President Obama's comments referencing the Crusades and Jim Crow during the National Prayer Breakfast appeared intentionally "provocative," former adviser David Axelrod said Monday.

Obama has faced heated criticism for the comments, in which he condemned Islamic extremists but argued that Christianity had also been invoked to justify regrettable actions.


"Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ," Obama said. "In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."

Conservative commentators pounced on the remarks.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue called the comments “an attempt to deflect guilt from Muslim madmen" and radio host Rush Limbaugh called it an "attempt to downplay militant Islam."

But Axelrod told Fox News's Bill O'Reilly that he believes the president meant to spark some uproar.

“I think he knew what he was saying and he knew it was provocative," Axelrod said. "His point is we have a quarter of the world’s population Islamic and the vast majority of them have nothing to do with extremism and his point is let us not define that entire quarter of the planet by the actions of extremists, let's isolate the extremists.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said last week Obama was trying to talk about moments "over the course of human history there are times where extremists pervert their own religion to justify violence."

Obama also believes it is important for the U.S. "to be honest with ourselves and look inward, and hold ourselves accountable" when it falls short of its values and standards, Schultz said.