SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee compared President Donald Trump to a revered Book of Mormon military commander who inspired soldiers to fight for their religion, freedom and family at a campaign rally in Arizona on Wednesday.

“To my Mormon friends, my Latter-day Saint friends, think of him as Captain Moroni,” Lee said pointing to Trump. “He seeks not power, but to pull it down. 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.”

In the Book of Mormon, which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds as scripture, Moroni is a righteous leader who lived about 100 B.C. Angry with the government’s indifference to freedom, he made what’s known as the “Title of Liberty” out of a piece of his coat on which he wrote, “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.”

A Book of Mormon passage states that if all men were like Moroni, “the very powers of hell would be shaken forever.”

Lee spokesman Conn Carroll said the senator was not available Thursday to elaborate on his comments.

“Captain Moroni was a government official, not a prophet. He sought not power, but to pull it down. We should all aspire to be like Captain Moroni,” Carroll said

In a Facebook post, Lee explained the point he was trying to make, admitting that comparing Trump to Moroni was “perhaps awkward.”

“Some people found that comparison upsetting, blasphemous, and otherwise wrong,” he wrote. “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 equated his assertion that Trump is seeking to “pull down power” to his efforts to “drain the swamp” by avoiding new wars, reducing federal regulations, relieving the federal tax burden on working families and reforming the criminal justice system. The president’s abrupt and often brash style in doing that has not brought him the “honor of the world” but subjected him and his family to constant ridicule and scorn, he said.

“Maybe the comparison I made was more distracting or offensive to you than helpful,” Lee wrote, adding that was not his intent. “I do my best to say what I think in open and forthright ways at all times. I hope you will respect my right to do my best at that, even when my words come across in ways that offend you.”

One of several politicians campaigning with Trump in Goodyear, Arizona, Lee, a Latter-day Saint, also directed his animated comments to other denominations.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., center, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, listen with other supporters as President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Phoenix Goodyear Airport in Goodyear, Ariz., on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. | Evan Vucci, Associated Press

“To my Protestant and evangelical friends, we have to remember that it’s by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we’ve had four years of prosperity and peace,” he said.

Lee reminded Catholics as they head to the polls that Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett, a devout Catholic, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reaction on social media to Lee’s comments came quickly.

Latter-day Saints for Biden Harris deemed it the move of a “desperate campaign, one that fails to understand that governing from the extreme right does not work for our United States.”

“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,” the group said in a press release on Facebook.

Benjamin Park, a Sam Houston State University history professor and BYU graduate, 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.”

Another BYU grad and Latter-day Saint, McKay Coppins, a reporter for The Atlantic, tweeted, “I’ve gotta say, “I seek not for power but to pull it down” may be the single Book of Mormon quote that’s least relatable to Donald Trump.”

The overwhelming majority of comments on Lee’s Facebook accounts found his saying that Trump is like Moroni “shameful” or “blasphemous.” But there were also some positive ones sprinkled in.

“Settle down people! Lee’s comparison of Trump to Captain Moroni does fit in a “PATRIOTIC” sense and the precarios situation of our Govt may compare to the situation of the Govt of the Nephites in Capt. Moroni’s day in some aspects,” wrote Mirtha N Paul Rasmussen.

Jayson Stump wrote, “I sent A Illustrated B.O.M. to the Team Trump Family at the White House for Christmas! It got there late. ... I really hope he Reads about Captain Moroni!! So, I was sooo excited to HEAR THAT COMPARISSON FLY outta your Mouth!!! Mui Bueno! Me Amigo My heart soared like an Eagle to hear those words with great passion.”

Lee also spoke in Spanish at the rally, shouting, “cuatro años mas” or four more years to the crowd.

After his minute on stage, Lee bumped fists with the president.

Although he called for then-candidate Trump to step aside and did not vote for him in 2016, Lee has become a staunch ally of the president.

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In introducing Lee at the rally, Trump said, “He’s a smart one, he’s a good one, he’s a respected one.” After Lee’s remarks, the president said, “Wow. Good job.”

Lee said after the rally that the president gave him little warning that he would be speaking.

“Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were called onto a stage by the president of the United States and asked to speak with only a moment’s notice,” he posted on Facebook and on Parler, the conservative alternative to Twitter.

“And if you’ve imagined that, have you ever wondered what it would be like if the president’s campaign team suggested you spend 30 of your 90 seconds speaking in a foreign language? That happened today. It was quite an honor and a lot of fun. Thank you, President Trump!”

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