Americans may have called President Donald Trump just about everything possible this year, good and bad. But standing by his side at an Arizona rally on Wednesday, Sen. Mike Lee called him something new to urge Latter-day Saints to vote for him: “Captain Moroni.”
That’s a reference to an ancient military commander in the Book of Mormon who inspired soldiers to fight for their freedom. He also expressed anger over his government leaders' apparent indifference about liberty. The scripture says that if all men were like Captain Moroni, “the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever.”
“To my Mormon friends, my Latter-day Saint friends,” Lee, R-Utah, said as he pointed to Trump standing by his side, “think of him as Captain Moroni. He seeks not power, but to pull it down.”
Lee added, “He seeks not the praise of the world or the ‘fake news,’ but he seeks the well-being and the peace of the American people.”
He then asked a crowd with many cheering Latter-day Saints — which a video shows had many sitting close together without masks — “Are you willing to stand with me and millions and millions of others who want four more years?” A loud cheer followed.
Lee, an Arizona native, campaigned at numerous rallies in that swing state on Tuesday and Wednesday, including one sponsored by Latter-day Saints for Trump. The president’s campaign spokesperson Samantha Zager said earlier that was part of a “concerted effort with our outreach to the LDS community in Arizona and Nevada, seeking to expand President Trump’s base of support.”
Polling has showed former Vice President Joe Biden having a narrow lead over Trump in the swing state.
Lee comparing Trump and Captain Moroni — who is a different character than the prophet and later angel Moroni whose statue tops many of the faith’s temples — quickly brought attacks on social media and elsewhere.
“These are the moves of a desperate campaign, one that fails to understand that governing from the extreme right does not work for our United States,” Rob Taber, president of Latter-day Saints for Biden Harris, wrote in a news release.
Taber complained that it was another example of how “Latter-day Saints for Trump, who never signed Mormon Women for Ethical Government’s pledge, have time and again exploited our shared faith. They have willfully used sacred symbols, including the temple multiple times, in their propaganda.”
Social media also erupted over Lee’s comments, from humorous to condemning.
Sam Houston State historian Benjamin Park tweeted, “I didn’t think I’d have to say this, and I don’t feel like writing a whole op-ed about it, but let me be clear: Donald Trump is not a Captain Moroni.”
@hmdoppelganger tweeted, “@SenMikeLee you humiliate your state and your religion. And Captain Moroni.”
Instead of describing Trump as Captain Moroni, Barbara Jones Brown tweeted that Lee should have realized “King Noah is more like it.” He was an evil ruler in the Book of Mormon who overtaxed his people to support harlots, and who burned a prophet at the stake for criticizing him.
@reluctanteng tweeted, “@SenMikeLee, I knew Captain Moroni. Captain Moroni was a friend of mine. @realDonaldTrump, you’re no Captain Moroni.”
After the backlash, Lee posted a statement on Facebook to explain his remarks.
“Some people found that comparison upsetting, blasphemous, and otherwise wrong,” he noted. “I respect their right to feel that way, and realize that my impromptu comments may not have been the best forum for drawing a novel analogy from scripture.”
Lee went on to say that he never meant to suggest that Trump was a prophet or “should [b]e revered as a religious leader.”
Instead, Lee said he meant to convey that he sees Trump differently than he once did and illustrate parallels between Captain Moroni and Trump. Where Captain Moroni “s[ought] not for power, but to pull it down,” Trump has tried to “drain the swamp," Lee said.
Lee was a Never Trumper in 2016 who has in recent years fully converted to an ally and supporter of the president.
“In short,” Lee wrote about the comparison, “Donald Trump has far exceeded my expectations by sticking to his effort to reform the federal government even when it’s hard and unpopular.”
During that same rally Wednesday, Lee also sought to appeal to evangelicals and Protestants.
“To my Protestant and evangelical friends, we have to remember that it is by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we’ve had four years of prosperity and peace,” he said as he urged them to vote for Trump.
Reporter Paighten Harkins contributed to this article.