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Trump repeats claim about Gen. Pershing's treatment of Muslim prisoners that historians doubt ever happened

Hours after a van plowed through a crowd in Barcelona, Spain, and left at least 12 people dead, Donald Trump tweeted condemnation of the attack and quickly followed with a statement about U.S. Gen. John Pershing that historians describe as urban legend.

"Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!" he tweeted.

The full claim, which Trump repeated several times during the 2016 presidential campaign, is that in the aftermath of the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, Pershing had his men dip 50 bullets in pig blood and use them to kill 49 Muslim prisoners. The survivor was told to relay the experience to others.

The story claims that terrorism was kept in check for decades.

If true, the story would constitute a war crime under U.S. law, which prohibits execution of prisoners.

The tale has circulated across the Internet for years. Trump told it in February  2016 during a speech to supporters in North Charleston, S.C., in which he lauded the benefits of heavy-handed interrogation techniques. 

"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. OK? Twenty-five years, there wasn’t a problem," Trump told the crowd.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations quickly denounced those remarks.

"Donald Trump's inflammatory rhetoric has crossed the line from spreading hatred to inciting violence," CAIR's national executive director, Nihad Awad, said.

Two months later, during a speech that criticized President Obama's acceptance of Middle Eastern war refugees into the U.S., Trump told the same story to supporters in Costa Mesa. This time, he altered the number of problem-free years from 25 to 42.

In a 2013 edition of Pershing's memoir, a letter from Maj. Gen. J. Franklin Bell to Pershing was added in the footnote. The letter described a long "custom to bury [insurgents] with pigs when they kill Americans." Bell called the tactic "a good plan."

The letter does indicate that pig blood was at one time used, or at the very least discussed, as an intimidation tactic against Muslim fighters, since Islam considers swine unclean.

But there's no evidence that Pershing – whom historians describe as less brutal than his predecessors – ever used such a technique.

"This story is a fabrication and has long been discredited," Brian McAllister Linn, a Texas A&M University historian, told Politifact. "I am amazed it is still making the rounds."

Even if the story about Pershing were true, the claim of 25, 35 or 42 years of peace and quiet would be false. Unrest continued long after the war, and the Philippines continues to have an active Muslim-based insurgency.

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