After condemning an attack in Spain on Thursday, President Trump once again made reference to a debunked claim involving a 20th century general, 50 Muslim insurgents, and bullets dipped in pigs’ blood.
“Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught,” the president wrote in Thursday’s tweet. “There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”
The tweet alone doesn’t provide all the context. But this isn’t the first time Trump has told the tall tale of Pershing’s blood-soaked bullets. At a rally in South Carolina last February, then-candidate Trump told the whole story.
“General Pershing was a rough guy, and he sits on his horse and he’s very astute like a ramrod, right? And the year was early 1900’s, and this was a terrible problem, they were having terrible terrorism problems just like we do,” he said, talking about the aftermath of the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902 in the Moro Province of the Philippines.
“And he (Pershing) caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage and killed many people. And he took the 50 terrorists, and he took 50 men and he dipped 50 bullets in pigs’ blood — you heard that, right? He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood. And he had his men load his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said: You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened. And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem. Okay? Twenty-five years, there wasn’t a problem.”
Pork is forbidden in Islam, and the story is rooted in the idea that pigs’ blood could be used as a weapon against Muslims. The fairy tale has it all: A revered hero with a solution to a terrible problem wrapped in a perverted, subversive sort of brutality that exerts raw power over the beliefs of the adversary. The problem is, it’s total bullshit. Pig shit, if you will. A legend at best.
“This story is a fabrication and has long been discredited,” historian Brian McAllister Linn told Politifact last year.
“Even if the tale is true, the pacifying effect that Trump claims is nonsense,” said Michael H. Hunt, an emeritus historian at the University of North Carolina. According to Hunt, the region “remained in constant unrest during the period of American rule and into the period of independence, right down to the present.”
In his memoir, My Life Before the World War, 1860-1917, Gen. Pershing did tell a story about Muslims and pigs. But it was a little different. Pershing wrote that another commanding officer in the Philippines had seen to it that bodies of Muslim insurgents “were publicly buried in the same grave with a dead pig. It was not pleasant to have to take such measures, but the prospect of going to hell instead of heaven sometimes deterred the would-be assassins.”
Author and journalist William Lambers pointed to a report from the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1927 that told another story about Pershing, pigs, and Muslims.
“The Tribune article says Pershing sprinkled some prisoners with pig’s blood, which the Juramentados (Muslim swordsmen) believed would condemn them for eternity,” Lambers wrote. “But then Pershing let the prisoners go. He issued a warning to others about being sprinkled with the pig’s blood. The Tribune article said ‘those drops of porcine gore proved more powerful than bullets.’”
Article updated 12:55 am EST on Aug. 19, 2017