A congressional candidate is defending his speech to a group celebrating the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birth, saying he appeared simply because he was asked.
Tony Zirkle, who is seeking the Republican nomination in northern Indiana's 2nd District, stood in front of a painting of Hitler, next to people wearing swastika armbands and with a swastika flag in the background for the speech to the American National Socialist Workers Party in Chicago on Sunday.
"I'll speak before any group that invites me," Zirkle said Monday. "I've spoken on an African-American radio station in Atlanta."
He compared his speech to other politicians appearing at Bob Jones University.
George W. Bush, then a candidate for president, was criticized eight years ago for speaking at the South Carolina school, which teaches students that Catholicism is a cult. Also at the time of the speech, the school banned interracial dating, a policy that has since been dropped.
"Some people are going to impute motives and say things that I mean, but many of these people have never even talked to me. So their ability to say what I intended is not very credible," Zirkle said.
He said he did not know much about the neo-Nazi group and that his intention was to talk on his concern about "the targeting of young white women and for pornography and prostitution."
Local Republicans condemned Zirkle's appearance.
"I cannot believe that in 2008 anyone could think so backward," Luke Puckett, another 2nd District GOP candidate, said in a written response.
Chris Riley, Republican Party chairman for St. Joseph County, said he found Zirkle's comments "nauseating and repulsive."
The event was not the first time Zirkle has raised controversy on race issues. In March, Zirkle raised the idea of segregating races in separate states. Zirkle said Tuesday he's not advocating segregation, but said desegregation has been a failure.
Zirkle received 30 percent of the vote in the 2006 primary, losing to incumbent Chris Chocola, who was defeated in the general election. Zirkle said Tuesday that winning the election is not his primary goal.
"My primary purpose is to educate and inform," he said.