Donald Trump used the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to brag about the size of his crowd at Liberty University's thrice-weekly mandatory convocation on Monday, "dedicating the record" crowd to the late civil rights icon.
"We're dedicating the record to the late, great Martin Luther King, OK? But it's an honor," Trump told the audience gathered in the 11,000-seat auditorium in Lynchburg, Virginia ,who did not forgo classes or the event in observance of the national holiday in King's honor.
"It's an honor, in terms of Martin Luther King, to have broken the record," he said, explaining that "we had the record for about three or four years the last time." When Trump lasted visited the evangelical campus in 2012, Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr. described him as “one of the greatest visionaries of our time.”
"And the first thing I said to Jerry and Becki when I got here 'Did we break the record?'" Trump excitedly recounted for the audience. "They said, 'Yes you did, by quite a bit.' So we'll dedicate that to Martin Luther King, a great man. And that's a little bit of an achievement, I will tell you."
Senior vice president for student affairs at Liberty University Mark Hine explained the decision to invite Trump to its Martin Luther King Jr. Day convocation, telling Yahoo News that “I think this one was picked to afford Mr. Trump the opportunity to, among other things, honor Dr. King."
“I don’t know that absolutely everything Trump would say aligns with Martin Luther King, but I don’t see him in any way as being the total opposite," he continued.
For his part, Trump did little reflecting on the legacy of King during his speech, choosing instead to rely on his handy fear-mongering to call for increased gun ownership and declare Christianity "under siege."
“We’re going to protect Christianity,” Trump told the gathered students, faculty and staff, clearly looking to shore up his evangelical support ahead of the Iowa caucuses. “If you look at what’s going on throughout the world . . . Christianity is under siege.”
In an interview at Liberty following his speech, Trump explained to David Brody of The Christian Broadcasting Network exactly how Christianity is "under siege," equating missing "Merry Christmas" greetings at department stores with Syrians beheaded by ISIL to call on Christians to “stick together":
Brody: (You say) we need to protect Christianity. How exactly? What do you mean by that?
Trump: It’s under siege. You look at Syria where they’re chopping heads off, specifically of Christians, and others. And Christianity is under siege David. As you understand well from covering it. And we have to do something, we have to ban together, we have to become stronger as Christians because it’s very bad what’s happening with respect to Christianity. We’re not banded together properly. We have to stick together whether it’s very, very serious things like what’s happening over in the Middle East or things such as ‘Merry Christmas.’ You don’t see it anymore in department stores. We have to get together and make sure it’s what we want.