Trump recycles discredited Islamic pigs' blood tale after terrorist attack in Barcelona

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump defended his stance on waterboarding in Charleston, S.C., in February 2016, with a largely discredited story from the internet about killing terrorists with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. (AP)

Hours after an apparent terrorist attack in Barcelona, President Trump on Thursday recycled a largely discredited Internet tale that he promoted on the campaign trail as a way to call attention to what he has called “radical Islamic terrorism.”

In a Twitter message, Trump instructed his 36 million followers to look to the example of  Gen. John J. Pershing, who is said, in stories circulating online, to have dipped bullets in pigs’ blood to execute Islamic terrorists in the Philippines whose religion forbid contact with the animals.

The story has been found to be unsubstantiated by numerous fact-checkers in the media. But Trump first told the story during a campaign rally in February 2016, as he defended his position of supporting methods of torture, such as waterboarding, on terrorist suspects.

Trump’s tweet came hours after a man in Barcelona drove a van at high speeds into a crowd at a popular tourist destination, killing 12 and injuring 50 more, according to local police who are calling the attack an act of terrorism. One man is reportedly in custody in the investigation.

Trump also tweeted message of support for the victims, in which he said the United States “condemns the terror attack.”

The message stood in sharp contrast to Trump’s reaction Saturday to an attack in Charlottesville, when a man drove a car into a group of people protesting a white nationalist rally, killing a woman and injuring 19 others. An alleged Nazi sympathizer who had attended the rally is charged with second-degree murder in the case.

After than incident, Trump blamed the actions of people “on many sides” of the violent clashes.

President Trump speaks about the violence, injuries and deaths at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville as he talks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan on Aug. 15, 2017. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Though he denounced the white supremacist hate groups directly two days later, Trump then reversed course and again blamed “both sides” on Tuesday, prompting a widespread political backlash. The president on Tuesday explained that his initial reaction had been muted because he did not have all the “facts” in the case and wanted to be cautious.

In his February recitation of the Pershing story, Trump told a crowd of supporters that the general was having trouble dealing with terrorist attacks and caught 50 suspects.

“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,” Trump continued. “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.”

At one point in telling this story, Trump said: “By the way, this is something you can read in the history books — not a lot of history books because they don’t like teaching this.”

Although Trump never used the word “Muslim” in this story, he was clearly referring to Muslim terrorists and at one point commented: “There’s a whole thing with swine and animals and pigs, and — you know the story, you know they don’t like that.” Pigs are deemed impure by the Koran.

There are several versions of the tale circulating, including one in which the prisoners were buried with dead pigs. The pigs’ blood on the bullets, according to at least one version, would keep a Muslim from entering heaven.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations denounced Trump’s remarks last year in a sharply worded statement that accused the then-candidate of inciting anti-Muslim attacks.

Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.


Sen. Corker isn't the only Republican who's increasingly questioning Trump's stability

Sen. Bob Corker leaves Trump Tower in New York City on May 23, 2016, after meeting with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Once upon a time, there were rumblings in Washington that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was under consideration as a potential secretary of state in the administration of President Trump. That didn’t pan out and, in the months since Trump’s inauguration, it’s become clear that this was for the best, as Corker has repeatedly criticized Trump’s time in office.

In May, after The Post reported that Trump had revealed classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office, Corker described the White House as being in a “downward spiral.” When Trump repeatedly bashed his own attorney general, former Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, Corker criticized the president’s behavior. On Thursday, after nearly a week of analysis of Trump’s handling of the racial violence in Charlottesville, Corker released a new critique:

This is an unusual rebuke from a senator for a president from his own party. But polling from Quinnipiac University released Thursday makes clear that Corker isn’t alone within his party in seeing his views of Trump’s performance shift.

The Quinnipiac poll showed a slight improvement for Trump since the beginning of the month, with 39 percent of respondents saying that they view his presidency with approval. Nearly 6 in 10 hold a disapproving view.

