short interview after the speech, Ellison dialed back the Kim-Trump comparison.

“That was one of those I wish I’d not said,” Ellison said. “It’s tailor-made for somebody to misuse. I’d say he’s being incredibly irresponsible and he’s putting us in a situation where you could have an accidental launch. I mean, his rhetoric might make Kim Jong Un think that he needs to strike first. What we need is someone bringing calm to the situation, not spiking it.”

Worry about North Korea’s progress toward working nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the president’s talk of “fire and fury” being used to stop it, repeatedly emerged over the first two days of the conference. A panel co-hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union brainstormed ways to respond if a military crisis broke out and the Trump administration were to respond by curtailing civil liberties. At other planning sessions, activists plotted direct action in the case of actual hostilities.

Ellison’s comment about Trump and Kim drew quick fire from the Republican National Committee. Michael Ahrens, the RNC’s rapid-response director, sent the video of Ellison’s comment to reporters, calling it “insane” and and challenging Democrats to respond.

“With radical beliefs like these, Democrats need to decide whether Keith Ellison deserves to speak for their party going forward,” Ahrens said.