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Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson compares Trump to Hitler in NAACP speech

The Georgia lawmaker, who was speaking at an event commemorating the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, later tried to clarify his remarks.
Image: Rep. Hank Johnson speaks to the media on Capitol Hill on April 24, 2018.
Rep. Hank Johnson speaks to the media on Capitol Hill on April 24, 2018.Alex Brandon / AP file

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., repeatedly likened President Donald Trump to Hitler in a speech, citing what he said were similarities in their rise to power and calling the president an "authoritarian anti-immigrant racist strongman."

"(Hitler) rode a wave of nationalism and anti-Semitism to power. Replace anti-Semitism with 'all Latinos crossing our borders are rapists, drug dealers and murderers,' does that sound familiar?" Johnson said Tuesday during a keynote address at an event hosted by the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP.

Johnson invoked Trump's response to the deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, his Muslim ban, immigration policies and his open embrace of nationalism. He added that both Hitler and Trump were charismatic orators who played on the fears of the people to maintain power.

"Hitler was accepting of violence towards the achievement of political objectives; Trump encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies. And his messaging about Charlottesville that there was bad people on both sides sent a powerful message of approval to the far right racists in America," Johnson said.

"Americans, particularly black Americans, can’t afford to make that same mistake about the harm that could be done by a man named Hitler or a man named Trump," he said.

Johnson, who has been a frequent critic of Trump, made the remarks to a black congregation at Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta during the NAACP's celebration of the 156th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Johnson's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

He clarified his remarks to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution on Wednesday, saying: "I wanted to make the point that our democracy is under severe threat, that freedom is threatened, and that if we are not vigilant we can allow tyranny to set in. I made the point that this threat to democracy is a trend across the world, and we can’t let this happen in our country."

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel criticized Johnson's remarks in a tweet on Thursday, calling them "disgusting."

Trump has repeatedly been accused of emboldening white nationalists and neo-Nazis, particularly after the deadly Charlottesville rally and after 11 worshipers were slaughtered at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October.

Trump, however, has defined his brand of nationalism as shorthand for American patriotism.

"It means I love the country, it means I'm fighting for the country," he told Fox News in October. "I'm proud of this country and I call that nationalism. I call it being a nationalist and I don't see any other connotation than that."

The White House did not have an immediate response.