Updated 10:36 a.m. ET, 12/9/2013
Washington (CNN) - Newt Gingrich is fighting back against conservative critics who attacked the former Speaker of the House and co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" for his praise of Nelson Mandela.
After Mandela passed away Thursday, Gingrich posted a statement, praising him as "one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime."
The right-wing response was overwhelmingly reproachful.
"Such an amazing re-write of history since 1962 and 1990. Newt, I thought you of all people, a historian, would be true to who this guy really was," Mike Winkelman posted on Gingrich's Facebook page.
"This clenched-fist, murdering, gorilla warrior does not deserve respect from informed Americans," posted Trish Baehr-Schaefer.
There were several others posts, many generating dozens of "likes," and some with language unfit for publication.
Gingrich said Monday that people were confusing Mandela's role with the African National Congress and that most of the violence by the ANC happened while Mandela was in prison.
On the other side of the political spectrum, he said on CNN's "New Day" that some liberals were going "overboard in trying to excuse this as an attempt to attack (Ronald) Reagan." Gingrich noted that Reagan was the one who appointed the first black ambassador to South Africa.
"There's a lot of anger on the right about this opportunity being used inappropriately," he said
He added that Mandela was "deeply committed to a nonviolent approach, until you had a South African dictatorship...which made it impossible to have anything that was purely nonviolent."
In a statement Saturday, he compared Mandela to the Founding Fathers and the farmers who took up arms at Lexington and Concord in the Revolutionary War. He praised the former South African president for his calls for reconciliation, his Christian faith and his turn from Communism to opening South Africa up to free enterprise.
"I was very surprised by it," Gingrich said Sunday CNN's "State of the Union" about the backlash.
"Callista posted my statement on her Facebook page and was amazed at some of the intensity, some of whom came back three, four and five times, repeating how angry they were."
Gingrich has a long history as a Mandela supporter. During the Reagan administration, he was among the many Republicans in Congress who pressured the president to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime.
Fellow conservative Ted Cruz faced a similar backlash this week when he posted a respectful tribute to Mandela that generated angry criticisms. No comment yet from the Texas senator on the reaction of some of his supporters.
The freshman Senator from Texas, however, will be one of two Republicans who join a Congressional delegation to attend a memorial for Mandela in South Africa this week. President Barack Obama and other former presidents are also slated to attend.
"Frankly, without being partisan, I hope the President brings some of the spirit back with him," Gingrich said on "New Day." "Maybe he and the Congress can sit down more in the spirit of Mandela and actually listen to each other for a while."
– CNN's Conor Finnegan and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.