WASHINGTON (AP) – Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Tuesday defended a gesture he made with his right hand at a recent rally, saying he was pretending to take the oath of office. He called any suggestion that he was trying to mimic a Nazi salute “ridiculous.”
Speaking to NBC’s “Today,” Trump called the accusations, which have occurred largely in anonymous social media posts, “ridiculous” and said his supporters had merely wanted him to pretend that he was taking the oath of office. Trump, in response, called on his supporters to take an oath that they would vote for him, prompting the crowd to raise their hands.
“Until this call, I didn’t know it was a problem,” Trump said in the NBC telephone interview, after he was asked about the response to his hand gesture. “Sometimes we’ll do it for fun … Sometimes they’ll scream at me, `Do the swear-in, do the swear-in’.”
At the rally in Orlando last week, Trump raised his hand – with his elbow bent – and led the crowd in the oath. Many in the crowd also raised their hands or arms. At the time Trump did so, he was clearly asking people to promise to vote for him.
“Can I have a pledge – a swearing? Raise your right hand,” Trump said at the rally. “I do solemnly swear that I, no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions of the hurricanes or whatever… will vote on or before the 12th for Donald J. Trump for president.”
Trump has faced past accusations that his rhetoric veers toward far-right nationalism or fascism.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was the latest to compare the billionaire businessman to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini based on some of the rhetoric he uses on the campaign trail.
Asked about Trump, Pena Nieto complained to the Excelsior newspaper about “these strident expressions that seek to propose very simple solutions” and said that sort of language has led to “very fateful scenes in the history of humanity.”
“That’s the way Mussolini arrived and the way Hitler arrived,” Pena Nieto said.
Speaking to ABC News on Tuesday, Trump said he hadn’t heard the comparisons to Hitler by Pena Nieto and other but said “it’s a terrible comparison, I’m not happy about that certainly. I don’t want that comparison. But we have to be strong and we have to be vigilant,” he said.
Trumps comments came Tuesday ahead of primaries in Michigan, Mississippi and Idaho, and the Hawaii caucuses.