ORLANDO (Christian Examiner) – Republican frontrunner and New York billionaire Donald Trump has a new method for whipping up support at his campaign rallies – asking his supporters to raise their right hands and pledge their loyalty to him.
During a March 5 rally in Orlando, Florida, Trump asked his supporters to "solemnly swear" they would go to the polls in support of him instead of Florida's native son, Sen. Marco Rubio.
"Raise your right hand," Trump told the crowd. "'I do solemnly swear that I, no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions – if there's a hurricane or whatever – will vote, on or before the 12th for Donald J. Trump for president.'"
After the crowd repeated his words, Trump told his devotees, "Don't forget you all raised your hand. You swore. Bad things will happen if you don't live up to what you just did."
The act itself, the raising of right hands in an arena filled with thousands of people pledging loyalty to a political candidate, raised the specter of past salutes at Nazi political rallies in the 1930s, several critics of the candidate said.
Most notable among them was Abe Foxman, former director of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman was born in 1940 in Poland and was hidden by a Catholic woman from the Nazis. Most of his family did not survive the concentration camps. For him, he said, the images coming out of Trump's rallies are chilling.
"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.
"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."
The "salute," as it has been dubbed by multiple media outlets including Huffington Post and even Al-Jazeera, has garnered attention because of the recent controversies over the support lent to Trump's campaign by David Duke, William Johnson, Kevin McDonald and Rachel Pendergraft – all noted white nationalists who believe Trump is the last best hope for a purely white president.
"It is a fascist gesture," Foxman said. "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."
Foxman also told the paper, "He even threatens that if they don't, they will suffer and be punished. This is so over the top for a man who really doesn't come out of the underground. He is a man of the world. Even though he proclaims he doesn't know who David Duke was, or the other white supremacists, we know very well that he knows. So he's playing to an image."
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After days of criticism, knowing that the pledge was widely regarded as a political gaffe, Trump again called for his supporters to recite the pledge at a rally in Concord, N.C. His loyalty pledge was widely reported in Israel.
"Should we do the pledge? Should we do the pledge?" Trump asked the crowd. "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, smiling.
In December 2015, Trump was aware some of his supporters were offering the Nazi-style salute at his gatherings and threatening protestors with the Black Lives Matter movement. Trump did not address the raised hands then.
Shock comedian Louis C.K. has also criticized Trump. He wrote in an email to his followers that Americans were falling for the same ploys Hitler used in Germany. He asked why people are following blindly.
"When I was growing up and when I was a younger man, liberals and conservatives were friends with differences. They weren't enemies. And it always made sense that everyone gets a president they like for a while and then hates the president for a while. But it only works if the conservatives put up a good candidate. A good smart conservative to face the liberal candidate so they can have a good argument and the country can decide which way to go this time. Trump is not that. He is an insane bigot. He is dangerous."
"Do you think they saw the [expletive] coming?" C.K. asked. "Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all. He was voted into power by a fatigued nation and when he got inside, he did all his Hitler things and no one could stop him."
According to Reuters, multiple officials with countries in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East have privately complained to U.S. officials about Trump's rhetoric, describing it as "xenophobic."
Most of the officials declined to be identified, the news agency said. Notably, among those who were willing to speak on the record was German Economic Minister Sigmar Gabriel. He said Trump was a "threat to peace and prosperity," Reuters reported.
Trump responded to the controversy on NBC's Today Show March 8. He said worries about the pledge were "ridiculous."
"I think its ridiculous. I think we're having such a great time. Yesterday, we had 20,000 people in Mississippi. We had tremendous crowds in Michigan, and sometimes we'll do it for fun. And they'll say, they'll start screaming, 'Do the swear in. Do the swear in,'" Trump told hosts Matt Lauer and Savanah Guthrie.
"Honestly, until this phone call, I didn't know it was a problem. Almost everybody in the room raises their hand. I never knew it was a problem," Trump said. "I think that's a big, big stretch [to compare it to a Nazi salute]. If its offensive, if there's anything wrong with it, I wouldn't do it."