Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson isn’t apologizing for a recent speech that drew parallels between President Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler, and he says the chorus of critics who have assailed him for the comparison are missing the underlying point of his remarks.
“I don’t think Hitler or a discussion about Hitler is off-limits to anybody,” the Lithonia Democrat told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s a fair comparison, and I think it’s a necessary one, because if you do not understand history and how history can repeat itself then you’re bound to repeat history.”
The seven-term congressman has been admonished over the last two weeks for a New Year’s Day speech in which he warned the conditions that prompted Hitler’s rise to power in Nazi Germany are not unlike those that delivered Trump to the Oval Office in 2016.
“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,” Johnson said in the speech, which was delivered from the pulpit at Friendship Baptist Church.
The backlash was swift. Johnson was lambasted by the head of the Republican National Committee, a new House colleague and Jewish groups, who said his words minimized Hitler’s record of genocide. His D.C. and Decatur offices have been barraged by hundreds of angry phone calls, including several death threats and racially-charged messages, since news of the speech broke.
In a recent interview on Capitol Hill, Johnson stood by his remarks. He said the press and right-wing commentators omitted much of the context of his speech, giving people the “wrong impression” about his main point, which was to urge vigilance against tyranny.
Johnson took particular issue with the way the media characterized his comments about Trump supporters being essentially the dregs of society.
In his address, Johnson said Trump voters were “older, less educated, less prosperous” and “many” of whom were “dying from alcoholism, drug overdoses, liver disease, or simply a broken heart caused by economic despair.”
Johnson said he was describing a “demographic fact” about Trump voters – who were overall older, whiter and more rural than Hillary Clinton’s supporters – and that he was not demeaning them.
“I certainly love all people,” he said. “My heart goes out to all of those people who are suffering economic harm and despair.”
Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw, a former combat veteran and one of Johnson’s new House colleagues, said the comments about Trump voters showcased a “cowardly form of politics.”
“I can’t imagine a worse form of leadership,” he said in a response posted to Twitter. “These people are exercising their right and their voice the only way they can, which is through their vote.”