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

FILE - Former President Donald Trump listens as he speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, in Waco, Texas, Saturday, March 25, 2023, while en route to West Palm Beach, Fla. The outcome of past cases against defendants accused of hoarding classified documents loom as an ominous guidepost for the legal jeopardy Donald Trump could face. The former president pleaded not-guilty on Tuesday, June 13, to charges including willful retention of national defense information under the Espionage Act. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

NEW YORK — 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.

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