Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan told talk show host Arsenio Hall that he is no "black Hitler" and that people who don't mistreat him have no reason to fear him.
Farrakhan's appearance Friday drew harsh criticism from Jewish and civil rights groups, but the Muslim leader was received warmly by the often cheering studio audience.
"Are you a black Hitler?" Hall asked Farrakhan near the beginning of their hourlong conversation on the nationally syndicated Arsenio Hall Show.
"I have never desired to put another human being in an oven. I have never taught that Jews should be exterminated," Farrakhan said. "If I am righteous, I can never hate another person because of their faith."
In a taped message at the end of the conversation, Hall said he was unbowed by criticism.
"Many people are thrilled that he is here tonight. Others are furious. But as the (rap group) Public Enemy lyric goes, "I gotta do what I gotta do,'
" he said.
Farrakhan said fear and anger about his views are misplaced.
"As long as you don't mistreat us, you have nothing to fear for yourselves," he said.
The 60-year-old Muslim minister's unyielding manner and unbridled comments have stirred debate _ and sometimes outrage _ since he came to national prominence as an early supporter of Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign in 1984.
That year, he reportedly referred to Judaism as a "gutter religion" and was quoted as calling Hitler "a great man." He later said that remark was distorted and he had described the Nazi leader as "wickedly great."
He demoted his national spokesman earlier this month for calling Jews the "bloodsuckers of the black nation" in a speech last November. But at the same time he accused the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith of trying to destroy him.
Audience members seemed satisfied with his appearance Friday.
"Arsenio was fair in the questions that he asked. He seemed supportive of freedom of speech and objective in his questions," said Tiffany Rose, 23, who described herself as a Farrakhan supporter but not a member of the Nation of Islam.
A coalition of Jewish, homosexual and civil rights groups launched a campaign against Farrakhan's appearance, buying a full page ad in Thursday's Daily Variety to reprint quotes from previous Farrakhan speeches.
Critics said they objected to the interview in part because Hall routinely does not challenge his guests' views.