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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. March 3, 2016

Donald Trump falls for phony Gandhi quote: 'First they ignore you, then they laugh at you ... '

It's a message designed to inspire perseverance in the face of long odds, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump invoked it on Instagram, accompanied by a photograph of a Feb. 28 rally in Alabama in advance of Super Tuesday.

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win," says the quote, which Trump attributes to Mahatma Gandhi, India's legendary activist who eschewed all violence.

The quote is certainly legendary. A quick Google image search of the phrase "then they laugh at you" produced a flood of memes crediting Gandhi. We stopped count at 100. We found it on Bernie Sanders' Twitter feed. Sarah Palin posted it on Facebook Feb. 24 in front of a photo of Trump. Our colleagues at Snopes.com found an instance where Hillary Clinton used it during a 2004 fundraiser. And last year, Billionaire Magazine cited it in a Tweet to celebrate enormous wealth, without a hint of irony.

Inspiring? Yes.

Accurate? No.

We reached out to the Trump campaign in hopes that they had an original source for the quote. They didn't respond.

But there's no evidence that Gandhi ever said it.

"I know of no source by Gandhi where this quotation occurs," said Dennis Dalton, professor emeritus at Columbia University's Barnard College, who has spent 55 years researching and writing on Gandhi's life.  

It's been thought to be false for quite some time, prompting the Christian Science Monitor to list it five years ago as one of "The 10 most famous things never actually said," although the Monitor reported no effort to find its origin.

Some authors have suspected it's derived from a May 15, 1918, speech during a biennial convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in which Nicholas Klein of Cincinnati, talking about that union, said, "First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And they they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And this is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America."

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Barry Popik, a contributor to the Yale Book of Quotations and the Oxford English Dictionary, found a more recent variant in a 1968 article in Women's Wear Daily. Referring to French artist, writer, designer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, the article says, "Cocteau expressed it best. ‘First, they ignore you. Then, they abuse you. Then, they heap you with honors. Or make you into a statue. Stone. Dead.’ "

Popik said the first reference he has found giving Gandhi credit for that type of quote comes from an out-of-print book — the 1982 proceedings of an event held by the Workshop in Nonviolence Institute. Snippets can be seen on Google Books.

On page 9 of volume 18 are the words, "Gandhi once observed that every movement goes through four stages: First they ignore you; then they abuse you; then they crack down on you and then you win." Note that the catchphrase itself is not in quotes. It appears the author was paraphrasing.

"We have 1918 (in labor unions) and 1982 (in an antiwar group), and just about nothing in between. It's a real puzzle," said Popik.

Dalton, the Gandhi historian, said a lot of quotes attributed to the nonviolent activist aren't real. "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," is a variant of a phrase written for the 1982 Richard Attenborough movie Gandhi.

The catchphrase "You must be the change you want to see in the world," was also never spoken by him, he said.

"The point is that a study of his life and work do tell us that he could have spoken or written such words, because they capture the spirit of what he did," said Dalton. "That's perhaps the best answer that I can give."

In the end, it's comparable to people thinking that Sarah Palin said, "I can see Russia from my house" (Tina Fey said it while impersonating Palin on Saturday Night Live), that Humphrey Bogart uttered the phrase, "Play it again, Sam," in Casablanca, or that Sherlock Holmes said "Elementary, my dear Watson," during any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. A lot of people believe it, even though it's not true.

Our ruling

Trump quoted Mahatma Gandhi as saying, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

There's no evidence that Gandhi ever said any such thing. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and many others have made the same mistake.

The claim is False.

Our Sources

Instagram meme from realdonaldtrump, Feb. 28, 2016, accessed Feb. 29, 2016

HuffingtonPost.com, "Billionaire Magazine Cites Fake Gandhi Quote To Defend Insane Wealth," Aug. 25, 2016, accessed March 1, 2016

New York Times, "Clinton Apologizes for Gandhi Remark," Jan. 7, 2004

Email, Shannon Richmond, M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, March 1, 2016

Google Books, "Proceedings of the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America," 1918, accessed March 1, 2016

Christian Science Monitor, "Political misquotes: The 10 most famous things never actually said," June 3, 2011, accessed Feb. 26, 2016

Email, Dennis Dalton, professor emeritus of political science/political theory, Barnard College, Columbia University, March 1, 2016

Neatorama.com, "6 Famous Misquotes & Where They Came From," July 12, 2012, accessed Feb. 29, 2016

Screenplay, "Gandhi (1982) by John Briley," accessed Feb. 29, 2016

BarryPopik.com, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win" Sept. 8, 2009, accessed March 1, 2016

Emails, Barry Popik, March 1, 2016

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