MATTOON, IL—Ending the firestorm of controversy that erupted
after he made a highly critical comment about the United States,
43-year-old hardware store employee Keith Nellson bowed to public
pressure Wednesday and announced he would be stepping down as an
American citizen, effective immediately.
Last month, when Nellson was heard in a YouTube video of a friend's
birthday party remarking that "this country really needs to get its act
together," the gaffe quickly went viral and led to extensive coverage
across all major news outlets. Soon protesters were surrounding his home
around the clock and calling for him to relinquish his citizenship.
The Mattoon High School graduate addressed the media at a press conference on his front lawn early Monday morning.
"First of all, I would like to offer my deepest apologies to anyone I
may have hurt with my comments," said Nellson, flanked by his wife and
two children, who have supported him throughout the ordeal. "While I
truly love America, I believe the best thing I can do right now—for my
family and for my nation—is to resign as U.S. citizen. After the
distraction of these past few weeks, I hope my decision will allow the
United States to resume its pursuit of all the things that make it the
best country in the world."
Added Nellson, "I also hope that one day the American
people can forgive me for my thoughtless words."
Though Nellson initially claimed his quote was taken out of context,
criticism continued to mount, and when he was confronted by reporters
last week during his afternoon shift at the town's Ace hardware store,
it seemed there was little he could say or do to assuage the growing
antipathy toward him.
In a Gallup poll conducted shortly before his resignation, 93 percent
of U.S. residents described Nellson's comments as "reprehensible" and
"entirely unbefitting a United States citizen," with 87 percent agreeing
the time had come for him to step down from his citizenship.
"While I do believe Keith Nellson cares for this country and its core
values, the reality is there's no 'right' context for someone in his
position to be saying the things he said," CNN political analyst Jack
Cafferty said. "By handing over his passport and constitutionally
afforded native citizenship, Mr. Nellson did the right thing, and I'm
glad he chose to do so graciously and with what appeared to be sincere
Adding to Nellson's struggles was the discovery of prior negative comments he reportedly made about the United States. The Wall Street Journal published an account of him saying to a neighbor, "Jesus Christ…this
country," after a discussion of rising gas prices. Even more
incriminating was a 2008 incident in which Nellson allegedly said to
members of his bowling team, "I tell you, America's really going down
Making matters worse, longtime friend and local plumber Evan Klinner,
45, was forced to rescind his public support for his former high school
classmate after his statement that Nellson was "a good guy and didn't
mean anything by it" was swiftly pounced on by the national media.
"It's a classic tale of a flawed individual; worthy, I think, of
Greek tragedy," said media analyst Brian Jacoby, who is currently
writing a book on the 43-year-old suburbanite's fall from grace.
"Nellson opened a Pandora's box and found that, in our 24-hour media
culture, there was very little he could do to close it back up again. We
can debate as much as we like whether there was any merit in his
comments—and I'm sure millions will—but in the end it won't save his
Nellson told reporters that despite "what is really just a big misunderstanding," he still loves the American people.
"The past 43 years have been truly incredible, and I wouldn't trade
my time as a U.S. citizen for anything," said Nellson, holding back
tears. "But when 300 million of your countrymen are asking for you to
stand down, then I guess you have to decide what's best for everyone,
even at great personal sacrifice."
Despite his voluntary exile, many have speculated it is too soon to
rule out the possibility of a relationship between Nellson and the
United States of America in the future.
"Trust me, this is not the last we'll be hearing from Keith Nellson,"
Jacoby said. "In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if in, a few years time,
after everything has died down, he tries to make a run at becoming an
American citizen again."
Added Jacoby, "After all, America loves a second act."