Mike Nesbitt has defended quoting Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels to make a point about lies being spread on social media.
The Ulster Unionist leader has been widely criticised for posting the message on Twitter – which related to a rumour earlier this year that he supported the use of public money to fund Muslim worship.
On Monday night he tweeted: “A lie, repeated a thousand times, becomes a truth,” followed by his own observations – “How true, all you who accused me of wanting public money for a Mosque in Belfast.”
A spokesman for the Alliance Party said the quoting of Goebbels demonstrated a “severe lack of judgment,” and added: “Mr Nesbitt should reflect upon his decision to invoke the evil spectre of Goebbels before attempting any similar argument in future.”
Speaking to the BBC as he left a Save Our Schools rally at Queen’s University on Tuesday, Mr Nesbitt explained his thinking in posting the tweet.
“The point I was making is that on social media it is very easy to spin a lie – the way the Nazis did. That’s the point I’m making.”
The UUP leader declined to answer a further question on whether he thought it was a good idea to quote Goebbels.
In April, Mr Nesbitt responded to what he called a “politically motivated rumour” being spread regarding his support for a publicly funded mosque.
On Facebook he wrote: “This is not true.
“I have visited the Belfast Islamic Centre in Wellington Park. It is clearly past its best and I have no difficulty supporting the hospital consultants and others who want a better community hub.
“They are applying for planning permission to move to the building in the attached image. No towers. No minarets. No loudspeakers to blast out the call to prayers.”
The UUP leader added: “No one is admitting responsibility for spreading the rumour. But hey, propaganda worked for Hitler, for a while.”
In response to Mr Nesbitt’s Goebbels tweet, DUP activist Dale Pankhurst posted the message: “Terrible mistake by UUP leader Mike Nesbitt to quote a leading Nazi who endorsed genocide. Plenty of other ways to get your point across.”
Another Twitter user said: “You’re agreeing with a fascist mass murderer! Is he really the best person you could find to quote??!”
A number of social media users posted messages in support of Mr Nesbitt, including one who said: “We all know how easy it is to spread lies on social media so why the fuss?”
An Ulster Unionist spokeswoman said: “The point is people spread lies using social media.”
Mr Nesbitt’s Goebbels tweet comes just days after Boris Johnson faced fierce criticism for comparing the aims of the European Union with Hitler.
The pro-Brexit Conservative MP told the Sunday Telegraph both the Nazi leader and Napoleon had failed at unification, and that the EU was “an attempt to do this by different methods”.
Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, who backs the campaign to remain in the EU, described the comparison as “offensive and desperate”.