Newt Gingrich's tribute to Nelson Mandela following the South African leader's death last Thursday
generated scorn from some of his Facebook fans, prompting the former Republican Speaker of the House to confront those supporters over the weekend.
The issue began with a Facebook post Gingrich made hours after Mandela's death that read: "President Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime."
"When he visited the Congress I was deeply impressed with the charisma and the calmness with which he could dominate a room," Gingrich's post continued. "It was as if the rest of us grew smaller and he grew stronger and more dominant the longer the meeting continued."
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What followed was a series of angry responses from Gingrich supporters, such as the following two compiled by the Huffington Post
"Newt, I was rooting for you to win the primaries and become the next president; please tell me your joking!! Mandela was a commie murderer!!" wrote one user.
Another wrote, "You're forgetting Mandela's extreme racism! There are YouTubes of Mandela singing songs about murdering the white man. I spit on his grave."
In an interview with CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday's "State of the Union," Gingrich said he was "very surprised" by the criticisms he received from supporters on Facebook.
The former House Speaker also posted a response article on his website GingrichProductions.com in which he countered the criticisms, writing, "I was surprised by the hostility and vehemence of some of the people who reacted to me saying a kind word about a unique historic figure."
"Mandela was faced with a vicious apartheid regime that eliminated all rights for blacks and gave them no hope for the future," Gingrich continued. "This was a regime which used secret police, prisons and military force to crush all efforts at seeking freedom by blacks."
"What would you have done faced with that crushing government?" Gingrich asked the viewer. "What would you do here in America if you had that kind of oppression?"
In closing Gingrich wrote, "I was very privileged to be able to meet with President Mandela and present the Congressional Medal of Freedom. . . Before you criticize him, ask yourself, what would you have done in his circumstances?"
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