After a van plowed through a crowd of pedestrians in Barcelona on Thursday, killing at least 13 people and wounding scores more, President Donald Trump tweeted a reference to a discredited story about Gen. John Pershing halting Muslim attacks in the Philippines by shooting rebels with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood.
“Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught,” Trump wrote on his personal account. “There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years.”
It was at least Trump's second reference to a story already labeled false last year, this time coming days after the president justified his equivocal response in assigning blame for violence in Charlottesville by saying that before he makes a statement, "I need the facts."
The Pershing story, which Trump also recounted at the end of a rally in South Carolina in February 2016, has been debunked by several fact-checking organizations, including Politifact and Snopes. Politfact labeled it Pants on Fire! false on its Truth-O-Meter and Snopes called it “false.”
The story — which according to Trump’s telling had Pershing shooting 50 Muslim terrorists with 50 bullets dipped in pigs blood — grew out of the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. The United States had obtained the islands from Spain but faced armed opposition that continued after the war, when Pershing served as governor of the heavily Muslim Moro Province. Politifact found references to Muslim insurgents being buried with dead pigs but not being killed with bloodied bullets and not by Pershing.
Muslims are prohibited from eating pork.
“This story is a fabrication and has long been discredited,” Brian McAllister Linn, a Texas A&M University historian and author of Guardians of Empire: The U.S. Army and the Pacific, 1902-1940, told Politifact. “I am amazed it is still making the rounds.”
Even if the tale were true, Politifact wrote, it had no pacifying effect. The region remains in unrest today.
Snopes noted that Pershing thought the best approach was not to encourage religious fanaticism.
“Nonetheless, the ‘discouraging Muslim terrorists by burying them with pigs’ concept is still invoked in the modern era, even if the evidence of its use (or success) remains nebulous,” Snopes wrote.
Trump’s tweet Thursday came after Catalan officials had confirmed a terrorist attack but were still trying to identify the suspect they arrested.
That was in stark contrast to Trump's actions in the hours and days after an alleged white nationalist, James Allen Fields Jr., was accused of driving a car through a crowd in Charlottesville, North Carolina, over the weekend, killing counter-protester Heather Heyer.
Trump defended his delayed response in calling out white supremacists by name until two days after the attack by saying he didn’t “know all the facts.”
“I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump went on to say this week, doubling down on his initial take that “many sides" were to blame for violence in Charlottesville.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations criticized Trump for tweeting false information soon after the Barcelona attack, while claiming he needed “facts” before responding to the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville.
“We condemn the terror attack in Barcelona, and we condemn President Trump's irresponsible and Islamophobic response to that attack,” said the group's executive director, Nihad Awad.
Trump's Pershing tweet Thursday followed an earlier, more restrained one, expressing sympathy for the people of Barcelona.
“The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help,” Trump wrote. “Be tough & strong, we love you!”