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Trump says he didn’t know his immigration rhetoric echos Hilter. That’s part of a broader pattern

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump has centered his unlikely rise from reality television star to onetime — and potentially future — president on the idea that he’s wiser than Washington’s bumbling political class, once going so far as to label himself a “very stable genius.”

But when it comes to one of history’s darkest moments, Trump is professing ignorance.

Facing criticism for repeatedly harnessing rhetoric once used by Adolf Hitler to argue that immigrants entering the U.S. illegally are “poisoning the blood of our country,” Trump insisted he had no idea that one of the world’s most reviled and infamous figures once used similar words. The Nazi dictator spoke of impure Jewish blood “poisoning” Aryan German blood to dehumanize Jews and justify the systemic murder of millions during the Holocaust.

“I never knew that Hitler said it,” Trump told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday, volunteering once again that he never read Hitler’s biographical manifesto, “Mein Kampf.”

“I know nothing about Hitler,” he insisted. “I have no idea what Hitler said other than (what) I’ve seen on the news. And that’s a very, entirely different thing than what I’m saying.”

Trump’s assertion that he knows so little about one of the 20th century’s most documented figures is notable for someone seeking the presidency, a role steeped in and shaped by history. But claiming ignorance, particularly when it comes to people who espouse racist or antisemitic rhetoric, is a tactic Trump has repeatedly deployed when aiming to distance himself from uncomfortable storylines.

After he was endorsed by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke during his winning 2016 campaign, Trump insisted he had no knowledge of the white supremacist who had run for office numerous times and is described by the Anti-Defamation League as “perhaps America’s most well-known racist and anti-Semite.”

“Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper in February 2016. “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.”

Asked if he would condemn the white supremacists supporting him, Trump said he would “have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about.” He continued to repeat that assertion even after Tapper said he was referring to the KKK.

Other cases

Trump has also pleaded ignorance in other cases.

As he ran for reelection in 2020, Trump said he didn’t know much about QAnon, the convoluted conspiracy that alleges Democrats are involved in a satanic pedophilia ring and casts Trump as the nation’s savior — even as he retweeted accounts promoting the conspiracy.

“I know nothing about it,” he said during an NBC town hall. Nonetheless, he refused to rule it out as false. “I don’t know that and neither do you,” he said.

It was the same when Trump was asked to condemn the Proud Boys militia group, which was key in organizing the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Enrique Tarrio and other members of the far-right extremist group have been found guilty of seditious conspiracy and other crimes for their part in the attack, which was part of a desperate bid to keep Trump in power after he lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden.

“I don’t know who the Proud Boys are,” Trump told reporters after instructing the group, during a presidential debate, to “Stand back and stand by.”

“I mean, you’ll have to give me a definition ‘cause I don’t really know who they are,” Trump said of the group, which was drawing headlines at the time.

Trump has also suggested he was unaware of some of the most consequential periods of American history. At a recent rally in Reno, Nevada, Trump said he had to ask Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to define the post-Civil War era known as Reconstruction as he boasted about his growing popularity with Hispanic voters and Republican wins along the border.

“They say the first time since Reconstruction. You know what Reconstruction means? That means the Civil War,” Trump told the audience. “I said, ‘Give me a definition, governor, of Reconstruction. You said I’m the first one to win all of these towns since Reconstruction.’ He said, ‘Well, Reconstruction: since the Civil War.’ That’s a long time ago. That’s pretty good.”

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said Trump “has been very clear that he’s talking about criminals and terrorists who have crossed the border under Joe Biden’s watch. When he’s back in the White House, the United States will return to a secure border and a system that places the safety and security of Americans first.”

‘The most savage crime’

The former president’s claims about Hitler are particularly notable given his upbringing in New York, home to one of the nation’s largest Jewish populations.

Trump has also participated in Holocaust memorial events. He spoke at a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol hosted by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2017, where he denounced Holocaust deniers as accomplices to “horrible evil.” And he paid a brief visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, where he called the Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews “the most savage crime against God and his children.”

Trump’s insistence that he has not read “Mein Kampf” — an assertion he also made at an Iowa rally last week — evoked a different Hitler book he once allegedly had in his possession.

Journalist Marie Brenner reported in Vanity Fair magazine in 1990 that Trump’s ex-wife, Ivana Trump, told her lawyer that, “from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, ‘My New Order,’ which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed.”

Trump told Brenner that, “it was my friend Marty Davis from Paramount who gave me a copy of ‘Mein Kampf,’ and he’s a Jew.” Davis confirmed to Brenner that he had indeed given Trump ”a book about Hitler,” but it was “My New Order, “ a collection of Hitler’s speeches. “I thought he would find it interesting,” David said, adding, “I am his friend, but I’m not Jewish.”

“Later, Trump returned to this subject.,” Brenner wrote. “‘If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them,’” Brenner wrote.

History

Knowing basic American history is important for a president, said, Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer, who studies political history.

“We don’t need a historian as president, but certainly you want a president with a feel for some of the basic parts of American history, of world history,” he said, noting, for instance, that Reconstruction was a “a formative moment for civil rights and race relations.”

In “Mein Kampf,” Hitler wrote that, “All great cultures of the past perished only because the originally creative race died out from blood poisoning.”

Trump told Hewitt his message was “very different” and he had “zero” racist intent.

“I’m not a student of Hitler. I never read his works,” he said. “They say that he said something about blood. He didn’t say it the way I said it, either, by the way. It’s a very different kind of a statement. What I’m saying when I talk about people coming into our country is they are destroying our country.”

Still, he repeated “poisoning” references eight times.

Among those references: “They are poisoning our country. They are poisoning the blood of our country. They’re coming from all over the world. They’re coming from prisons. They’re coming from mental institutions and insane asylums. They’re terrorists. Absolutely that’s poisoning our country. That’s poisoning the blood of our country. And that’s what’s happening.”

Jill Colvin, The Associated Press


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