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Before his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 2, President Donald Trump embraced the American flag to the crowd’s cheers as "God Bless the U.S.A." by Lee Greenwood played.
"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross," reads the text in a screenshot of a tweet that also shows a picture of Trump hugging the flag.
The tweet is by Randy Bryce, whose Twitter handle is @IronStache. He is a U.S. Army veteran who ran as a Democrat for Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district. It has been shared on Twitter more than 22,000 times and more than 500 people replied to it, including some who said that it’s not a Sinclair Lewis quote.
We reached out to Working Families, a political group where Bryce is a senior advisor, according to his Twitter bio, to ask about the quote. A spokesman for the organization said in an email that "it turns out Sinclair Lewis never wrote those exact words, though they’re commonly attributed to him."
Bryce updated his Twitter acknowledging that it’s not a Sinclair Lewis quote, the spokesman said. When we checked Bryce’s account on March 12, the tweet was still pinned to his page. But he had also tweeted excerpts from the Sinclair Lewis Society at Illinois State University, which notes on its website that though the quote sounds like something Lewis might have said or written, the society has never been able to find the exact quote.
Whether Lewis said the quote about fascism is the society’s "most asked question," according to its website. The society also lists passages from two novels he wrote that are similar to the quote attributed to him.
In "It Can’t Happen Here," he writes: "But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst fascists were they who disowned the word ‘fascism’ and preached enslavement to capitalism under the style of constitutional and traditional Native American liberty."
In "Gideon Planish," he writes: "I just wish people wouldn’t quote Lincoln or the Bible, or hang out the flag or the cross, to cover up something that belongs more to the bank-book and the three golden balls."
"There was also a play by Sherman Yellen called ‘Strangers’ in the late 1970s which had a similar quote, but no one, including one of Lewis’s biographers, Richard Lingeman, has ever been able to locate the original citation," according to the society.
In 2007, Harvard Magazine published a plea from a reader who sought "the definitive source" of the quote, which he said was "attributed variously to Upton Sinclair, H.L. Mencken, and Huey Long, and to Sinclair Lewis’ ‘It Can’t Happen Here.’"
But the reader said online searches of the novel didn’t reveal the quote, and when we searched the book for the quote on Google Books, we couldn’t find it either.
We emailed Harvard Magazine to find out if the publication has discovered the quote’s origins in the years since that reader’s request, but senior editor Jean Ann Martin said, "sadly, we have not located a definitive source to date."
Certainly, many people have attributed the quote to Lewis—not just Randy Bryce or the Facebook poster. Lewis has "long been quoted erroneously," according to a Nov. 6 Talking Points Memo story. It’s been pinned to other people, too. On Goodreads, the quote is attributed to James Waterman Wise.
But lacking a credible, solid source for the quote, we won’t attribute it to anyone. We rate this Facebook post False.
Facebook post, March 5, 2019
Randy Bryce tweet, March 2, 2019
The Hill, "Trump hugs American flag after walking onstage at CPAC," March 2, 2019
The Nobel Prize, Sinclair Lewis, visited March 11, 2019
Randy Bryce campaign website, Meet Randy Bryce, visited March 11, 2019
The Sinclair Lewis Society, visited March 11, 2019
Harvard Magazine, Chapter & Verse, September-October 2007
Google Books, "It Can’t Happen Here," Sinclair Lewis, 1935
Goodreads, James Waterman Wise quote, visited March 11, 2019
Talking Points Memo, "Thoughts on a momentous day," Nov. 6, 2018
Email correspondence with Joe Dinkin, communications director, Working Families, March 11, 2019
Email correspondence with Jean Ann Martin, senior editor, Harvard Magazine, March 12, 2019
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