Those numbers have increased over the seven months of Trump’s presidency, with more than half of the country now strongly disapproving of how Trump is doing. On Jan. 26, Quinnipiac found that only 40 percent of the country strongly disapproved of Trump. The figure was never that low again.

After President Trump’s most recent rhetoric about Charlottesville inflamed even more criticism, a handful of GOP lawmakers, including Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), are criticizing Trump directly, while others stay silent. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

To the point with Corker, that slip has been seen among Republicans as well. In early August, Trump hit two new lows: his lowest approval from Republicans and, interestingly, his lowest strong approval rating from members of his own party. Three-quarters of Republicans still thought he was doing a good job, just less strongly so.

The new poll shows some improvement, but his strong approval numbers from Republicans are the second-lowest in Quinnipiac’s polling.

Since he took office, most Americans have been skeptical of Trump’s personal characteristics as well. More than half the country views him as a strong person and intelligent, but only a minority agrees with other possible descriptors: that he’s honest, that he cares about average Americans, that he shares our values, that he’s levelheaded or that he’s got good leadership skills.

It’s on that last point that Trump’s seen the biggest decline since inauguration — a drop from about half the country thinking he was a good leader in late January to about 40 percent saying it now.

Among Republicans, the drop has been steeper. Views of his leadership ability rebounded from earlier this month, but there’s still been a 13-point decline in how Republicans feel about Trump’s ability to lead. On every other metric, too, fewer Republicans now say that they think Trump holds these positive qualities than they did shortly after he took office.

On no characteristic does Trump fare more poorly among Republicans than on whether he’s levelheaded. Only 62 percent of members of his own party say that applies, while a third say it doesn’t.

In other words, Corker’s assessment that Trump has not “been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to be successful” is a view that’s held by a lot of other people in the Republican Party.

President Trump tweeted his anger at Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), on Aug. 17, as fallout over his response to the violence in Charlottesville grows. (Reuters)

'Terror' struck Barcelona, according to Trump. Charlottesville? 'Call it whatever you want.'

A van has crashed into dozens of people in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district, local police said on Aug. 17. (Reuters)

Within hours of a vehicular attack in Barcelona that killed at least 13 and injured dozens of others on Thursday, President Trump called it “terror.”

Yet at a news conference three days after a similar episode in Charlottesville, where an alleged Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19, the president would not definitely assign the same label.

“Was this terrorism?” a journalist asked on Tuesday.

“Well, I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and this country,” Trump replied, “and that is — you can call it terrorism, you can call it murder, you can call it whatever you want.”

At the time of the news conference, the name and alleged ideology of the Charlottesville driver, James Alex Fields Jr., were known. At the time that Trump tweeted about Barcelona, details about the driver had not been released by police, though it is possible that the president was privy to more information than the public.

Islamic State supporters celebrated the Barcelona attack, but the group did not immediately claim responsibility, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity. (It later did, after Trump had tweeted.)

Recall that Trump claimed on Tuesday that he likes to be cautious when commenting on a violent incident.

“Before I make a statement, I need the facts,” Trump said. “I don’t want to rush into a statement.”

While defending his initial reaction to the Charlottesville violence, President Trump on Aug. 15 said he wants “to know the facts” before making statements. Here are three times that he didn’t. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

By the time Trump tweeted on Thursday, Barcelona police had called the attack an act of terrorism. The president’s language was consistent with that of other officials.

But Trump balked at following similar guidance on the Charlottesville attack. A day before the president’s news conference, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had said in interview with ABC News that “it does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute.” Even before that, Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, had used the terrorism label, as had other Republicans, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.).

Trump still has not called the Charlottesville attack terrorism. Instead, he has spread blame for the violence to “both sides” — white supremacists and counterprotesters.

The president has spent much of the week mired in controversy over his response to the deadly attack in Charlottesville. The speed with which he attached the terrorism label to what happened in Barcelona was striking, as a point of contrast, and probably won’t help his effort to shake that criticism.