In the hours after 14 people were killed in a terror attack in Spain, President Donald Trump tweeted that the Spaniards should “study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”
Trump was referring to the long-debunked myth that Army Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing, who was the governor of the Philippines after the Spanish-American war, quelled Muslim insurgents there by shooting them with bullets that had been dipped in pig’s blood.
The tweet was not the first time Trump mentioned the myth. At a campaign rally in February 2016, Trump said that Pershing “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,'” Trump said. “And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem.”
General Pershing’s great great granddaughter now has her own message for the president: Stop “sullying” Pershing’s name.
“He was one of the greatest generals we’ve ever had,” Hollis Taylor, whose grandmother married Pershing’s grandson, told Business Insider on Friday. “He was the only American to be promoted in his own lifetime to the Army’s highest possible rank. And he didn’t get there by bullying people.”
Taylor explained that no evidence has ever been found to back up the pig’s blood story, which she described as “one of those myths, those persistent rumors” that just won’t go away – especially not when the president of the United States keeps repeating it.
- United States Library of Congress
She said it was particularly “disgusting” to see Trump mention it in the wake of the Barcelona attacks.
“The last thing we should be doing at a time like this is threatening and condemning other groups of people,” Taylor said. “But instead of searching for ways to pull our country together in such divisive times, he just lies constantly. It’s appalling.”
The White House did not respond to request for comment.
Taylor noted the discrepancy in Trump’s retelling of the myth, too: Along the campaign trail, he said Pershing’s supposed “pig blood” strategy resulted in 25 years of peace; in his tweet, he said it was 35.
In any case, Taylor said, “none of it is credible or consistent. He just says things offhand and makes everything about himself.”
Pershing commanded efforts to suppress the Filipino Insurrection during the Philippine-American war in late 1899. But “there is no evidence that Pershing himself” used pigs as a tactic against Muslim insurgents, Politifact wrote last year.
“There is nothing said about the use of 50 bullets dipped in pig’s blood, and most important, there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that this tactic was effective in stopping violence – or that it would provide a useful policy today,” the site noted.
Taylor’s grandmother, she said, agrees that Trump’s comments about the general have been “just plain wrong” – especially given Pershing’s efforts to cultivate support among the Phillippines’ Muslim communities when he was governor.
“He sat down and read the Quran with him, he drank tea with them, he went to their communities,” Taylor said. “And of course he used force sometimes. But he tried to lead, and lead by example. If he were here now, he would say Donald Trump should do the same.”