The first time Donald Trump told the apocryphal story of Gen. John Pershing was at a campaign rally in South Carolina in February. The tale was about how the American general had captured Muslim "terrorists" in the U.S.-occupied Philippines during the early 1900s. It went like this:
General Pershing was a rough guy. He caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage … and he took the 50 terrorists and he took 50 men and dipped 50 bullets in pig's blood. You heard about that? He took 50 bullets and dipped them in pig's blood. And he has his men load up their 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.
He ended the anecdote by saying that the United States would have to start getting "tough" and "vigilant" or "we're not gonna have a country."
One month later, Trump told the same story at a rally in Ohio, this time adding a few years to the halcyon period that followed the supposed slaughter:
He went back and said what just happened, and for 28 years there was no terrorism. So I’m not saying that’s a good thing. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. This is history, folks. We’re either going to win or lose. We can’t continue to go the way we’re going right now.
Then again in April at a rally in California, once again adding to the number of years that the Philippines was supposed to have been terrorism-free.
They took the bullets and shot 49 of the 50 people. And the 50th person, they said, 'Take this bullet and bring it back to all of the people causing the problem,' and for 42 years they didn’t have a problem.
The story is a myth. It has been debunked time and time again. The detail about pigs' blood makes it particularly offensive to Muslim people because pork is considered haram, or forbidden, in Islam. Though there are some accounts of American troops stationed in the Philippines using pig bodies in offensive burial rituals for Muslim insurgents, there is no record of the Pershing story and no evidence of the supposed era of peace that followed.
We now know that the Trump campaign knew the story was false at the time, but decided to allow the candidate to tell it over and over again anyway.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Trump's recently dumped campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said that the story had been planned ahead of time and that it didn't matter that it wasn't true.
“It’s not about that,” Lewandowski told the Post in the interview, conducted before he was dismissed by the Trump campaign. “Look, it’s an analogy.”
What Lewandowski thinks that brutal and offensive story is supposed to analogize is not clear.