U.S. President Donald Trump apparently suggested on Thursday executing Muslim terrorists with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood, in a tweet hours after a deadly attack in Barcelona. The tweet cited a debunked 'General Pershing' myth that Trump used to tell during his presidential campaign.
People 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’s tweet said.
Trump did not cite any specific tactic employed by Pershing in his tweet on Thursday. But during the presidential campaign, he told a widely discredited story that Pershing had halted Muslim attacks in the Philippines by shooting rebels with bullets dipped in pigs' blood. Pork is taboo for Muslims, but that story has been widely debunked by historians as unsubstantiated or exaggerated. Fact-checking organizations such as Politifact rated Trump's claim as false.
Trump's tweet came hours after a van attack in Barcelona, Spain on Thursday has so far left 13 dead and wounded 100 others. The U.S. president also condemned the attack and said the U.S. "will do whatever is necessary to help." His tweets were in stark contrast to a his reaction to another car-ramming attack, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a suspected Nazi sympathizer who attended a white nationalist rally drove into a crowed of a couter-protest, killing one person.
Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, who would rise to fame in World War I, was a U.S. Army commander and served as governor of the southern Philippines' mainly Muslim Moro province between 1909 and 1913. His tenure came as the U.S. was consolidating its control over the Philippines, which it had won as a result of the Spanish-American War. Pershing was confronted with a Moro insurgency, which he largely broke in June 1913 in a battle that killed some 500 Moro fighters.
According to Politifact, Pershing wrote in a memoir that another U.S. commander in the Philippines had at least once "seen to it" that Muslim insurgents' bodies were buried in the same grave as a dead pig to serve as a warning to others.
"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," Pershing wrote. According to Politifact, a footnote to the 2013 edition of the memoir cited another general as telling Pershing in a letter that the practice had long been a custom "to discourage crazy lunatics."
Many critical commentators believe Trump's tweet revived the story about Pershing and the bullets dipped in pigs' blood that he told during the campaign. It is however possible that Trump may have been referring to the burials cited in Pershing's memoirs. But in either case, Trump's main claim, that Pershing's treatment of captured militants was the prime reason for the end of the insurgency, is not supported by historical fact.