Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Tuesday dismissed criticism of his pledge-of-support ritual — a gambit that a veteran campaigner against anti-Semitism has called a deliberate, Nazi-style “fascist gesture.”
On a series of early morning talk shows, Trump rebuffed the comparison as “ridiculous,” while also claiming that he’d been unaware of any controversy until it was brought up to him that morning.
“Well, I think it’s ridiculous,” Trump said on NBC’s The Today Show after being asked to respond to former Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman denunciation of the Trump raise-your-hand pledge as echoing the infamous “Heil Hitler” salute.
“I mean we’re having such a great time. Sometimes we’ll do it for fun, and they’ll start screaming at me, ‘Do the swear-in, do the swear-in!'” Trump added. “Honestly until this phone call, I didn’t know it was a problem. That this would be brought up this morning, I’m surprised to hear it.”
When pressed by Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer if he would stop asking supporters to make the pledge now that complaints had been voiced and comparisons to Nazi practices brought to his attention, Trump said, “Well, I’ll certainly look into it.”
“I mean I’d like to find out that if that’s true, but I would certainly look into it, because I don’t want to offend anybody,” he went on. “But I can tell you that it’s been amazingly received, but I will certainly look into that.”
Trump unveiled the move in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday, and repeated it in North Carolina on Monday.
“Let’s do a pledge. Who likes me in this room?” Trump called out to the Florida crowd. “Raise your right hand. ‘I do solemnly swear that I — no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions, if there’s hurricanes or whatever — will vote, on or before the 12th, for Donald J. Trump for president.'”
The audience, including a man dressed as a wall, eagerly complied. One man raised his dog’s paw.
“Don’t forget you all raised your hands,” Trump said. “You swore. Bad things happen if you don’t live up to what you just did.”
On Monday, in Concord, North Carolina, Trump repeated the move. Just after kicking off the campaign rally, the presidential hopeful asked, “Should we do the pledge? Should we do the pledge?”
He then told his supporters: “Raise your hand: ‘I swear I’m going to vote for Donald Trump next week, I swear.'”
“Oh, wow. Just with the people here, I think, we win,” Trump said.
Trump was criticized for the gambit after the Florida rally by Foxman, who ran the Anti-Defamation League for almost 30 years until 2015.
“As a Jew who survived the Holocaust, to see an audience of thousands of people raising their hands in what looks like the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute is about as offensive, obnoxious and disgusting as anything I thought I would ever witness in the United States of America,” Foxman told The Times of Israel in an interview published Monday.
“We’ve seen this sort of thing at rallies of neo-Nazis. We’ve seen it at rallies of white supremacists. But to see it at a rally for a legitimate candidate for the presidency of the United States is outrageous,” said Foxman.
“It is a fascist gesture,” added Foxman, who was born in Poland in 1940 and was saved from the Nazis by his Catholic nanny. “He is smart enough — he always tells us how smart he is — to know the images that this evokes. Instead of asking his audience to pledge allegiance to the United States of America, which in itself would be a little bizarre, he’s asking them to swear allegiance to him.”